Cats have had a mixed press as far as gardens are concerned.
As I am currently waging a losing battle with next door’s cat, who insists on using my herb patch as a luxury litter tray, I decided to see what the Lindley Library’s books have to say about cats and gardens. The first thing I discovered was that gardeners and cats are longstanding enemies - cat lovers should maybe look away now.
In his book The Compleat Florist Lous Liger d’Auxerre wrote in 1706, ‘Plants have Brute Enemies. I begin with Dogs and Cats because they come uppermost in my mind; and affirm they ought not to be suffered in a Flower Garden.’ Now I cannot agree with him on dogs, as a friendly dog makes a great weeding companion. However, I agree with his complaint that, ‘Cats scattering their Ordure all about and then scraping the Earth to cover it, grub up many plants, to the great mortification of all curious Florists.’
Despite my problems, I cannot bring myself to go as far as Hugh Platt. In his Floraes Paradise of 1608, he recommends that ‘Cats applyed to the rootes of trees before the sap rise, have recovered many olde decaying trees. Shred them.’ This is a step too far. In fact a look through old copies of The Gardeners Chronicle shows that at least one eminent gardener found cats positively useful. George Fergusson Wilson who was the original owner of RHS Garden Wisley garden, had a favourite cat called Fat Tommy. Wilson wrote approvingly of Fat Tommy’s excellence as a bird-scarer, attached to a leash in his vegetable garden. In fact Fat Tommy became a bit of a celebrity, ‘writing’ his own letter to The Gardeners Chronicle, complete with dreadful puns about ‘how I purrtect my master’s plants’.
I cannot see next door’s cat agreeing to be as useful as Fat Tommy so it’s back to the drawing board. Fortunately, the Library also has a large stock of modern, practical gardening books which have a lot of good advice. After listing all types of remedies, Val Porter in her 2003 book Beastly Nuisances: Coping with Garden Pests admits that ‘All sorts of methods have been tried against cats that insist on soiling in gardens, and many of them don’t work at all.' She does recommend scattering prickly holly leaves. However you can always rely upon the RHS for the best advice. In RHS Pests and Diseases you will find the recommendation that the best thing to do to deter cats is ‘planting densely to deny them open ground.’
So it’s off to the garden centre for me...