Saturday, January 13, 2018

On The Particular Pleasure of Gardening with Cats

I found this when I was looking for something else--as one does. Since Solomon is a lot older than when I wrote this and has been feeling ill, I thought it would be good for both of us to remember his salad days in the walled garden at Isauld.

All wise people know that it takes a lifetime to explore even a fraction of the ways that cats make pleasurable companions: purring on your lap, warming your feet, patiently listening when you are sad, keeping careful watch for fairies, witches, dust motes, or other spectral visitors, but I want to talk of the particular pleasure of gardening with cats.

First, cats help scout out the best places for the sun-loving plants.  Gardeners without cats must take precious time watching the sun and marking the shadows.  Those of us wise enough to have cats, simply let them do the scouting work.  If a cat likes a little patch by a wall, then certainly a marigold will, too.

When the season begins in earnest, a cat will be a stalwart companion when crossing the threshold into the garden suddenly overgrown.  Cats prance boldly into the garden as if your trowels and hoe and weeders are sword and buckler enough to take on anything.  Cats, with their unique insights into nearly everything, refuse to be daunted by weeds.  In fact, cats, who are quite discerning about people and food, are uncharacteristically broad minded and tolerant of plants.  They will roll as gleefully over nettles as bergamot or the first green shoots of the precious bulbs ordered from the heritage garden shop and worried into their first precious greening.  If you are a wise gardener with a cat as mentor, you, too, learn to be broad minded.  Although I need a refresher each season, my cats have opened my eyes to the wonders of anything green.

Cats like to emulate the gardening tasks that make sense to them.  My boon companion, Solomon, likes to show me that he can dig like a meercat.  He knows I like meercats because I watch them on the box in the room.  He knows what I do because he watches me through the windows.  Cat-watching people watching cats: entertainment all around.

Cats are much too multi-talented to specialize exclusively in digging.  As soon as the digging gets boring for them and for me, they start the aerobatics and dancing.  The most elegant pas de deuxs are done by cats of the same size, and sadly, usually only in younger cats.  Leaping three feet in the air and dropping and rolling are very demanding, but it is probably the only thing to make digging amusing and so the cats take to their gardening chores with gusto.

As if dancing and digging were not enough, cats are also adept at rolling.  As soon as seeds are properly spread on the surface of the soil, the cat sets aside his dancing and comes to whirl like a dervish over and over the newly spread seeds.  If cats were not so tidy, they might sprout all the seeds they have wriggled over and become a hybrid creature both plant and animal, thus stumping anyone trying to define them by playing animal, mineral or vegetable.  Cats are adept at defying classification even without sprouted seeds along their backs.  Luckily, some of the seeds defy the odds and remain in the soil or there would be no plants for rolling on later in the season.

If you are lucky enough to be able to garden with cats, take a moment to savor the pleasure of their company the next time you feel put upon by a weed or a cloud.


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