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Prized Pet Plants

Dogs loving Vanilla Grass

Pets are perfect people pleasers. Some of us choose canines and some of us fancy felines. And our endless devotion to our adopted “children” does not go unnoticed by marketers. Pets now have their own warehouse stores, magazines, designer clothes and chic salons. But, what about what they prefer? Do they like doggy dress up and kitty condos? What about designer donuts and puffy pompadours? Or is this OUR passionate persuasion? Frankly, Fido’s idea of fun seems to be a roll in the, well, you know, instead of a dip in the shampoo, fragrantly scented or not. And Sassy seems satisfied with string. So what can we do for our friends that will satisfy OUR nurturing need and THEIR inner intuitions?



I must admit I didn’t think there was a thing I could say about catnip that everyone didn’t know already. I started an Internet search to see if I could find something more interesting to share other than what has been written time after time. Mostly what I found was a lot of catnip selling going on. I mean how many ways do you need to wrap up dried catnip so Kitty can play?

I was heartened to see organic catnip toys offered. Although I can’t imagine why catnip would need to be grown any other way. It grows easily both from seed and transplants and tolerates many different climates and soil conditions. I did learn a few out of the ordinary tidbits. For example, lions love it too. Good for all of us who have a zoo. And, that baby kitties aren’t affected by it. There are ants that produce the same chemical catnip does that drives some cats crazy, if they can find the ants. And cats seem to know when they have had enough so they don’t become nip dependent. As a matter of fact, when faced with frolicking with it every day, they become bored, better to bury it in the bureau for a bit now and then. Or, grow it in the garden where they can molest it or ingest it when it strikes their fancy.

The Nepeta genus is quite large. Often there is some confusion over common names. In Europe, Nepeta cataria (Catnip) is often called Catnep or Catmint. However, here in the United States Catmint is a name we reserve for ornamental Nepetas. These non-Catnip Nepetas, like our Giant Catmint are sprawling, bluish-purple flowered, herbaceous plants suitable for borders and mixed perennial gardens. And, while I think they are wonderfully cinnamon scented, cats don’t show any interest in playing or eating it.

Growing Catnip

I read several references about cats destroying transplants before they can become established and was surprised because we have never had this problem with catnip. Cat Thyme (see below) is another story. Cats are attracted to freshly tilled soil. So it would probably help to put your new plants in an established garden with some coarse bark chips around it. Catnip reseeds readily and if you don’t want a lot of it all over it might be wise to make sure it doesn’t set seeds. Removing spent flowers will increase the production of more leaves. Like most culinary herbs by the time the seeds are formed the vigor and oils of the leaves have declined. For the best kitty nip cut the plant in full flower. Hang the entire plant upside down in a warm, dry and dark space. As soon as it’s crispy dry, strip the leaves and seal them in an airtight container out of the light. Avoid crumbling until you want to stuff it in something, like a miniature Christmas stocking or a child’s old cotton sock. The euphoric effect can be savored with a fresh stem also. If your cat doesn’t go outside it will enjoy something fresh and green from your garden.

Another interesting observation about Catnip is that not all cats like it. For those persnickety pussycats we recommend Cat Thyme.


When I first became acquainted with Cat Thyme, I thought of it more as something you might foist off on your worst enemy instead of as a treat for my tabby. Where catnip is a bit musty and green smelling, Cat Thyme smells like something died. CATS LOVE IT. A member of the Teucrium genus, this plant looks like a Thyme with its needle like leaves. However, like most of its fellow Teucriums, it is not culinary. Sometimes getting a stand of this slow growing perennial established is tough. We had to cage our first plants with upside down gopher cages because they kept getting munched on by wild cats. After they start growing, a few nibbles here and there don’t hurt. It is a favorite napping plant for our cat. Of course having a large cat sit or sleep on top of the plant can wreak havoc with the perfectly pruned hedge I keep trying to trim it into.

If your cat goes for Cat Thyme, you will probably need more than one, because each one only grows to about 10 inches. It has bright magenta flowers and blooms in summer for about three or four weeks. After which, the dead flower stems need to be sheared off. Because it grows slowly, Cat Thyme makes a well behaved potted plant. It only takes a sprig to bring inner peace and contentment to your kitty and it can be dried and still have an effect. For drying, it is best to cut the sprigs when flowering starts or after the plant starts to regrow after blooming. Dry whole sprigs wrapped in little bundles and store in an airtight container. It’s hard to get enough leaves, because they are so small, to stuff any thing with so just open the jar and give your pal a posy now and then.


Now we are getting into understandable likes. Who doesn’t prize peppermint or salivate for spearmint? Mint may actually have met its match when it comes to the cat. Sometimes they just chew and rub on it so much the plant has to be replaced. Just what we all need—-mint control. Unless you have lots of gardening ground to give up, keep your mint confined to a container. Mints like sunshine and water. Shade makes wimpy plants with less aromatic oils to drive kitty wild. Cut it back to the ground a couple of times a year and don’t expect to see it over the winter. Of course, it may be dried but Puss prefers it fresh. Throw some dried leaves into the catnip sock and make purrfect potpourri.

The variety doesn’t seem to make much difference. But then we have not done a blind meow test to see if species matters. Perhaps, Southern felines prefer Kentucky Colonel Mint while California Cats choose Chocolate Mint?

It really is not so surprising that Catnip, Cat Thyme and Mint are each attractive to cats. They all come from the same family, Lamiaceae. Of course, Oregano and Lavender come from this family and cats don’t seem to care a whit about those. Ah! Sweet mysteries of Life.


I hesitate to mention Valerian since it is not something we have seen first hand but it, too, is written of in connection with cats. Anybody seen Felix chewing on the Valerian? It makes sense because like Catnip it helps you to sleep, and like Cat Thyme it really stinks. Rats are supposed to be attracted to Valerian and maybe the cats are after the rats? Folklore suggests the Pied Piper had Valerian in his pocket. I wonder if the people of Hamlin missed their cats too? There are medicinal uses of herbs for cats as well and valerian is suggested as a nervine. Something to soothe those touchy cat nerves.


THE plant to grow for dogs is Dog Grass or Vanilla Grass, Anthoxanthum odorata. Dogs just don’t seem as attracted to vegetation as cats do, maybe they are more discriminating or maybe they prefer less fresh food. Most seem to zone in on the oldest can of garbage in the bin. But they do love Vanilla Grass. Also known as Sweet Vernal Grass, Anthoxanthum is not native to North America but grows abundantly in much of the Northern United States. It grows well in pots. Some folks say it may cause allergies when it flowers, we can’t say because our dogs don’t let it get that tall. In Europe it is grown for hay. We have actually found our dogs asleep using a flat of Vanilla Grass as a pillow. Of course, they chewed a bit before snoozing. It’s a dog’s life!