Monday, 30 November -0001

Catnip Crowd

Gardens are a wildlife haven, but beware the catnip crowd, says Sam Taylor

Written by Sam Taylor
‘Time spent with cats is never wasted,’ said Sigmund Freud. Although for those whose borders are a meeting ground for the neighbourhood moggies, this will not be a sentiment shared. But perhaps you only have yourself to blame. Perhaps your garden is kitty heaven. Or catnip corner.

Until we bought Rock House, I was only ever vaguely aware of the seductive properties of catnip on cats – our cat Lulu Guinness has a collection of felt mouse toys apparently drenched in the stuff , which turn her from a purring pacifist into a trained killer. As a special treat, she gets a new victim from the pet shop a couple of times a year. But the fake nip has nothing on the real nip, as any self-respecting cruising cat will tell you.

A member of the mint family (with over 7,000 species), catnip – as practised gardeners will know – grows out of control if not spotted early enough, and the active compound in its essential oils, nepetalactone, has an irresistible effect on anything in fur; from a wild mountain lion to a small Persian pussy. They rub themselves on it, eat its leaves and then smother their coat in its strange lemon-like scent.

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When fully under its spell the cats let out a strange howling noise – the bushes outside my door currently resemble a public bar. There are random shrieks and gymnastic manoeuvres, and on more than one occasion the tabby from across the road has appeared to levitate while under its influence.

There are pluses. According to Michael the Mouse Man, rodents don’t much like it and the fl ea beetle tends to give it a wide birth. For millennia, it has been used as a medicinal plant and for its mosquito-repellent qualities – hippies have been known to rub it on their skin while sleeping outside communing with nature. It has also been used as a herbal treatment for piles, or scurvy.

For those of us less in touch with nature, there is always the chance of drinking it by mistake – it does look remarkably like the mint plant. I must confess that I made this error recently, following a friend’s request for fresh mint tea. Mercifully, it didn’t appear to have any adverse effects, which is just as well, as according to medieval legend, a hangman would chew catnip in order to work himself up for the kill. Not what we want from a guest.

Next week: Door colours


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