Pets in the Garden – Questions and Answers

Lily stargazer

Lily stargazer

We get asked whether a client’s new garden is suitable for their pets as often as whether its suitable for their children, so we thought we’d put a couple of the more frequently asked questions into a blog…

Q. Are Lilies poisonous to my cat?

The simple answer is ‘yes’. Lilies contain a toxin which causes loss of appetite and vomiting and, if vetinary attention is not sought quickly, possible kidney failure and death. Lilium longiflorum, the Easter lily is especially toxic. The pollen is dangerous as it can fall on a cats’ fur and be ingested when the cat washes itself. The leaves and flowers, also toxic to felines, may be eaten by a bored housecat.

Cats seem to be the only animals affected by lilies; and it useful to note that day lily (Hemerocallis); dumb cane or leopard lily (Dieffenbachia) and the popular Christmas plant Poinsettia, are also poisonous.The bulbs of lilies however, are edible for humans; in Chinese cuisine they are treated as a root vegetable and often eaten during the summer as they are supposed to have a cooling effect.

So if you love lilies especially the scent of lilies, and have cats, what are you to do? Well, you could admire the flowers in other, non-cat owning gardens. You could also ask yourself what are your cat’s habits? Some cats seem more prone to nibbling and eating plants than others. If your cat is a nibbler then personally I wouldn’t risk lilies in the house or garden. Is your cat a ‘jumper’? If not, you may be able to have lilies in tall pots outside or on high surfaces in the house. Removing the pollen stems reduces one of the most common means of poisoning, as the pollen is easily brushed off and onto cat’s fur by a passing human.

I adore scented lilies and do grow them in the garden, in tall pots; my cats are totally uninterested. Of course this may have something to do with the catnip that I grow. Both Nepeta cataria and Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ are to be found nearby and prove an excellent distraction to everything else…

black cat in garden

black cat in garden

Q. What could I grow in the garden (apart from the obvious salads) that would be safe for my pet rabbit to eat?

There are quite a few herbs which rabbits enjoy nibbling at and which are good for them. Rosemary is generally too strong, but Thyme, especially Thymus officianalis (culinary thyme) and Thymus citronella (lemon thyme) seems to be popular; feed only a small spray of the leaves to your rabbits. Thymes have the added advantage of encouraging bees into the garden as the flowers are nectar rich.

Empirical evidence over the years has shown Lemon balm (Melissa officianalis) is a favourite with both rabbits and guinea pigs (cavies). Melissa officianalis variegata with yellow tinged leaves is prettier in the garden and less rampant in its growth habits. It’s equally tasty for rabbits and the leaves look attractive when added to your Pimms or homemade lemonade. Whilst Melissa has a relaxing effect when used as herbal tisane (tea) or the oil is added to a bath; it can also be used to stimulate the memory. Although lemon balm prefers a sunny spot, it will survive and thrive in dry and shady areas.

Growing it in some of the trickier areas of the garden, underneath trees for example, curbs its vigour so making it a better bedfellow for other plants in your borders. Growing it in a trough could also be a good idea as like mint, which rabbits sometimes also like, Melissa can be a thug if left unchecked.

Lemon balm (Melissa officianalis)

Lemon balm (Melissa officianalis)

Q. What plants will withstand my new puppy running everywhere?

One of the first things to do is to securely section off your garden so there’s an area where your puppy can safely play away from any toxic and thorny plants you may have and without risk of escaping. This could be a proper ‘run’ with or without kennel, or just a small area where you will supervise ball play and running around. If your puppy knows he or she can play in that area the all you need to do is to teach it not to go on your flower borders in the rest of the garden. This is fairly easy; for example, you could have puppy on a long lead in those areas. Or firmly abut gently remove the puppy from your flower borders saying ‘no’, just as you would when your puppy tries to climb on the sofa.

As for plants apart from lawn turf, most low growing species will tolerate a bit of running on whilst your puppy is learning to ‘keep off the borders’. Lamium maculatum (deadnettle), most sedums and saxifrages, creeping thymes and mint, would all be fine. Creeping jenny (lysimachia nummularia) is tolerant of being walked on but prone to taking over the rest of the garden when you’re not looking.

Border collie puppy - illustration by Lucy Waterfield

Border collie puppy – illustration by Lucy Waterfield

I you’d like to know more, there’s a longer article on pets and your garden in our new eBook “In Your Summer Garden with Plews Garden Design” which is out this week; available from Amazon and Smashwords.


Plews Garden Design offers Garden SOS advisory visits or consultation by email if you’re worried about toxic plants and your pets. We can also design and build gardens to suit you and your pets. Drop us an email with your query.

lamium maculatum

lamium maculatum


One response »

  1. Pingback: Daylily Leaf Streak - Anna's Rose Garden

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