Wednesday 21 March 2012

The troublesome corner

“Once upon a time there was a lady who had a small garden in London whom she was very fond of.” Ehhm…..Let me just interrupt for a moment here and say that these stories usually claim to have a ‘tiny, little old lady’ or a ‘grey-haired old lady’ or something similar, but this story is different, this story is about a not so very old, 47 year of age lady, who is not tiny, not even short…in fact, she is 5’9”, but the last bit is perhaps not that relevant, so let me get back to the story!

So, there was this lady, who had spent years doing up her tiny garden on a shoestring budged, and finally it looked quite good. She had made peace with the cats in the area that were a nuisance in the beginning; getting her own cat helped a lot as the garden became his territory and therefore not so attractive to other cats. But all the cats in the area still jumped over the lady’s fences, to get to the the neighbouring gardens, and so did her own cat, and that created a lot of damage to plants. Finally the lady came up with a plan: what about creating a cat-path, where the cats were allowed to jump over the fences, where there were plants that could withstand the battering, and then densely plant the rest of the garden. Would the cats get the plan??

Over the next few years the lady put the plan into action and a nice, robust Photinia ‘Red Robin’ grew up in the most troublesome corner, and a Sarcococca confusa in the opposite corner. These two plants could withstand the most ferocious cat-jumper.

The cats got the idea, it all worked well for a few years until one summer when the lady was in hospital for a long time and didn’t get to prune the Photinia. It grew, and grew, and grew – completely out of shape in that bottom right corner of the garden. The following winter came the final blow.

A family of foxes moved in to the next door garden, a garden of mainly shrubbery and rubbish. The foxes liked the lady’s garden too, and used her garden for lounging around during daytime, but retired to the neighbour’s garden during night for shelter and security. And the foxes didn’t climb the fence like the cats did, oh no, foxes are big, lazy creatures that can’t be bothered with such energetic activity at the end of their lazing-around-day. No, the foxes simply dug a huge tunnel between the gardens, from the lady’s garden to the next door, ruining the majestic Photinia in the process, severing all the roots…..and lifting and killing 24 small woodland plants at the same time. The lady was furious! What should she do now then?

The Photinia threatened to topple over, having most of its roots severed, so drastic measures was needed. The lady pruned the Photonia completely down, laid some fresh compost on the ground and straightened it with a solid stick. The tunnel was filled with gravel and stones and a piece of paving slabs was put on top. No fox was going to get through in this direction! Then she planted a nice Hebe next to the Photinia and hoped it would grow big very quickly in case the Photinia died…..

Then the lady decided to tackle the foxes. After having tried several types of fox-sprays that promised the earth and delivered nothing, she did the only sensible thing: removed the security the foxes had in the garden next door. She got permission from the owner of the house next door, and turned the rubbish and shrubbery into a lovely garden, NOT fit for a family of foxes. The foxes moved to someone else’s garden and have never since been seen. 10 points to the lady, nil point to the foxes! Yeah!


So what about that troublesome corner? Well, the Photinia died, after just a few months. The Hebe struggled on for a long time, but didn’t withstand that brute force the cats are giving it, and I am forever cutting off died and dying branches. I planted it last year, and this week, after a whole year of battering it looked in a particularly sorry state, as it hasn’t been pruned over the winter. So it went from this size…

….to this! The rest was not for keep.

But there are new shoots growing, so perhaps a good pruning could be beneficial anyway.

Here is the troublesome corner, with the empty space the Photinia left, and the greatly reduced Hebe.

So what should I do down here then, I still need to let the cats pass somewhere, and it’s better they do it down at the bottom than further up where I have more delicate plants like lilies and fuchsias and, oh I can’t bear the thought, just think if a cat jumped over my fence and broke 30 flowering lilies in the process….Ooohh, can’t bear even thinking about it! No, I need to still let them pass somewhere in my garden, my own cat included, and it’s best to let them do that where they are used to do it. Isn’t my cat funny by the way, sitting on the fence like this, as if he has no hind legs?!

Here is the opposite corner of the garden, so any cat entering the garden from my troublesome corner will exit here, hence the muddy paw prints high up on the bottom left fence! This corner has been more successful; it has a Sarcococca confusa, a Taxus baccata and a Sarcococca hookeriana var digyna, but more importantly- it has never been dug up by foxes! The plants here seem to be robust enough for the bashing they receive from the cats, so perhaps that is the answer, another Sarcococca confusa for the other corner. I don’t think I will get any other type of Sarcococca to survive in that corner as it is very dry and only the confusa will be forgiving enough in the summer I think.

So that was the story about the troublesome corner. My cat is 10 years old and still jumps the fences in one go. He usually claims the neighbour’s shed roof  to lie and bask in the sun and to keep an eye on what’s going on around him. Funnily enough, those two years the foxes were here, my cat and they didn’t seem to ever cross paths or get in contact, and my cat certainly never got any injury from fighting with them. They seemed to leave each other in peace. Now, if that big, grey bully of an un-castrated cat that keeps coming to my garden could do the same then I would be very, very happy, and my cat would have a lot less scratches and sores from defending his territory!

Have you got a cat friendly, robust, nice plant, preferably evergreen, that can tolerate dry shade and a lot of bashing? Can’t grow too big, as all I got is a small corner, even if I remove the Hebe and some of the other plants. And must be cat friendly, I don’t want the cats to move their track to other places of my garden, so no thorns or funny smells, please. I am open for suggestions, but have tried a few other things before the Photinia, and found that it was too dry in that corner or the cats ruined the plants. Please let me know if you can think of an ideal plant :-) Until next time, take care!


  1. All the critters just want to come and enjoy your beautiful garden too, right?

    I just want to say, your transformation of the neighbors yard is impressively awesome! I wish I had an idea for your corner..

  2. I don't know if it would be suitable to your space, but my cats (and the neighbors') have yet to damage may climbing hydrangea more than it can stand. Mine is in too much sun so it isn't as rampant a grower as it can be in the shade.

  3. What a fascinating story. Really enjoyed reading that. Can't help with the cat proof plant, I'm afraid. My neighbour's cats always jump from the fence onto a water butt, so I don't have any climbing cat damage on my plants. Hope you find a solution soon.

  4. Hmmmmm....what about a choisia...or failing that a bench! Great post...don't cha just luv cats! xx

  5. Very entertaining story - can't believe you have foxes in London! Kind of cool, but I wouldn't want them digging holes in my borders either! What a transformation you've made on your neighbor's yard.

  6. What a lot of work to transform your neighbor's property! It looks great. Good job getting rid of the foxes - that's kind of scary! Not sure about any plant suggestions. A birdbath (not filled) is my cat's favorite thing to jump on!

  7. Can't help thinking I'd feel privileged for a fox family to choose my yard as home. Sorry about your disturbed plants, though! Glad to hear you found a way to work with the cats. :)

  8. hello Helene, interesting story, your transformation of your neighbours garden is amazing I hope they appreciated it, sorry I can't help with plant suggestions as I still don't know much,
    I love cats but understand, urban foxes can be a problem my Mum had one that used to stay in her garden a lot in the day but didn't dig, I have rabbits that dig and eat!
    good luck, Frances


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