Catnip in the garden

Not all cats respond to catnip but those that do, love it and can't get enough of it

This article goes against my grain, so to speak, as cats and I don’t exactly see eye to eye. In fact, I’m so allergic to them my eyes are getting itchy just thinking about them. But, I will take one for the team. Richbar Nursery does grow catnip and the plant does have an interesting background, so for the sake of cat lovers out there – here goes.

Catnip, nepeta cataria, is a hardy (zone 3) perennial herb with white flowers, blooming mid to late summer. It resembles mint with its greyish green leaves and grows to an average height of 75cm. Plant it in sun or partial sun. Plant it for your cat, but also for your own entertainment. You’ll get a kick out of watching them roll around in it.

It’s a recreational drug for cats. So far, it is still legal. Cats can enter the United States even if they have previously dabbled in it.

Catnip does not affect all cats. Only 70 per cent of cats react to catnip, but those are the only ones who filled out the questionnaire honestly. Kittens, fewer than three months of age, do not react, nor does it seem to have an affect on old cats. In fact it is an inherited reaction and so some cats and their offspring will never react to catnip. Cats release the chemical nepetlactone when they bruise the leaves and stems by rubbing against them. The chemical is inhaled and the fun begins. They may roll around on the ground, paw at the plants, lick them and chew them. Every cat responds differently. Eating the plant may cause drooling, anxiety, hissing or sleepiness. No worries though; catnip is not toxic. These reactions usually last a few minutes then the cat appears to lose interest. It may return to the plants in a couple of hours and have some fun again.

I would suggest planting your catnip patch in an area by itself. Nepeta is a vigorous plant, plus who wants a bunch of drunken cats partying it up next to your prize fern-leaf peony. I have to hand it to cats, at least they have the sense to roll around in an aromatic herb, whereas dogs love old fish carcasses!

If you want to see the effect catnip has on cats check out this video.

Jean Atkinson is a horticulturist with Richbar Golf and Garden and a regular Observer columnist.