Conquest—that’s how I would describe the way a cat comes into your life. It will choose you, train you, and steal a corner of your heart, there to stay whether you like it or not.

If only that corner was as big as your patio!

I’m exaggerating about the whole conquest thing, of course. Well, maybe not by much. After all, I designed my life—and my home—around the three cats who own me.

My small, south-facing patio was no exception. When I finally had the time to pay attention to it, my cats made sure I designed it with them in mind. Black cat Merlin jumped on the makeshift table and lay there like an entitled king as if to say, “Do not forget, human, that this corner is meant for me.” Mimi, a coquettish smartypants cat with black Korean bangs, followed suit and claimed the opposite corner of the table for herself. Former rescue Sitti, the newest addition to our furry family, was kind enough not to add to the drama. (Thank you, Sitti.)

Now that I’ve wrapped my mind around my servitude to the cats in my life, I can finally tell you how to turn your patio into a cat-friendly garden.

5 Steps in Designing a Catio Garden

  1. Read up on locally-available cat-safe plants

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has an extensive list of plants that are non-toxic to felines, dogs, and horses. I spent many afternoons ooh-ing and aah-ing as I browsed their list, happy that many of the plants in my neighborhood, which I planned to get cuttings from, were cat-friendly.

If your cats eat just about any green leafy thing they see, it’s best to stick to a plant selection that has ASPCA’s thumbs-up. Plot twist: I found out that my cats didn’t like chowing on plants with a strong scent, such as basil and Cuban oregano. So, while most of the plants in my garden were completely safe, there were still some that weren’t. And that was alright, as long as I supervised the cats during their patio time.

  1. Ask a friend with a green thumb to teach you same gardening basics

Online sources are great in providing basic info, but friends know where to get the good stuff locally.

I learned about coco peat and worm manure online, but it was through a friend that I found out where I could source them cheaply. Besides, it would be fun to trade secrets and tips with someone who shared your new interest!

  1. Think big, start small

I imagined a haven of thick foliage and colorful flowers…and now have a promising patio with young seedlings and beginner plants. Well, I had to start somewhere, didn’t I?

One thing you can do to make your space feel big is to maximize wall space. Don’t put all your plants on the ground; have some hanging from containers above your head!

  1. Find out what foldable furniture your favorite hardware store has to offer

If you have a small patio like the rest of us poor earthlings living in overpopulated Manila, have faith: it’s foldable furniture to the rescue!

I found a lightweight foldable table at the hardware store near my house. I could fold it up and stash it away in two seconds, tops. There might be great finds near you just waiting to be discovered, too!

  1. Get the cats’ approval (very important)

Your cats must absolutely approve of the patio garden. Do they like the pots? How about the plants? Will they be able to lie down and nap on the furniture? Will there be enough space for playtime without knocking down everything in their path?

Kidding aside, if your cats don’t like what you’ve done, they will make a mess of your work.

Remember how Sitti didn’t give me a hard time with the makeshift table? Well, she did with one of the planters. Apparently, there were some really nasty insects in the soil, something I discovered because I decided to do some digging—pardon the pun—after no decent seed germinated from it. When I threw out the contaminated soil, Sitti stopped knocking the container over.

Best of luck with your patio garden! With your cats’ help, it’s sure to be a hit.


This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s March 2018 issue.