Round Robin: Experimenting with Catmint

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DENVER, Colorado–I’m experimenting this year with catmints. The challenge is to keep the neighborhood ­felines from discovering them. I gave up on Nepeta x faassenii and the white-flowered cultivar Snowflake. Too many nocturnal catfights have destroyed everything within 3 feet of the plants, so I moved them to the alley. I’m surprised that in a garden of thousands of plants the cats can even find the catmints.

I think the cats’ owners should provide their entertainment, not me. I’m guarding Six Hills Giant, N. sibirica, and N. phyllochlamys with stakes made of rose canes, the thornier the better. N. sibthorpii and N. dirphya, which I grew from seed this spring, are still in pots. I’ll set them out when it cools down in late August, or whenever I get around to it. New gardens (this one is only in its second year) need so much attention that I don’t have a lot of time to devote to watching cats.

I’m feeling a bit frazzled, and I look it. I’m convinced that gardeners should never look at themselves in a full-length mirror during the summer; it’s bad enough during the rest of the year. I caught sight of myself accidentally as I came in from toiling outside and stopped dead in my tracks: I’ve turned into my father.

Dad usually puttered around in the vegetable garden in a pair of baggy trousers cinched tight at the waist. He’d wear a crummy old favorite undershirt. Worst of all, I thought in my self-conscious youth, when parents seemed an unending source of embarrassment, he wore slip-on sneakers. That was the ultimate in what we kids considered the dork look. When I got to junior high, it was decidedly uncool to be seen anywhere with your parents in public, and you certainly wouldn’t want your friends to see your nerdy parents at home in old undershirts and slip-on sneakers. The humiliation!

I stood in the hall, staring at my reflection. My chinos are baggy and cinched tight at the waist. Of course, I bought them on purpose at Abercrombie and Fitch just for gardening. I can stretch and kneel in them. They’re too long, so I roll the cuffs. There’s enough dirt in there to grow tomatoes.

Atop the chinos is my favorite old shirt that I bought at The Gap too many years ago. It has white and lavender stripes stained by grass and mud, and the collar is frayed. My sneakers are not slips-ons, but they’re the old-fashioned canvas kind that I wore in elementary school. If I were back in fifth grade, I’d beat me up.

OK, I may look like my dad, but at least I’ve inherited his knack for puttering around the garden. There comes a time when, in the grand scheme of things, appearances aren’t that important anymore. During some mysterious transitional period, certain things that you used to hate when you were a kid become somewhat pleasurable. I’m talking about hoeing, raking, weeding, and other garden chores. I feel satisfaction in completing them now because they’re part of the adventure of gardening that keeps me going–like trying new catmints and attempting to foil the neighborhood tabbies. As long as I can avoid that mirror in the hallway, I’ll be happy.

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