Mad cats and genius plants that make gardening easier

Tiffany Daneff / 29 August 2014

Saga Magazine's gardening editor on the plucky plants that defy the odds and flower on regardless.

When we took over the garden here I was pretty sniffy about the congested catmint and the overblown sedum which were all that survived in the flower borders. Boring, I decided, not really worth keeping.  

How I have changed my mind.

If there’s one thing a gardener doesn’t want to diss it’s a plant that just gets on and does its job without any human interference. (As long as its not being a bully and invading/suffocating everything else.)  There are more than enough fusspots that require daily watering, or weekly feeding, or tweaking, or supports. Which is fine if you have the time, but not if you don’t.

I hate garden guilt and the post-summer holiday season is just the one to have you gnawed up for not having tied in the new rose stems (which have all snapped off in the wind and rain) or weeded the veg beds (now hideously overgrown with dock).  

But, oh the joy of the plants that just bloom away with no help whatsoever from me.  I’m including in this lot the asters (Frikartii Monch) which, having started flowering at the end of June are just coming into their own now, two months later, and should keep going for a good while yet.  Though still young plants - this is their first season in the border – they are holding the whole thing together.  And they are fantastic for cutting with that almost electric blue that glows in the evening light indoors and out.  Yet they ask little in return: every so often I dead head them with one hand while holding the phone in the other.  So, a top plant.

Back to the old catmint, right, and sedum that we inherited.  There were about six congested clumps of each.  My guess is that they are those stalwarts S. Autumn Joy and N. Six Hills Giant.  All were splitting in the middle (the sign of a plant that needs dividing) and shot through with couch grass and nettles and bindweed.  Not very prepossessing.  When it came to clearing the border to replant I dug them all out and put them aside until I could work out what to do with them.  Some I chopped through with an old bread knife, the roots were so congested there was no way of pulling them apart.  In the spirit of recycling I teased out all the weed roots I could and then I replanted the best pieces into the flower borders – really to fill space while the new plants took root. The remainder I dumped in a back area, not quite able to throw them out yet not knowing what use I could put them to.

There they stayed for, ooh, I hate to relate but certainly it was all through Christmas and January and quite possibly till February. I’d walk past them and suffer pangs of guilt – half hoping they’d freeze to death so I wouldn’t have to worry any longer. But they refused to give up the ghost. This appeal moved me and one spring day, out of the blue, it occurred to me that I might just plant them along the walls at the south end of the veg garden and see whether they’d take. So I did. And they did.

It was all rough and ready. No special soil, no gentle handling. Some were already showing new growth others looked less sturdy. I tore pieces off, making sure that each had a decent piece of root. I planted one row of nepeta and one of sedum. The remaining catmint I stuck in the ground near the compost bin, just to tart the area up a bit.

I cleared the grass around them, chucked on some gravel to keep down the weeds, and left them to it. And good on them. All have survived (sedum and nepeta), some flourishing more than others, but each time I pass they make me feel happy because they look happy. And the nepeta has produced masses of blooms which the bees adore and are great for bringing indoors (even if they do drop quite quickly).

Job done.

PS. The only maintenance the nepeta gets is a stern haircut.  I did this in May (the Chelsea Chop) and again in July (the Hampton Hack) and when we returned from holiday last week they were back in bloom.

PPS. When I brought the catmint indoors to make up a vase for the hall I thought I’d see what the cat thought so I put a heap of leaves on the floor and never have I seen her so blissed out.  (See right!)

PPPS. I’d love to hear of your favourite easy-going plants. Do leave a comment below.

Tiffany Daneff is also the editor of the award-winning intoGardens app - the world's first magazine app for gardens. Visit the appstore to download a free sample or go to the website for more information. Gardening has never looked better or been more exciting. Visit for more info. 

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