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Garden Cats are Guardians, Ambassadors at Gibbs Gardens

Garden Cats are Guardians, Ambassadors at Gibbs Gardens

By Barbara Schneider, Gibbs Gardens
Photographs courtesy of Gibbs Gardens

Every garden needs a garden cat. Just ask Jim Gibbs, owner, designer, and developer of acclaimed Gibbs Gardens. “Cats help keep down moles, voles, and other pests. They save treasured garden plants from becoming some critter’s dinner,” said Gibbs. “The voles are the worst; they eat plants from the roots up.”

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Tiger climbs up a tree to scan for moles and garden pests.

Garden cats have been part of Jim Gibbs’ life and gardens since he began Gibbs Gardens. The first arrivals, Socks and Spot—now 14 years old—were adopted from a local animal rescue in 2009, as final plans for opening Gibbs Gardens were underway. His original idea was to adopt one kitten—a future garden cat—for two of his grandchildren to play with when they visited his house. He remembers thinking, What could go wrong?

“After we arrived at the animal rescue and started meeting kittens, my grandchildren told me they did not want to share a kitten; each grandson wanted his very own. I tried—without one iota of success—to convince them kitten sharing would be fun but (after some sobs and tears) we came home with two kittens.”

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A sculpture of Jim Gibbs’ granddaughter Allison when she was seven playing with Jasmine, her kitten. There are sculptures of the Gibbs’ grandchildren throughout the gardens.

Kittens, grandchildren, and garden cats soon became a family tradition at Gibbs Gardens. As the number of Gibbs’ grandchildren grew, so did the number of garden cats. At one point, before Gibbs Gardens opened, there were 11 cats—each and every one adored by Sally and Jim Gibbs’ 11 grandchildren.

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Spot tuning up his purr to welcome visitors at the Welcome Center.

The cats all lived in the lush gardens around the Manor House in complete contentment—well fed and well-loved, with plenty of places to play and hide among hundreds of beautiful plants. Today, four cats claim Gibbs Gardens as home: Paisley, Spot, and Tiger are active garden cats while Socks lives the good life inside the Manor House.

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Socks making sure no voles are hiding in the Manor House.

“Socks was the best hunter of all the cats,” said Gibbs. “In her younger days, she followed me around the gardens on my early morning walks. She was right behind me as I checked on construction progress and gardening projects.”

Socks also managed to be close enough to the Gibbs’ kitchen to enjoy regular tidbits from Sally Gibbs’ cooking.

“About four years ago, Socks curled up in the Manor House kitchen and decided to retire,” he added. “She now lives inside the Manor House like royalty and occasionally meows instructions and complaints to the other cats from inside the kitchen screen door.”

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Paisley (incognito) on guard duty in the gardens.

After the gardens opened to visitors in 2012, a gorgeous Persian cat named Paisley joined the Gibbs Gardens’ cat family. A serious hunter, Paisley, now 10, patrols the gardens from the outskirts of the Manor House Gardens to the Inspiration Gardens and down the hillside to the Japanese Gardens. She’s a bit of a show-off and loves to strike dramatic poses for visitors.

Tiger, a lovable gray-striped, four-year old cat, is the only male. He roams around the Japanese Gardens and likes to lay in the sun on the pool deck behind the Manor House. He proudly patrols the Valley Gardens where he is sure to get lots of pets. All the cats are friendly and love attention from garden visitors but Tiger will come right up to visitors and rub against a leg to attract attention and pets.

During nice weather, the cats eat and sometimes hang out on the screen porch adjacent to the Manor House. Most nights—and always in bad weather—Sally Gibbs brings them inside the house.

Spot is known as the Gibbs Gardens ambassador because she is so friendly. She hangs out under the flowers and trees around the Welcome Center, Arbor Café, and Grove. Spot takes her ambassador duties very seriously, greeting visitors—always with a welcoming purr—and happily posing for photos.

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Spot ready for bed at the Welcome Center.

Spot has a warming bed for cooler nights but, as she’s gotten older, Spot sleeps in the Welcome Center just about every night—always in cold or bad weather. After the gardens close for the day, Melissa, the gift store manager, and Kathy, Welcome Center Team Lead, make sure Spot is settled for the night. They set up an insulated bed and her litter box, then take turns feeding her. Melissa brings her chicken and Kathy brings tuna. “Spot only likes white meat chicken,” Kathy noted.

“When the gardens close for the winter, the staff empties out all the gift store display cases to itemize the remaining merchandise,” explained Kathy. “When Melissa arrived at the gift store one morning, she was surprised to find Spot was sound asleep inside the empty jewelry display case.”

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Refrigerator magnets of the cats are popular with Gibbs’ visitors.

Gibbs Gardens’ cats are so popular with members and guests, the gift store started carrying refrigerator magnets bearing their images.

Throughout the year, Paisley, Spot, Tiger, and Socks thrive in their safe, sheltered homes in Gibbs Gardens. They are fed each day at the Manor House or Welcome Center and love to play and hide in thousands of nooks and crannies throughout the 376-acre gardens. But, best of all, the love and attention these garden cats receive from the Gibbs family, hundreds of Gibbs Gardens employees, and thousands of Gibbs Gardens visitors may make them the luckiest garden cats anywhere.

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