It's not a shade garden; it's a place for kittens to play hide-and-seek

As I surveyed the wreckage – broken fern fronds, mussed mulch, tree trunks bearing telltale claw marks – I at last realized that the backyard oasis that I thought I had created for myself was, in fact, an oversize kitty playpen.

Actually, my backyard has a long tradition of "going to the dogs." For years, it more closely resembled a lunar landscape than a suburban lot. Giant craters excavated by my two industrious dogs pockmarked it at random intervals. But four Thanksgivings ago, my last dog died.

The following spring, I got to work leveling the craters and creating a shade garden under the ancient Japanese maple, planted decades ago by the home's previous owner, who would no doubt have been less than impressed by my late dogs' "improvements."

By this spring, the garden had just about reached its peak – a wide variety of foliage colors and forms had woven together to form a junglelike tapestry.

And then ... the kittens came. And they saw. And they conquered.

The kittens were a "gift" from my neighbor, the last of two litters I had paid to get spayed and neutered (along with their moms and dads) at a low-cost clinic before placing them with carefully screened families.

The last two kittens managed to worm their way into my heart and home without my fully realizing it. They insinuated themselves into my other cats' good graces by adamantly refusing to take offense at introductory hisses and swats.

It was almost as if they knew their charm could win over even the curmudgeonliest old codger of a cat – and before long it did. I now routinely look out the window to see an adolescent kitten lounging on a bench, getting a thorough bath from a doting "uncle."

The kittens seem to think that my backyard, securely fenced to thwart feline escape artists, is their own personal amusement park. They attack clumps of ornamental grasses, lie in wait under hosta leaves in order to ambush an unsuspecting passerby, scale the maple and fig trees, and play endless games of tag and hide-and-seek among the lush vegetation.

All of this activity takes its toll on the plants. But I think the kittens may have charmed even them because they bounce back from the repeated onslaughts with amazing speed.

Maybe the kittens are right, and that's what the garden is really for.

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