Beating Clay Soil

Necessity is not the only mother of invention; in the garden, pain is a pretty good motivator.

The Homeward Bound Memorial Garden is filled with heavy clay soil. While clay soils are nutrient-rich and hold water well, they are not fun to work with. To deep weed, or turn them using a rototiller, you have to time things just right. If the soil is too wet, you will only compact it. Too dry, and it is hard as rock.  Trying to time “moist, but not wet” when you are volunteering your efforts and your time is limited mainly to weekends is problematic. Thus, I have been weeding Jody’s garden by hand.

Hard on the back and knees, I discovered a better way to deal with these thigh-high weeds and grasses. Someone probably “discovered” it centuries ago, but it is new to me – and maybe to you. I share it in case there are others, like me, who love the garden, but have reached a point in life where the gardens sometimes does not love me!

With the spade shovel, I dig across and down, cutting out big, heavy clods of long weeds and root-packed soil. To free the weeds from the soil, I place the spade shovel lengthwise in the ground with its sharp, long side edge exposed.

Then I beat the weed clod against it, as if you were taking a broom to a rug. With just a couple of blows, the soil separates itself from the roots, leaving a soil-free clump that’s ready for the goat’s enjoyment. The clod gets smashed into small pieces in the process, which helps lighten the soil. Adding organic amendments and compost boosts the results. Most importantly, a thick layer of mulch is needed to keep any shaken off roots from re-sprouting.

I do stacks of clods, and then attack each with the shovel technique, so the back and knees each get a breather. Finish the job with a hot shower and a glass of wine, and you’re good to go!

Playing Hooky in the Garden

I played hooky this afternoon to be in the garden, although I’m not sure it qualifies as hooky when you get your boss’ approval! The forecast calls for rain all weekend, and I knew if I didn’t get to Jody’s garden today, the weeds would be waist-high by next week. Under warm spring skies, I hoped that last weekend’s downpour had time to be absorbed. I was not disappointed!

The soil was still moist, but workable. With the exception of finishing the heavy clay section, the going was good. Halfway through I heard the sound of a power motor headed my way.  Riding to the rescue, Jody was on the mower making quick work of the long grasses that had grown up in the paths after the rains. I don’t know where she gets the energy after a full day of tending to dogs and Homeward Bound administrative requirements. Tired as I was, the sight of fresh-cut, manicured paths motivated me to keep going.

The cleared paths brought out the beauty of the iris and daffodil beds, currently in full bloom. Big blocks of color, against a country backdrop.

A few minutes later, Jody joined me in the garden, planting homeless irises. Just like the dogs rescued by Homeward Bound, she was finding a home for these discarded rhizomes. While the planting time is not ideal, they will no doubt bloom into something beautiful with a little time and attention. Just like the dogs rescued at Homeward Bound.

Irrigation is on its way, with the contractor just waiting for some dry weather to get the work scheduled. As soon as it is done, I have no doubt that truckloads of plants will be delivered and planted by our dedicated volunteers.  Jody shared that a fountain is planned at the entrance, and new chairs for resting dog walkers and their charges are ordered. The most amazing piece planned will be a giant metal tree, from which will hang the tags of dogs that have been adopted and remembered.

When I looked up, the sun was gone, the sky was getting dark, and the afternoon had become evening. I still have about six feet to go on Jody’s bed, but that will have to wait until after the rains.  I’ll play catch-up on job-work this weekend, but it is worth it to have a great afternoon in the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden!

Soggy Gardens

I am either a hopeless optimist, or a very foolish gardener.

Last weekend, I hit hard clay while weeding Jody’s bed at the Homeward Bound Memorial Gardens. (As the founders of Homeward Bound, Jody and Mike Jones devote long hours to rescuing and caring for dogs in need. Weeding is way down on the list, so I’m happy to help!) I made it halfway through the bed without resistance, but this stuff was like digging in rock. I figured that the rain this week would loosen things up. Oh boy!

What I discovered was a soggy mess, with clay-packed mud and weeds that have gone wild in just a week’s time. That sucking sound? That was my feet lifting from thick muck. Ina’s Cottage Garden has a river running through it at the moment, and the only way to traverse the gardens without getting completely soaked is by hopping from one bark-covered bed to another. Unfortunately, Jody’s half-weeded bed is not yet bark-covered, so it was more like stepping into sludge along a river bed!

It was immediately clear how the gardens got so out of control last year; and how much work we will have to do once the rains subside to keep it from being reclaimed by those thorny beasts again. Country gardens are not for the faint of heart!

Making Perfect Matches: Gardens and Goldens

Daffodils, Irises and flowering Rosemary aren’t the only things springing up at Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue and Sanctuary. Out working on the gardens today, I couldn’t help capture these cuties. No doubt, they will find quick and happy homes.  Even sweeter were the adult dogs that were being adopted today. Weekends at Homeward Bound are often filled with adoptive families coming to take their Goldens (and Golden-related dogs) home. Such excitement! But it doesn’t happen by chance.

While Homeward Bound places hundreds of dogs with families each year, great care is taken to ensure the right match for all. Just like planning our Memorial Garden, ensuring that we pick the right plants for the clay soil, limited water and full sun conditions, every adoption at Homeward Bound includes an application, a home visit, and an understanding about the family to make the best match. I know from experience!

When our Bella was about 18 months and in need of a companion, we thought we should get another female her age. The placement team at Homeward Bound, knowing Bella and us – knew better.  We got the call to come out and meet our match. A four-month old, fun-loving boy, full of play, but happy to let bossy Bella be in charge. They romped for an hour in one of the pens that day…and they haven’t stopped yet.

So, when you consider your garden, be realistic about what kind of conditions you have, and what kind of gardener you really are (or are willing to be). And when you consider adopting, do the same, to ensure a perfect, forever match.

(P.S…the puppies in this picture are in a giant, protected pen, getting some fresh air and play outside. Don’t be worried about the wire enclosure, or the very thoughtful face on the one on the right!)

Spring in the Garden with Goldens

Spring has arrived at the Homeward Bound Memorial Gardens. Things are popping up all over, including weeds. We’ve come too far in taming this garden to surrender even an inch. Today’s mission in the garden: eradicate! Since the bed I share with Deb is still is in good shape, my efforts were focused on helping others with theirs. I’m not sure that anyone really enjoys weeding, but it was a great excuse to be in the garden, and in the company of Goldens, on a beautiful spring afternoon.

I wasn’t alone. There were volunteers everywhere walking and playing with Goldens, all enjoying the warm sunshine. It’s so nice to see them wander in and enjoy the garden with their four-legged friends. I met Jim, who has volunteered at Homeward Bound for four years. He is one of those special people who foster Goldens – and has 29 to his credit. There was a great article in the last newsletter (page 3) about how the rewards outweigh the heartache of nurturing, and giving up a Golden to its forever home.

I met this lover boy who is in need of a home. I think his name is Snooky. He is super sweet and very well-behaved, posing so nicely for a snapshot!

I was also introduced to two blind Goldens – one who is a permanent sanctuary dog. The other is staying at Homeward Bound while its mom is deployed. Their resilience and ability to adapt is inspiring. Sort of like our memorial garden…a jungle of weeds last fall, now happily pushing up spring flowers. All it takes is a little time and TLC to bring out the best in gardens and Goldens.