The gardener as instrument

“All through the long winter, I dream of my garden. On the first day of spring, I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth. I can feel its energy, and my spirits soar.” ~ Helen Hayes


My friend Tanner is still dreaming…while I am working.


But what a wonderful feeling to weed and mow and trim as the Memorial Garden bursts forth around me.


Two different visitors confessed today that they never believed this garden would be realized.


I guess there is no telling what a few devoted gardeners can accomplish.


All of last season’s hard work is evident again.


Even those we thought were lost, like this butterfly twig bush is now making a comeback.


“Spring makes its own statement, so loud and clear that the gardener seems to be only one of the instruments, not the composer.” ~ Geoffrey B. Charlesworth


“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” ~ Margaret Atwood


Dirt, and dogs, I say. And I so happily do.

This has to stop


I am angry.

Let me preface this with the understanding that this is a personal blog. When I speak here, I speak as an individual, not as a representative of the organization I volunteer with and love. With that out of the way…

There is a tremendous sense of fulfillment that comes with rescue. Blessings surround us daily. I heard a saying recently – “hard is hard”. There are certainly many hard things in rescue. Some of these are just strenuous physical challenges – some are difficult emotional challenges. I try to accept what comes our way with as much grace as possible: good people who surrender their dog through no fault of their own; others who surrender their dog for a myriad of reasons that, to me, are unfathomable (he got big; he got sick; my boyfriend doesn’t like him). I try to keep my judgement in check and focus on the best interest of the dog. There are dogs we could not help because they were simply dangerous; and there are those we said ‘goodbye’ to because it was unfair to let them suffer. These are the hard realities that sometimes accompany rescue. But there are some realities where grace escapes me altogether.

All across this country, rescue organizations are faced with an impossible moral dilemma as a result of irresponsible breeders who regard dogs solely as cash crops – puppy mills. Dogs that have been bred until they have outlived their usefulness; sick and broken puppies. If we take the dogs, we are enabling their operations. If we do not, the dogs are “disposed” of – often cruelly.

I am angry.

I am angry that good people with kind hearts are put in the impossible situation of having to make such a horrible choice.

I am angry that our weak laws, over-burdened law enforcement and under-funded courts make it possible for these operators to operate with impunity.

I am angry that I cannot be even more specific for fear of jeopardizing the lives of dogs we can save.

I am angry that intelligent people continue to create a market that supports this when there is a mountain of information available to put an end to it.

I am angry that dogs give us unconditional love and trust, while we allow this situation to continue.

This has to stop. If you must purchase a puppy instead of adopting, there are such obvious, simple, best practices to follow that would put an end to puppy mills. Like anything harmful to our earth and its inhabitants, if you want to stop a bad behavior – you have to stop the demand. We have the power to do that. Almost instantly. Please use it.

Here is a link to the Humane Society’s tips to avoid inadvertently supporting puppy mills. Please share them with everyone you know.

We go to school

At Homeward Bound we rescue Golden Retrievers, golden mixes and the occasional gold dog masquerading as one or the other. But we serve dogs of all shapes, sizes and spots through our Golden Rule Training program which is available to adopters, fosters and the public. The garden has always been a welcome place to visit on the way to training classes. Thor and Locke –


and Bear and Cooper regularly make their way through the garden before class. It puts them in their happy place.


Lately, the garden has become a destination for training in its own right. Since so many gather here, it is a perfect spot for people socialization training. Sadie visited with us last weekend. She is great around other dogs and gets a lot of hiking and outdoor time,


but people make her a little nervous. When I first walked by, her posture immediately let me know that I was too close and she was uncomfortable.


Our trainers have taught us – avoid eye contact and do not attempt to approach or pet a dog that is afraid. Instead, wait quietly for the dog to approach you – then reward with treats.


It took a little while, but pretty soon Sadie was saddled up to me and turning to mush while my friend Rob took pictures.


Claire is undergoing similar training. Sick as a puppy, she didn’t get a lot of people time – something that is key to a well-adjusted dog.


One by one, visitors approached her in the garden. She is making steady progress. Who says a dog can’t change its spots?


Training, like gardening, is a commitment. It requires patience, consistent effort, and a little bit of faith.


“Properly trained, a man can be dog’s best friend.” ~ Corey Ford

A flower for every smile

For the first time since I began volunteering at Homeward Bound, the kennels are only half full (a temporary situation, I’m sure.) Despite the reduced workload, the volunteers were out in abundance. I overheard one of them explaining to someone about what draws her here: the joy she feels when she pulls through the gates; the serenity of the country surroundings; the garden; the people – like Michele and Chip who visited with their failed foster, Murphy, to pick out a new foster pup (they have fostered more than 20);


and of course, the dogs.


These are the loved dogs of Homeward Bound…


the ones that have been with us a long while because their special needs make them hardest to place.

We have faith that someday their perfect match will come along. But until that time, we are very happy to love on them.


“If I had a flower for every time you made me smile,
I’d be walking in an endless garden.” ~ Author Unknown

The garden is smiling back at us;


every visit this time of year brings new spring delights in the waking of perennials, trees and grasses from their winter slumber. I was thrilled to find the Mexican Sage finally popping out from its wood sticks, and Campanula making its way skyward.


I am under orders not to make any significant changes until Ina and Maria return. Does editing the Hummingbird bed count as a significant change?


I don’t think so. Wanting some greater structure during the winter, I added a smoke tree bush, dwarf blue spruce, blue fescue, some boxwood and others.

What do they expect, leaving me alone in our endless garden?

The Garden as teacher

After a year of working in the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden, I have – to my amazement – become a more patient gardener. I walk right past the impulse buy tables in the garden store.


Tempting as they are, I now favor these young divides –


trusting that they will grow into stronger, healthier plants that will shoot forth year after year.


This season, I will even experiment with seeds – something I never had the patience for before.


The gardeners and I have watched and learned what works and what doesn’t. Plant in mounds to avoid drowning in the winter rains…


Don’t cut back until after all frosts; it is colder in the country and our little friends need their cover…


And tulips belong in pots, well out of bunny reach!


Last year was all about planning and planting; this season is about waiting.


Including sitting out this Killdeer’s brood; 3-4 weeks incubation time after the last egg is laid. Her nest is so well-known to us that we leave it marked with a little statue for her return each year. No digging here for at least three more weeks, yet she allows us to walk within a couple of feet of her without too much fuss.


“A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.”~ Gertrude Jekyll

A return visit

The fertile soils (former wetlands) and Mediterranean climate of the Sacramento Valley provide an ideal environment for growing. The winters are temperate, the summers warm – cooled by Delta breezes. Old trees in established neighborhoods provide frost protection and shade from the blazing late July and August sun. Buildings create closed spaces blocking cold winds that can otherwise quickly freeze fragile plants. As a result, microclimates can be a full zone apart from an area just a few minutes away.

The Memorial Garden is in the country not far from Sacramento – surrounded by flat rice fields. It soaks up sun, but cools off quickly with nothing to block the wind. That’s a wonderful air conditioning system in the summer when breezes come off the wet fields, but it delays our spring, keeping nights and early morning temperatures cool cold.

So, while we wait for our full spring to burst forth at the garden (and while some of you still wait out winter) I made a return trip to the Sacramento City Cemetery, which sits not far from the river, but in the middle of town. Sheltered, and blanketed with old trees, it boasts a much milder growing environment. You might remember my last, late summer visit captured in the post From Whence They Came. I was anxious to see what it looked like in spring. It did not disappoint. Enjoy.


Secrets of the heart

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen, nor touched…but are felt in the heart.”  ~ Helen Keller

There is one feeling that I will never get used to – is the joy of watching new connections made and new two+four-legged families formed. Last weekend Jeff and Erwin came through the garden with Duke – 90 pounds of golden love.


Previous adopters, they had lost their beloved pup and were finally ready to share their hearts with another.  The connection was real and instantaneous.  They spent hours together. Arrangements were made to return a week later to pick him up; unable to stay away, they were back the next afternoon with a friend to share another day.


Who knows what clicks to create these instant bonds. Who cares?


Secrets of the heart – dog to human; human to dog.

Signs of Spring

“The flowers of late winter and early spring occupy places in our hearts well out of proportion to their size.” ~  Gertrude S. Wister


The signs of spring are everywhere in the Memorial Garden. For those of you still suffering winter, a few vignettes are shared here with a hope that your spring is on the way.


Yes, no spring is complete without puppies. And last, but not least, a beautiful specimen of the treasured “sugar corculum”.