As the season starts to turn, it seems to happen at a snail’s pace…literally.
It’s like the orchestra tuning to find that perfect pitch.
Things seems to unfold in starts and fits, and we keep saying…”just wait.”
And then, after an almost unbearable pause…the symphony begins.
Every tree is dressed in leaves and blossoms,
and every sleepy plant and creature awakens.
When I am away during the week, I miss the Memorial Garden. This weekend, the return took my breath away.
The earth is alive;
the creatures so busy;
and the gardeners so hardworking –
except for Yule, who just keeps us company.
Spring brings the dogs out in force,
and from their stories, we have learned this: symphonies have more than one movement –
and you can bury a lot of troubles by digging in the dirt.
I am an accidental gardener. Come to think of it, I’m an accidental everything: gardener, photographer, blogger, and rescue supporter. These were not planned; I was just drawn to them and happened upon people who graciously showed me the way.
A fellow blogger, Helen Johnstone of the Patient Gardener’s Weblog, shared a new book: the “First Ladies of Gardening.” Normally, a title like that would put me straight off. But I admire Helen’s blog, so I ordered it. And I’m so glad I did!
I did not grow up with gardens or gardeners. I vaguely recall that my grandmother grew flowers to inspire her paintings, but I spent very little time with either. What I have learned has been the result of trial and error, as well as lessons from my gardener partners at the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden.
In “First Ladies of Gardening,” I learned names like Gertrude Jekyll, Vita Sackville-West – whose directive “cram, cram, cram” I already follow – and Beth Chatto, who believed that making a garden was like making a family.
But there is one gardener whose spirit I admire just as much as her garden: Margery Fish and her cottage garden at East Lambrook Manor.
Margery Fish did not begin gardening until she was in her forties. Quietly rebellious – the author shares – she allowed small plants to grow in the crevices of her husband’s perfectly groomed paths, and inadvertently stopped watering his “proper” plant choices in favor of her leafy, wild and rare perennials. New plants that mysteriously appeared were explained as “gifts” that simply could not be refused. The garden – once a jungle – was planted in abundance and self-sowing seeds were left to distribute unexpected surprises that kept the garden looking natural and unfussy.
Margery Fish believed that you can’t rush a garden. You need to get the feel of its surroundings, and then it grows by degrees.
Our Memorial Garden has grown this way. Pushing out and overflowing its ever-enlarged beds, blooming with donated gifts,
filled with surprise remembrances,
and dressed – of course – with dogs.
I think every garden needs dogs.
We have a long way to go to match the majesty of East Lambrook Manor, but I am filled with inspiration.
And did I mention…dogs?
The colored shapes of the spring flowers in the WPA Garden in Sacramento are so special…I had to share some here.
“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.” ~ A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young
With a brief, but welcome rain this week, followed by unseasonably warm temperatures, the garden truly came to life.
I should stop saying “unseasonably warm” and just get accustomed to it. Those who don’t believe in climate change surely are not gardeners.
Sarah is back; returned from a year of hard labor on the graveyard/weekend shift at work. We have missed her in the garden.
I love getting to the garden early before everyone else arrives. It’s my chance to survey and see what has newly popped up,
begun to blossom,
or made its way into the garden beds thanks to those mischievous elves.
This is my time to take a few photos,
and to enjoy the company of the garden creatures; nesting Killdeer…
and rare yellow ducks.
My solitude is broken by the play of puppies in the adjacent yard…
and dog walkers – not just passing through – but stopping to sit and play now that the weather is warm.
“You have to give people something to dream on.” ~ Jimi Hendrix
We give you the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden in spring.
“A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself.” ~ May Sarton
No garden is perfect. When I post photos to the blog, I work around spent blossoms and rarely select the ones with tiny bugs.
I try not to share too many sad dog stories. And I most certainly avoid sharing our occasional “moments” with each other. Everyone has them. They are an expected part of our rescue effort which requires passionate people from all walks of life working together. People just crazy enough to come back time and again despite the inevitable heart breaks.
Maybe it paints too perfect a picture. We set high standards for ourselves and each other. And sometimes, we fall short.
Bringing plants together in a garden for the first time creates a kind of temporary chaos. Ideally, they provide mutual support and a complementary scheme that falls together in an effortless blend. In reality, there is usually a bit of a learning curve and adjustments are predictable. Some shine brightly and risk overshadowing others;
some spread and inadvertently crowd out.
Roses require constant pruning, feeding, deadheading and fussing.
Asters think they rule the world.
Bee Balm just does its thing and prefers to be left alone.
Once a plant’s nature is understood, a few simple moves can make everything blossom harmoniously. A garden finds its melody and individual notes are welcome – even with imperfections.
“In the hopes of reaching the moon men fail to see the flowers that blossom at their feet.” ~ Albert Schweitzer
As individuals, we are as imperfect as the garden. And yet, somehow, we come together to accomplish great things. Kaylee came to us a few months ago. She was emaciated, diabetic and blinded by cataracts.
Her diabetes was brought under control and she gained fifteen pounds, making her eligible for eye surgery to remove the cataracts. A couple of weeks ago, Kaylee met the faces of the people she knew only by sound and smell. She caught a ball.
And she started running like the wind with joy as her sail. Our dog photographer, Rob Kessel, captured her beautifully through each stage. You’ll find links to her galleries below.
“Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
We are not perfect. Far from it. But with a few adjustments, we come together to make good things happen.
The house across the street stares back at me from my kitchen window. Though newly occupied, there is still a familiar potted bougainvillea on the porch – a reminder of my friend Gay and her husband, Rex.
They hailed from Paris, Arkansas – a tiny wisp of a town. Gay’s father was a hard-drinking man who worked in the coal mines. People warned her delicate, soft-spoken mother off him – but she was determined. Stubbornness ran in the family.
Gay was the apple of their eye. Her older brother just could not compete with the family’s only girl for their affection. She loved her father, and he spoiled her. But he scared her, too, when he drank. The bond between Gay and her mother was as deep as a lake.
Gay met Rex when she was young. When she went to college in Memphis for a time, they dated. But her father wanted her close, and Gay was called back home.
It was war time: World War II. Rex enlisted and took his basic training at Fort Hood, TX. Before shipping out, this girl who had led such a sheltered life, drove with girlfriends to Texas where she and Rex eloped. Her parents none too pleased. She returned to Arkansas and waited for Rex’s return. Thankfully, he did.
Rex adjusted to life after the war, although Gay said there were some things he just wouldn’t talk about. He went to work at the family’s auto dealership but preferred fishing over selling cars. Rex preferred fishing over just about everything except Gay’s southern cooking. When the dealership burned down, they moved to California with Gay’s parents. The coal mines had left her father with black lung. She cared for him until he passed.
They lived in a small house on Redondo Beach. Gay’s mother helped to raise their son, as they both worked. When Rex developed heart issues and was forced to retire, Gay became the breadwinner. Together, they cared for her aging mother until she died at the age of 91.
When Gay finally retired, they moved to Sacramento. Rex had a heart attack shortly after they arrived; his third. By all rights, he should not have been around for me to meet. A sweet, charming man who had every tool I ever needed, helped me break into my house when I was accidentally locked out and snuck cookies to my dogs when he thought I wasn’t looking. When they quarreled – which was rare – they would each tell me their side of the story like kids running to mom.
Gay and I shared a love of dogs and gardens. She could be seen walking all over the neighborhood and through the nearby park with her little dog, Blossom. In an instant, this shy, private woman would turn into a social butterfly with Blossom as the catalyst. A few years after we moved in, she traded her giant Cadillac for a yellow Volkswagen Beetle. She would drive around town in that yellow bug of a car with her yellow 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics baseball cap and Blossom raised high on a pillow in the passenger’s seat. “She likes to see the world go by.”
I could spend hours with Gay in her backyard, drinking coffee, devouring shortbread cookies, admiring the birds and dreaming up plans for our respective gardens. As things became harder for her, I would tend to her yard and keep her giant potted orchids watered. They live at my house now.
Rex was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in his early 80’s – although Gay suspected it began long before that. She saw him through every horrible stage for a decade. Forgetfulness; anger; frustration; wandering; and eventually, helplessness. Stubborn as the day was long, she refused even the help hired for them. In her exhaustion, she fell down the stairs which led to placing Rex in a small care home where his extreme needs could be met. She naturally went with him.
She never left his side until he left hers about a year later in 2012.
The house was sold, and she moved to a huge and well-appointed assisted living apartment – but all she wanted was to be home in her garden. After caring for her father, her mother, and Rex – she had no one left to care for. She couldn’t wait to be reunited with Rex, and for two years, she cursed her body for not failing her as she commanded it. A few days before Christmas in 2014, she got her way. She left us at the age of 93.
I loved that woman. I was able to kiss her goodbye a few hours before she passed. I will be forever grateful for that.
On Christmas, my neighbor brought me a package. Inside was a gift I will always cherish, purchased at the estate sale I couldn’t bear to attend.
“No spring nor summer’s beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one Autumnal face….”
~ John Donne, Elegy IX: The Autumnal