Maria and Her Men of Stone

“Done.” This is the email I received from Maria – a woman of few words after spending an entire day with three burly guys (Kent, Kevin and Anthony) laying the new stone patio under Pear trees at the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden.

Here they are, before their pile of pain:

They make it look easy, don’t they?

Piecing together the puzzle.

The result: another shady spot in the garden for dog walkers and their rescued Golden Retriever wards to take a break and soak up the garden dedicated in their honor.

In one (warm) day, this crew managed to dig out approximately 120 sq. feet of heavy clay earth, move and place a pallet of beautiful flat quartzite stone, level, and then fill with fresh workable soil. Tired trio!

Eventually we plan something like creeping thyme between the stones. But that’s another project and another day. Today belongs to our garden heroes. Great job all! (Funny how Maria never makes it into the picture!)

P.S. Rumor has it we have a new sundial donated to the gardens. Probably a good thing. We lose track of time out there! Look for an update later in the weekend.

One of the Homeward Bound volunteers gifted the Memorial Garden with prayer flags. They are inspired by Tibetan prayer flags, used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The belief is that their prayers and mantras are blown by the wind to spread goodwill and compassion.

This thoughtful woman provides the colorful flags, inscribed with messages of remembrance, to people who have recently lost their dogs. It is a touching tribute to the four-legged friends who have graced our lives.

The cloth frays and the printed images fade as they are released over time to the wind and presumably, the heavens. As life moves on and is replaced by new life, hopes are renewed by continually placing new flags alongside the old, welcoming life’s changes and recognizing a greater, ongoing cycle.

When you lose a dog, you never think you will be able to fill the huge hole left in your heart. Yet when you are ready, you will find that each leaves space for another. Like the flags, the heartache fades with time – and new relationships are born.

These flags are fitting in the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden – dedicated to the dogs we have loved, and the opened hearts they inspire.

A Sweetheart in the Garden

Breeder dogs are dogs that are kept solely for the purpose of producing liter after liter. Many never leave their cages – much less experience the wide open country spaces of the Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue and Sanctuary near Sacramento.

This pup visited us as we worked in the Homeward Bound Memorial Gardens this weekend. Her dog walker shared with me that this beautiful, sweet girl is a breeder dog rescue.  Trying to get a picture of her face proved difficult; she would not raise her head to me despite warm pets and praise.  She is still very shy and unsure of her new surroundings and freedom.

A quick internet search on breeder dog rescues brings up unspeakable stories of abuse and neglect. There are already too many rescues and shelters overflowing with abandoned dogs.  If you are a dog lover, please, please consider rescue.  The gratitude expressed, and the bond created by bringing these amazing creatures into your home and heart is beyond measure.

As I went back to work, she and her walker were working together on some trust exercises – simple things, like taking a treat from the hand.  To my surprise and delight, I felt her quietly sneak up beside me, leaning in close as I adjusted one of the new drip lines. These little girl has a very big heart in need of a human who will love her. Much as I enjoy visiting with her in the gardens – I look forward to the day I see or hear of her going to her forever home.

A Sanctuary for Goldens

Jody and AlyssaJody was one of our visitors in the garden this weekend.  She and her husband, Mike, are the co-founders of Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue and Sanctuary near Sacramento, CA.  Visiting with her was Alyssa, a 12-year-old cancer survivor – thanks to the care of Homeward Bound. Given her age and recurring health issues, Alyssa is not a good adoption candidate.  At Homeward Bound, however, she has a forever place in the Sanctuary.

Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue & Sanctuary is a volunteer organization which rescues and heals displaced, abandoned, and homeless Golden Retrievers and Golden/Labrador mixes throughout Northern California, no matter their age or health. The organization not only secures safe, loving, homes through a comprehensive adoption program, but also provides sanctuary for Goldens who cannot be adopted.

The Sanctuary was inspired by Jody and Mike’s second Golden Retriever, Chelsea. Hit by a car, the vet told Mike and Jody that she wouldn’t make it due to the severity of her injuries. But, Mike told Chelsea that if she did make it, they would devote their lives to caring for other Goldens.  She pulled through, and they have devoted their lives to rescue ever since. You can read about Chelsea’s story in  “Chelsea’s Tales, Memories of a Rescued Golden Retriever.”

The Sanctuary is a place where dogs can be dogs; running, playing and swimming in big, enclosed, backyard-like pens, and smothered in attention and love.

We volunteer our efforts to their Memorial Garden – a place to reflect on the Goldens we have known, and to hopefully raise funds to support the efforts of this amazing organization.

Today we installed the beginning of the Willow Bed at the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden. That meant 20 bags of shredded bark to keep the weeds from re-appearing; a stone path surrounding a beautiful relocated bench built by other Homeward Bound volunteers; and the first of many planned plants joining the Bearded Iris, Japanese Maples and Redwood including Japanese Forest Grass, Heuchera, and a few small compact bamboo shrubs. These will multiply, and will be accompanied by African Iris, Astilbe, Black Mondo Grass, Lily Turf and more.

It instantly created a welcome, shady spot at least 10 degrees below the surrounding sunny paths. How welcome? We saw more dogs and dog walkers in the garden today than we have in the past few weeks! Each stopping to rest on the bench, enjoy the breeze, and take in one of the best views of the Gardens.

When it is done, this will be one of my favorite beds. It is already dog-approved judging by Butterscotch’s reaction.  She decided to take a roll in the bark, like most dogs roll in grass. Butterscotch is not exactly a pure bred Golden – more like a “Golden Plus”,  but her volunteer dog walker Allie doesn’t mind. They make a great pair!

The Gardens were also packed with camera-shy volunteer Gardeners. Joanne came by before the dog training class. These dedicated volunteers increase the odds of placement by bringing out the best in each dog.  In fast order she weeded several of the beds. (How do you not love a volunteer gardener with a preference for weeding?!) Sue is in the same training class, arriving early to spend some time weeding and deep watering. She left with a surprise – more on that later. Vonnie and Randy came out with son in tow to add some more plants to the Butterfly Garden – over the very loud objection of the Killdeer Bird who guards her nest in their bed.

While we have attracted bees in droves, and spotted a few Hummingbirds already, Vonnie was worried about the shortage of Butterflies so far. Not to worry. This little white one was spotted not long after you departed. Perhaps a Cabbage White one? Please weigh in if you know your butterflies!  We’ll see many more, I’m sure.

It was a long, very warm, day in the garden…with lots accomplished including drip lines to three of the beds, thanks to Maria’s expertise. (I’m sure she left near sunset…again!) More pictures and stories to follow. One blog at a time!

Thanks to all the volunteer gardeners. Things are looking great in the Homeward Bound Memorial Gardens!

Saturday Morning Finds in the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden

You never know what you will find in a country garden on a very early Saturday morning. While tomorrow will be my true work day out at the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden, I made a quick trip this morning to check on things after a several very hot days, with June 1st temperatures reaching 100 degrees.

I was greeted by a snake in Maria’s Bed Garden,


buzzed by a plane flying low over the sprouting rice fields next door,


welcomed by the smiling face of the sunflowers, now blooming,


and to my delight and amazement, I found happy garden beds looking perky and no worse for wear, despite the recent heat. On the contrary – the Salvia that has struggled for the past month went from sad to sensational. Well, almost sensational. Give it one more month!


Best of all, I found our pallet of stone, delivered. Next project: a stone patio under the plum tree where rescued Golden Retrievers and their human dog walkers can take a shady break while enjoying the gardens.


Time to get to work!

Snips, Snails and Puppy Dog Tails…

That’s what boys are made of! Or so the saying goes.

Dogs and dog walkers had company in the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden today. One of our volunteer gardeners, Sue, brought her grandson along to help her tend to her garden bed and fountain.

As often happens, a “quick trip” became a few hours. It’s easy enough for grown gardeners to lose track of time out here; imagine what a playground this country garden is for a little boy, masquerading as a scarecrow!

Wide open spaces, water attractions, and colorful birds. Funny – the same things that delight little boys delight our beloved Golden Retrievers! Happy Tuesday in the Gardens.

A Long Weekend in the Garden

The long holiday weekend meant being able to devote two days to the Homeward Bound Memorial  Garden, working side-by-side with the indefatigable, Maria.

Earlier in the week Anthony (the EMT son of one of our volunteer gardeners) cleared the remaining circle bed and Willow garden.  He did an amazing job of loosening the packed clay soil and removing all traces of weeds. Inspired, planting and mulching the circle garden became the first priority to ensure that his hard work would not go to waste. Newly christened the Hummingbird Garden, it is now filled with Lantana, Asiatic Lily, Verbena, Bee Balm, Salvia, Coreopsis, Red Sage, and a Butterfly Bush, all of which seem to attract more bees than Hummingbirds so far! Everything received a dose of organic soil conditioner and a thick layer of shredded bark mulch to block out any chance that weeds will see the light of day.

Bitten by the same bug, Maria delivered a couple car loads of plants to her Bed Garden and Whimsy Garden – now taking shape as an Herb Garden.  Her sunflowers are about waist-high now and beginning to bud. Every time we turn around, they seem to have grown another six inches. Between plantings she managed to attack weeds under the Grape vines and around the beds, while I fed and deep-soaked the roses which take a lot of abuse in the hot sun and wind of this country garden.

Joanne, a cheery dog-walker volunteer, made her way into the garden with one of her dog wards.  We quickly surmised that she had more garden knowledge than she professes, and when she said that she didn’t mind weeding, we put her to work. Unexpectedly enlisted, she managed to clear half of Sue’s garden before she had to leave.  We thickly mulched it to ward off their return.  Hopefully, we didn’t scare Joanne off and she will return for more! We are always in search of dedicated dog and garden lovers!

A beautiful Golden Retriever topiary now graces Jody’s garden, and will soon be covered with a vigorous Creeping Fig Vine.  She continues to bring shrubs and perennials weekly and each find their place as the bed takes shape.

Plans were made for the delivery of stone to create a simple patio laid in the earth under the shade of the fruit trees, and a pathway in the newly cleared willow garden, setting the stage for an Asian-inspired bed.

Thanks to Dick, the table that we planned to use under the trees was rescued and reconstructed when it literally fell to pieces as I attempted to move it. Dick was also gracious enough to replace the shovel I broke in the clay soil. There will soon be an entire crew dedicated to repairing all that I touch.

Dick and his volunteer crew are kept constantly busy building, repairing and maintaining all in support of Homeward Bound and its mission to rescue displaced, abandoned and homeless Golden Retrievers and their Golden+ mix friends.  The hard work is gratifying as you are constantly surrounded by the rewards of your efforts; like the three-legged Golden, happily chasing a tennis ball this weekend. These dogs have such enormous hearts and spirit. They spur us on.

Updated pictures follow for all that track our progress turning a patch of hard clay country earth into a Memorial Garden for Homeward Bound.

Creatures in the Garden

The bunny crossing sign in Maria’s Garden is apt. While I’m not quick enough on the draw to capture them, Jack Rabbits have been spotted daily on the other side of the fence that separates the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden from a rice field. Today, bunny rabbits were spotted in the garden! They were last seen making their way to a thicket of raspberry bushes that remains on our “to-do” list.

The Killdeer bird has taken up residence again in Vonnie and Randy’s Butterfly Garden. I think she is getting used to us now. She no longer feels compelled to distract us with her “broken wing” display; a sharp trill suffices. Yes, we see you mama.

Sue found another snake in her garden this morning – and after it, its skin. We were grateful that it did not hang around for our meeting following the Pancake Breakfast Fundraiser. Perhaps it took up residence with the bunny in the raspberries. With doggy day-care available to all who attended the breakfast, the creatures having the most fun in the gardens this morning were previously rescued alumni Golden Retrievers and their Golden friends.  Many more fun pictures on the Homeward Bound Facebook Page if you want a smile. 🙂

Ready for Guests in the Garden

I spent a wonderful, if warm, afternoon in the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden. The 2nd Annual Pancake Breakfast fundraiser takes place there tomorrow, and everything was being spruced up for the event – including the garden. The paths received a close haircut – even those patches that require the extra effort of the weed whacker. The “to be disposed of” pile had been disposed of, and the beds are looking great.

Deb’s Dahlias are just beginning to poke through. She installed branches for support that add grace and just the right touch in a country garden. I planted some Sage in the back side of our bed to anchor it visually and provide height and beautiful late fall purple spikes long after the Dahlias have faded. Some Nepeta and annuals fill in the holes left by spring bulbs and blooms: Cosmos, Zinnia and Black-Eyed Susan. The more space we can fill, the less room for weeds!

Maria added a Honeysuckle vine and some potted flowers to the Whimsy Garden, while her Sunflowers reach for the sky in the Bed Garden.

Vonnie and Randy’s Butterfly Garden is newly planted, while the flowers in Sue’s Circle Garden are creating quite a colorful show. Her little creatures make me smile.

Ina’a Cottage Garden is thriving under a heavy layer of mulch and with the new drip irrigation installed.

The biggest surprise was Jody’s bed; now completely covered in bark to keep the weeds at bay, and filling up with shrubs that will add structure year-round. She heard that I threatened not to return until the bark was completed. I’m not sure where the rumor started, but I have to admit that I like the result.

The Garden looks ready for guests tomorrow; our volunteer gardeners should be proud of their efforts. Everything seems to be finding its home – including another lucky Golden Retriever that was adopted today. There is nothing more rewarding than working in the garden while a family gets to know – and love – a soon-to-be adopted Golden in the adjacent yard. What a great way to spend a weekend afternoon.

Finding a Garden Fix

Sometimes you just have to get your garden fix in unexpected places. I missed the Homeward Bound gardens last weekend to travel to Las Vegas for a birthday celebration. I saw a whole lot of concrete and neon, but few trees or flowers until I made my way to the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Garden where my need for green was satisfied. 

While brilliance abounds, a closer look reveals that this is a display – not a true garden. Each and every plant is in a container that is no doubt quickly removed when it loses its luster.

At the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden, we don’t have the luxury – or the desire – to discard less than perfect plants. We rescue and nurture – just as Homeward Bound rescues, nurtures and places hundreds of dogs each year.

The Bellagio “garden” is certainly spectacular and worth spending time in – especially when you get tired of the chaos of Vegas. Still, it cannot hold a candle to the joy of our country garden where good things grow and develop over time from the earth. I will happily return this weekend.

The Dahlias were planted; the drip system is being fine-tuned; I hear the sunflowers are growing like weeds; and I imagine the weeds are growing like weeds as well! Rumor has it that a new shovel was graciously donated after my last clay-digging mishap. I’ll be sure to bring my own and steer clear of it! Something tells me the gardeners will appreciate that. We hope to see  all of them on Sunday after the Pancake Breakfast.

Is it the weekend yet?

Finding a Place for Them

At the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden, I am happy to provide whatever help I can to Jody and her garden bed. At approximately 500 square feet – it is a huge undertaking for this dedicated co-founder of a recognized Golden Retriever Rescue and Sanctuary just outside of Sacramento, CA.

I am a planner by nature.  In the garden, I have been known to stare at an empty site for hours/days/weeks until it becomes clear what belongs there. To me, it is the artist’s or writer’s equivalent of a blank canvas or piece of paper.  And like writer’s block, a garden can take a very long time to reveal itself to me.

Jody, on the other hand, has a very different approach. Weekly she appears in the garden with another plant or two. Something she has rescued, resuscitated, or pulled from a picked-over sale bin somewhere. “You’ll find a place for them,” she says with a smile, before she departs.

This attitude is at the heart of an amazing organization which is responsible for the rescue of hundreds of dogs each year. From a small office, kennel and a few pens has grown a sprawling sanctuary with enclosed fields where the dogs can play, swim, and frolic as dogs do. Pulled from shelters, surrendered by owners who can no longer care for them, they are the lucky rescues, and there always seems to be “a place” for just one more at Homeward Bound.

The Homeward Bound Sanctuary serves as a “half-way house” for Goldens awaiting adoption, and as a permanent home for those dogs whose health issues have rendered them unadoptable. They are welcome to live out their lives at the sanctuary in security and dignity, surrounded by love. Just like Jody’s pretty patchwork of a garden. Sprouting weekly from a long stretch of soil; a place where any rescued plant is welcome to make this garden its new home. No plan required.