Fall just seems to have melted into winter. A month ago, the garden was in stunning bloom.
Now only a few cold hardy, fog-loving plants have found their bloom – refusing to surrender.
Maria’s garden art signals winter is upon us.
Soon, all will be quiet and grey – but spring bulbs are just a couple of months away. You can’t beat gardening in Northern California. Please pray for rain – it looks to be a long, brown summer.
Someone else bloomed today. Ahsoka was our latest foster. Someone thought they had purchased another of those pint-sized “English Cream” designer Golden Retrievers. After a few weeks of puppyhood, they surrendered with two comments:
“It’s harder than having a newborn baby.” And…”She’s growing REALLY fast.”
One: yes puppies are harder than newborn babies. Both wake in the night, but one will potty on the floor instead of diapers. And one is mobile with razor sharp puppy teeth. It will be a long time before the other is ready for its reign of terror.
As for growing REALLY fast…that might have something to do with the fact that she is mixed with Great Pyrenees! She’s a stunning beauty who will quickly grow to 70+ pounds!
She was much better off with us than in the crate they kept her in day and night. She came to stay for a couple of weeks and had her first taste of freedom. She and our Skye instantly bonded and he helped her with big dog socialization. They are BFFs.
But its best for puppies to learn from other puppies where the lessons are gentler. So newly adopted Ahsoka – now Lucy – attended her first day of puppy school today.
Shy in new situations, she hung with humans and sought out teacher for reassurance at first.
But good friends are hard to resist.
She quickly got the hang of it and was soon joined in all the fun.
It’s rare that we get to see our foster puppies grow up – but Ahsoka/Lucy was adopted by a fellow volunteer, so we – and Skye – will enjoy seeing her blossom and come into her own.
Mama always said you cannot pair orange and pink. She was wrong.
The apricot and pink tulips in the Memorial Garden are a stunning combination.
The birds know…
spring has arrived. Our rose arbor is beautifully rebuilt, and the fruit trees are beginning to blossom.
What I wish Mama had told me was that the alpacas and goats – sent to new homes this winter after Jody’s passing – were the safety plan for the hibernating tortoises.
These beautiful, fifty-year-old creatures had been in Jody’s care for the past several years. When she could not care for them last summer, I looked after them with near daily runs of fresh fruit, greens, corn, and dunks in their pond.
One of their favorites: rose petals. There were four bushes in their enclosure – one for each tortoise. And I made sure that the petals were on weekend breakfast meals.
When they came to wake the tortoises and move them to a new home, they found them dead. I won’t go into it; the tale is too sad. Suffice to say that the hooves of the alpacas and goats protected against marauders. It was a heartbreaking discovery.
This weekend, I moved their roses to the Memorial Garden. I brought with them the four pieces of tortoise art including one heavy stone statue that had long ago lost its head. It was presumed lost but when I picked up the tortoise planter I found it had been stuffed deep inside there long ago. A little gorilla glue should take care of that. If only there were a fix for the dearly departed.
They will be remembered here.
On a happier note: an update on Jody’s garden. A team did come together and in two weeks, amazing progress has been made. The weeds have been beaten back, the raised beds cleared, and the orchard restored. With the jungle cleared, I was able to trace the irrigation system and reset the timers. There is more to do, but we are on the way.
It will be up to the team to determine what to plant: a vegetable gardener – I am not. We will look to donate the surplus to a local food pantry. A small offering of goodwill to the community that has been so supportive of us.
We’ll need that continued support as we are presently swimming in dogs! The expected impact from the pandemic has arrived and their faces are not just Golden, but red, white, brown, black and spotted. Hopefully, we will not see a return to the last recession years when we were taking in 800 dogs a year. But our welcome mat is out and we have LOTS of waiting families.
Gardeners don’t fear critters, bugs, disease, or even frosts. The one thing a gardener truly fears is the fate of our gardens after we are gone.
The act of clearing, planning, planting, and nurturing a garden is belief in tomorrow – a love letter to the future. A gardener lives in anticipation of the season ahead and what surprises will spring forward. When you dig and turn that first shovel of dirt, a pact is made – between earth and gardener: I will tame and care for you and, in return, you will care for all who visit here.
Over a decade ago, our rescue’s founder, Jody, put a stake in overgrown ground and declared it a garden. The Homeward Bound Memorial Garden rose from waist-high weeds and thistles and clay to a place of peace and beauty over the next decade. But Jody rarely found time to tend to it. It was too much in view of dogs, volunteers and adopters – making it too easy for her to be interrupted and called away.
Several years ago, in a back corner of the property, Jody and her sister started clearing another piece of overgrown land. They created an oasis of raised beds, an orchard of fruit trees, a she-shed, and even a fire pit. Hidden from view, we all knew that this was Jody’s place of quiet, solitude and restoration. She monitored for emergencies, but rarely answered other calls when working there. Unexpectedly, it served another purpose: it strengthened our team and made us more self-reliant and resilient. It was to be her retirement project.
When she became ill last August, the garden was abandoned. Fruits and vegetables rotted on the vine and ground.
Winds sent beloved pieces of found art sailing. The weeds began a march to reclaim their territory.
It would have broken her heart to see what has become of her labor of love.
I asked permission of her husband to begin the work of rescue before the earth swallowed it back up.
This is a job much bigger than one person. But one can start. I cleared my way through the first stretch of jungle this weekend, digging out thistles, uprooting Johnson grass, freeing trellises and tomato cages from their tangles, and uncovering hidden treasures.
It reminded me of the first months in the Memorial Garden. It reminded me of her.
I will look to build a small team dedicated to its upkeep. In its ample space, we could feed an army of community hungry.
In its restoration, we can send our own love letter.
I am so sorry for your cold and snow. Not to rub it in, but I spent the weekend cutting back and clearing out for spring. The danger of frost is now past and the buds on the roses and trees and emerging Daffodils and Tulips signal that a new season is not far away.
The process revealed a plethora of ladybugs –
and blasted Bermuda grass run amuck.
First a final freeze, and then a huge wind blew through last week.
We lost several trees and it picked up our beautiful arbor and tossed it as if it was made of sticks.
It was the very first thing in the garden – long before there was a garden. As if Jody wanted to plant a stake in the overgrown ground and claim it. Built strong and steady by one of “Da Guys” on our facility crew – it sailed but did not break. The legs have been removed and it will be rebuilt, finding its rightful spot soon along our memorial brick-lined path.
The lower trunks of the plum tree that has been threatening failure for the past five years found the ground. Our garden friend, Joey, gave it a professional haircut and hopefully a couple more years of life.
Our baby German Shepherd puppies and their mama, Annie, have found a generous and willing foster to see them through their upraising.
The woman’s dog passed a couple of months ago and she found her home too quiet and empty. There’s nothing like a litter of puppies to fix that! Annie will be so much happier there – and my focus will shift, as planned, to Skye’s first surgery next Wednesday.
It hurts my heart to think of months of rehab for this boy who is so full of life. But it will ensure that he has a long, active and pain-free life. I will keep the end goal in mind and hope he forgives me.
It occurred to me that in my hard-to-write 2020 year, that I had not documented two of our fosters here. The list was not nearly as long as 2019, but lest they be forgotten…
Rubble was named for the place he was found – in a pile of rubble, stray at only 3-4 months of age. This adorable boy with the crooked ears needed a better start to life, so he came home to stay with us for a bit.
I met with his potential adopters when he was ready. It was a meeting unlike any other. They had recently lost their beloved companion. Usually, people instantly swoon and fall in love with puppies but they seemed reserved. I worried that they were not connecting. When they asked if they could go home and think about it, I thought: well, you already know the answer. They left and Rubble and I started packing up to return home. The phone rang. It was the couple. They were on their way back. I was skeptical until I learned the reason for their hesitation: the man thought that maybe he was being disloyal to their departed dog. The woman told him: this is exactly what he would want and what we need to fill the holes in their hearts. And so Rubble became Rebel. He visits our classes weekly and recently graduated to the big dog school! He could not be more loved.
Louie was born blind in one eye. He was raised outside with two other dogs. He was very thin and clearly had to compete for food. When he lost the second eye to trauma – likely over a food discussion – he was suddenly blind. And apparently useless to his people. They left him in a shelter with a the gaping, untreated wound.
Our Doc removed both eyes for his long term health. When he was ready, he came home with us. We quickly saw the food guarding issue – but we also worked with a trainer to get it under control. Other than that, he was a complete love. He adapted very quickly to house living – navigating steps and obstacles with ease. This blind puppy just needed a little guiding.
His potential family was hand-picked. Regan is a young 10-year-old girl who has raised and donated her birthday money each of the last several years to the dogs. Last Christmas, when she came out to deliver her gift, she fell in love with a 12-year-old Golden with terminal cancer who had been abandoned at the vet. Regan convinced her family that Monk needed to be home with them. She lovingly cared for Monk through his last five and a half months of life.
This Christmas, Regan’s parents surprised her and her siblings by bringing Louie – now Murphy – home. It is clear from reports and photos that adopting a blind dog has been a truly rewarding experience for Regan and her family. Fostering one was for us, as well.
We had an honored guest in the garden this weekend.
Laure is a master gardener and the original architect of the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden going back more than ten years.
Her design drawings are still housed in our shed, although the garden has morphed quite a bit over time.
The plan called for themed beds. Some, like the White Garden and Rose Garden bed are still as intended. We found that others like the Iris Bed were magnificent in spring but did not offer enough interest later in the season. Things got moved around, repeating patterns of color and shape throughout. It makes for a cohesive approach that moves in waves from one season to the next.
The original plan was much more tidy than the garden today. But crowded beds offer more cooling root protection in our hot summer (and fall!) months and help to keep the weeds at bay.
What Laure was marveling about most was the size of the trees. Back then, the garden was bathed in full, unrelenting sun all day long. Now, the trees have matured and we find we need to move plants into pockets of sunlight outside their shade.
She arrived just in time to see the asters in full fall bloom. And she marveled that a seed of an idea for what she called a “collar tree” became the metal weeping cherry tree whose branches are adorned with the tags of dogs who have come through our doors. To dream a garden and see how that it has flourished…
We learned the garden will be acquiring a new feature. A small chapel is planned as Jody wished to house the ashes of the Homeward Bound dogs who came to live with us in Sanctuary or who were helped to the bridge to end their suffering. Jody kept their ashes in her home all these years with dreams of a final resting place for them.
Life and family commitments pulled Laure away. But she laid the foundation of what this garden has become. We hope that she will return with the time is right. In the meantime, she has plans and plants to share that will assist our Monarch friends. A beautiful addition to our beautiful garden.
We are sizzling this week. I have been giving the garden an extra evening drink when possible, and I am lucky to have a garden buddy to watch over things when I cannot be there.
Rob is our primary dog photographer at the rescue, the author of Rob & Dog, and a recognized dog whisperer.
He reintroduced me to photography years ago when I began working in the garden. I studied photography in art school but adopted the snobby bias of my painting professors that photography was somehow beneath the “fine arts.” Age begets wisdom. I have come to my senses.
Rob is a constant presence at the rescue working with the dogs, guiding some of our special needs pups, and always willing to watch over some of the special needs plants.
This week, he oversaw the newly (and too-lately) planted Agastache and Rudbeckia. I don’t typically plant in the heat, but the spring shipment was delayed in our crazy Coronavirus world. The starts are still alive and thriving despite the heat. I had no doubt.
He also shares in watching over the feral garden cat, Freida (Frieda, Frida…we never actually settled on the correct spelling of her name).
For years, we have put food and water out for her. We provide shelter from the heat, cold and rain in the shed and in her igloo close by. Over time, she has gradually let us come ever closer. These days, she will sit out openly and watch us from a few feet away and waits on the porch for her meals.
We have an unspoken competition: who will be the first to pet her?
I envy Rob’s talent with dogs, am thankful for introducing me to the lens again, and am grateful to have someone to watch over the garden and all its creatures when I cannot be there.
“The best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow.” ~ Author Unknown
I am trying desperately to keep up with the advancing spring…in January! Crocuses, hyacinth, narcissus…even ceanothus and mid-season tulips are pressing up.
We only had two days of mild frost this “winter.” The roses were still blooming when we did our annual pruning.
There is no stopping the youthful march of spring now – either in the garden or in the dogs’ Senior Yard.
Affectionately referred to as Sugar Shack Acres, this is where dogs that are unable or unlikely to be adopted due to their extreme special needs live in their own little house and large shaded yard, surrounded by love. Since 2012, Red has reigned over this sanctuary section of our rescue.
At the age of seven, Red and his cohort of feral friends roaming a property in Oregon were rounded up by cowboys, put in a barn, and adopted out to an unprepared public. Turning a feral dog into a family dog is not for the faint of heart – especially a dog that has lived wild for seven years. Accounts are that most of the dogs found their way back to the wild. The woman who adopted Red quickly understood what she had gotten herself into and surrendered him to us where he would be safe.
It took a long time for Red to feel comfortable. There is still a part of him that is very much wild. If given the opportunity, he would still run. But now – at the age of 15 – he has found peace and contentment (and cookies!) in the company of like-minded dogs.
Like winter, they had settled into a gentle quiet. And then…
Over the past month, a series of boisterous youngsters sprang up like spring bulbs to disturb his tranquility. First, Brie – a one-year-old girl with an old lady problem (ectopic ureter).
Then, Laila – a ten-month-old hydrocephalus (water on the brain) girl. She is blind – but that doesn’t slow her down one bit.
And now CoCo – full of spunk and play, hanging out while she waits for her forever family to take her home.
They have recharged the visiting Ladybug….
and then exhausted her.
While Red and his fellow seniors, Violet,
and Tana must be wondering…who let the pups in!
It’s inevitable Red;
spring will come whether you are ready or not – so embrace it and enjoy!
We need new descriptors for gardening in our valley now. Thanks to climate change, “full sun” should be relabeled “scorch-resistant.” Beyond “drought tolerant” should be a new category: “desert-like.”
Everything I thought I knew about the garden has changed.
“Despite the gardener’s best intentions, Nature will improvise.” ~Michael P. Garofalo
Nature will improvise. But our gardens, as we have known them may be forever altered. Plants that once sought daylong sun now shrink from the blazing afternoon heat and require shade relief.
In years past, we had to provide protection for a couple weeks of 105 to 110-degree weather each summer. Now, most days from June through September brush or crest the century mark requiring a very different strategy for a garden that is not visited by its keepers daily and can only be partially served by a drip system.
Mulch is a necessity, but not near plant bases to ensure the water reaches roots. Planting in mounds surrounded by moats allows water to collect and pool while still providing good drainage. Systematically amending the clay soil with compost and leaf mulch helps it retain precious moisture, deliver nutrients the plants need, and supports an ecosystem of beneficial microorganisms.
Extra steps are required to support those who visit as well. Shallow trays of water are placed throughout the garden for thirsty birds, bees, and butterflies.
Tall, airy plants help to shade more tender varieties while still letting light in.
They also provide shelter for birds and butterflies from the baking sun.
With the cooler temperatures and a fall bloom, our hummingbirds and butterflies have returned to feast on salvias, penstemon, asters, zinnias, California fuchsia, and verbena.
I will have to get used to seeing these friends early and late in the season but not in the heat of summer.
“We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it.” ~ Jay Inslee
Often, the absence of something is felt as tangibly as its presence.
Anyone who has ever lost a loved one—two-legged or four—knows this. The silence when returning home or the space in a room previously occupied by their being feels loud and hollow. The empty void as weighty as their once physical presence—leaving regret for ever having taken our time with them for granted.
This spring, the garden was filled with swallowtails, painted ladies and cabbage butterflies.
Now, there are none.
Two weeks ago, the hummingbirds were so busy drinking from the Agastache that this one ultimately decided to pull up a seat at the bar and rest while feeding despite the annoyance of my camera.
Since then, there have been none.
The garden is full of flowers that attract birds, bees, and butterflies.
The bees are plentiful and enjoying their solitary feast,
but the hummingbirds and butterflies are noticeably absent.
It was an unusually long, wet and cool spring but in the late two weeks, it has been unusually hot—record-setting hot. Hummingbirds must feed all day to sustain themselves, but they avoid the heat and seek shaded shelter.
If the nights are too warm, they cannot recharge. The result can cause malnutrition and exhaustion.
I prefer to hope that they have found another, more abundant source of nectar and tiny insects to feed their growing young somewhere—but the suddenness of their disappearance is disturbing.
Butterflies depend on a succession of blooms from spring to summer.
When they come too early, their life cycle is disturbed—potentially irreparably.
Have we altered our planet so significantly that even the havens we have created are inhospitable?
“You think you can fix everything, change everything. But there will come a day when things cannot be fixed. And, you know what, it will be a day just like today”. ~ American Indian elder, quoted by Kent Nerburn.
The garden is still beautiful, but it is not the same without the flying friends who usually accompany it.
It is quiet. Ultimately, the garden depends on the pollination these winged wonders provide to ensure its longevity. And not just the garden – our food supply. Without the bees and birds and butterflies, nature is in jeopardy.
What legacy do we leave in our wake?
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” ~American Indian proverb
The brambles were replaced with raised blueberry beds – that fried in the summer heat and invited Bermuda grass, morning glory weeds and few blueberries.
Last fall, the bed frames were demolished to begin anew.
The vision was an extension of the adjacent California-themed garden.
The challenge: that bed sits near the top of the garden. When we get big winter rains, the water passes through and collects where the raised planters were until our clay soil will finally absorb it.
The solution: Mounds. Hills. Berms. Whatever you want to call them. They are raised high enough that the soil drains well.
Last fall, I brought in fresh soil and compost, covered them with cardboard, another layer of soil on top, and a final layer of mulch to let them “cook” over the winter, planting only those things that truly required fall planting. Maria and I created paths between the bed sections for weeding and planting access without compressing the soil.
And this spring, I filled the new beds to the brim with California natives and the Mediterranean standouts that I have long coveted.
The result exceeds my expectations already.
I know that I have installed more than the bed can handle long-term. But crowded beds ensure cooler roots in our hot, dry summers. And things can always be divided and moved in coming seasons.
The new beds are already bountiful and thriving in the conditions created for them.
Native Ceanothus, Poppy, Erysimum capitatum (“Western Wallflower”), California Fuchsia, Penstemon eatonii “Firecracker Penstemon,” Delta Sunflower, and Salvia spathacea “Hummingbird Sage.”