Mama Always Said

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.

Gardens: Love Letters to the Future

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.

Catching Up

Dear Across the States Gardeners,

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.

And now…we are caught up!

Seasons Pass

Fall blew in on a mighty, cold, north wind.

It toppled our beloved Willow tree, but left a trail of purple blooming asters in its wake.

Just a couple weeks ago, we were still brushing the century mark. Now it is sweater weather.

The two-day wind storm stoked anxieties about more wildfires. We were thankfully spared here.

I want to hide in the garden away from the news and the sense of dread I feel about the election ahead and the wildfire of hate that is sweeping across our land.

History tells me that we too often repeat errors from the past…

and…that seasons pass.

You should never wish away time, but I can only hope that this one is on its way out.

To Dream A Garden

“I knew it would be bigger…but…”

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.

The Gardener’s Shadow

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

Spring Will Come: Red-y or Not

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,

Miller,

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!

Nature Will Improvise

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

Live in Each Season

“Live in each season as it passes.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Having lived through the wet of winter, the erratic fits of spring, and the scorching heat of summer, it is time to rejoice in the mosaic of fall.

I love the chaos of the fall garden.

All the little starts and shoots have grown tall and wild.

Their well-defined contours are now a tangle of color and cascading form.

They lay all over each other like summer camp friends clinging on – knowing a goodbye is ahead.

Like the joy in seeing my little foster charges grow up and go home, the fall garden is the culmination of winter dreams, spring plantings and summer labors.

And then it starts again.
I walked through this weekend and made notes about what worked and what failed…
which to divide and which to let stand and go to seed.

Maria brought gifts from the plant sale that found new homes adding to next year’s bounty.

And planning is underway for a wedding in the garden next September.

Fall is full of chores – all in good time. First – a breath and a moment to sit, soak it up, and take it all in. Living in the season.

Absence

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

Dear hummers and butterflies,

the flowers anxiously await your return…

as do I.

Taking the Hill

Originally, it was a mountain of tangled blackberries – home to snakes, thorns and the occasional bunny.

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.”

Mediterranean garden favorites: Crape Myrtle, Cerinthe major, Verbascum, Lion’s Tail, Blue Fescue, Verbena, Gaura…

And a little happy Penstemon and Geum thrown in for good measure.

It’s not to say that the Bermuda grass and morning glory weeds have not attempted a comeback. But it is just so much more enjoyable to do battle with them when surrounded with this beauty.

Lesson: Never be afraid to start anew.

Like our friends Bodie, 14

and Summer, 15 –

both beginning new chapters in their glory years because kindhearted people believed that their best beauty was still within.

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. Yet that will be the beginning.” ~ Louis L’Amour

 

All Dogs Go To Heaven

If April showers bring May flowers, what do May deluges bring?

It is the third week of May, and I am sitting in my house in a wool sweater and fleece jacket because I will be damned if I will turn on the heat at this point in the year!

Like the rest of the country, we have been hit with really bizarre weather. I cannot complain, however, because ours is in the form of cooler temperatures and significant rainfall – something we gladly accept as we head into another hot, dry summer (I think!).

It caused the cancellation of our much-anticipated annual Reunion Picnic when adopters and their dogs are reunited with the volunteers who helped them on their journeys home.

It is amazing to see so many faces spanning well over a decade in time. Some are young and wild; some sugar-faced and happy to rest in the shade. This year, however, they would have been sitting in a downpour, so we will have to look for another date.

Thankfully, the weather was beautiful for our new event two weeks ago – a memorial service in the garden: All Dogs Go to Heaven.

It was timed to match the garden’s first bloom. A heat wave the week before had me scrambling, but all survived and the garden looked magnificent—most especially the roses. There is nothing like the first bloom of the season.

People hung cards from the trees with photos and notes to the dogs they had loved and lost.

As the sun lowered in the sky, we lit candles, said a prayer, enjoyed great food and shared the company and stories of old friends and new brought together by a shared love of dogs.

I am not one for public displays of emotion, but I admit to welling up walking through the garden filled with photos of so many of our very special dogs—including our sanctuary dogs.

It was a physical manifestation of what I try to capture in this blog, thankfully documented by a professional photographer who donates his services, Mike Long. I stole a few to share with you. The full album is here.

As night fell, those that wished to placed their cards and photos in the fire pit. The ashes will be placed in the garden with a marker as a permanent reminder of the memories we shared together.

In anticipation of the rain this week, I did do some cutting back of the already over-burdened roses—particularly the Iceberg Roses in the White Garden that Ina has (once again) accused me of over-feeding and watering.

In my defense – the heat wave week was the first time I watered the garden all this wet spring – and they didn’t get any special feedings. They are, however, pruned by Ina – so guess who I blame for their exuberance!?!

I thought the rain might squash the newly planted Delta Sunflowers,

or drown the Dahlias that were just popping up.

Instead they seem to be thriving.

I’ll be curious to see how the California natives and drought-tolerants survive the pond created in the front beds.

How strange to worry about too much water for once! A small glimpse into our climate-changed future. Who knows? Maybe I will be able grow some of my east coast favorites soon.