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.

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.

The Benefits of Clay

I confess to being a little apprehensive about planting in the clay soil at the Homeward Bound Memorial Gardens, having little experience with it. I did the simple (very unscientific!) home test, and found it less heavy than I expected. Still, I know from weeding this spring, and the caked mud on my shoes, that there is much more than I am accustomed to.  This weekend, I learned its benefits!

While it is still April, temperatures were in the 90’s this weekend in Sacramento – and our plantings in the perennial garden are only two weeks established. I was expecting some droop, but found thriving, happy plants instead. The soil, under a good layer of bark, was lightly dry on the surface, but retaining moisture very well just an inch below. This, and the dappled shade the lower section of the bed receives in late afternoon, will be a real blessing in the hot Sacramento Valley summer.

Clay in moderation? I’m sold!

Beating Clay Soil

Necessity is not the only mother of invention; in the garden, pain is a pretty good motivator.

The Homeward Bound Memorial Garden is filled with heavy clay soil. While clay soils are nutrient-rich and hold water well, they are not fun to work with. To deep weed, or turn them using a rototiller, you have to time things just right. If the soil is too wet, you will only compact it. Too dry, and it is hard as rock.  Trying to time “moist, but not wet” when you are volunteering your efforts and your time is limited mainly to weekends is problematic. Thus, I have been weeding Jody’s garden by hand.

Hard on the back and knees, I discovered a better way to deal with these thigh-high weeds and grasses. Someone probably “discovered” it centuries ago, but it is new to me – and maybe to you. I share it in case there are others, like me, who love the garden, but have reached a point in life where the gardens sometimes does not love me!

With the spade shovel, I dig across and down, cutting out big, heavy clods of long weeds and root-packed soil. To free the weeds from the soil, I place the spade shovel lengthwise in the ground with its sharp, long side edge exposed.

Then I beat the weed clod against it, as if you were taking a broom to a rug. With just a couple of blows, the soil separates itself from the roots, leaving a soil-free clump that’s ready for the goat’s enjoyment. The clod gets smashed into small pieces in the process, which helps lighten the soil. Adding organic amendments and compost boosts the results. Most importantly, a thick layer of mulch is needed to keep any shaken off roots from re-sprouting.

I do stacks of clods, and then attack each with the shovel technique, so the back and knees each get a breather. Finish the job with a hot shower and a glass of wine, and you’re good to go!