Elfin Magic

There are elves among us.

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I don’t know where they hide, but they leave their mysteries and mischief all over the garden.
Bunnies that rearrange themselves to better smell the flowers…

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beautiful sayings that magically appear in the beds…

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stepping-stones crafted by small hands…

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wind chimes and bird houses that find their way into trees…

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and trees that are mysteriously deposited without so much as a note.

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Can anyone identify this tree so we know what to do with it, please?

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Each week, they leave little surprises in the garden to bewilder and bemuse. And gifts…they bring us gifts.
They brought us sweet, sugar-faced Hudson with his ever-outstretched paw,

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And darling Nikki, also recovering from surgery.

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They delivered Winston to us, with his crazy legs that go every which way but forward.

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And magic. With barely a drop of rain and little water, they still manage to bring us flowers…

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birds…

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bees…

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and butterflies.

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There is elfin magic here.

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“The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.” ~ Eden Phillpotts

If only for a season

At the rescue, people and dogs pass through our lives. Some we know only for an instant; others stay on for years. Each makes a special impression – often in often unforeseen ways.

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I was touched and honored this week when a woman reached out to request a copy of a “going home” day photo I took earlier this year. I remember the day so clearly. The woman was 80; the dog she chose was also in her sunset years. I will never forget the look of sheer joy on the woman’s face and devotion on the dog’s. The connection was instant; captured in the click of a shutter.

While she and the dog are both in good health, she is making her final plans so her family will be spared that responsibility when the time comes. She would like the photo to be present at her parting because it “reflects so much of my life.” I cannot share the photo here as she wants to keep her plans secret for now. But I told her I would happily provide prints – which I hope she will not need for a very, very long time. I had no idea that our simple meeting would present such a gift to each of us.

In the garden, some blossoms last but a season –

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others return year after year.

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Annuals fill in when perennials take a much-deserved rest.

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What would this Feather Grass be without Amaranthus?

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Or the purple of Barberry without the compliment of Cosmos?

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Or summer without Sunflowers and Dahlias…though there stay is always too short.

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With new volunteers, you’re never sure if they here for a moment, or will return season after season.

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They require the same amount of initial nurturing and care – an investment of time and effort, and a bit of a leap of faith – not knowing how long someone will stay. Yet, you never know what gifts they have to share.

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I have tried on lots of different volunteering opportunities in my life. In fact – I tried on Homeward Bound years ago. It was the wrong time to be the right fit. I wasn’t even an annual; I lasted about as long as a cut flower. When I returned three years ago, I found my place. And it found me. I want to continue to be a welcoming “perennial” – finding room for, and appreciating, those that come in and out of our effort – even for a short while.

“Some people come into your life for a season, because your turn has come to share, grow or learn. They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh. They may teach you something you have never done. They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy. But only for a season.” ~ Ritu Ghatourey

Land of Giants

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I don’t usually have a great luck starting flowers from seed. Maybe it is my impatience – or just bad luck. But this spring, inspired to help out the bees, I found a “no-GMO” mix of bee-favorite flower seeds and sprinkled them in the Hummingbird garden where I thought they might thrive. Some Cosmos and Borage surfaced. Little did I dream that the few little sunflowers seeds in the packet would sprout these towering giants – now completely out of place in the small Hummingbird bed.

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I planted Amaranthus as I did last year. These fast-growing plants with their pearl-like flower reached only about a foot last summer.

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I thought they would be a pretty addition to the annuals section of the iris bed. This year, they look like small trees and are completely ridiculous in their space.

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They would look even sillier, if it were not for the gigantic sunflowers that Maria placed behind them. Most of her sunflowers this year are a bit shy on growth. But not these jack-in-the-beanstalk monsters which tower over everything in the garden.

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We had to put her on a ladder to give a true sense of their height.

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Sometimes big is just too big.

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Same for this pup.

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When Ned arrived, he weighed in at over 95 lbs. and was experiencing seizures. A charming young woman named Lesley chose this giant ball of fur as hers to take home and care for.

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Over the course of a year, she helped him to lose more than 20 lbs. through better diet and exercise. In the process – he also shed the seizures.

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She wrote a lovely letter to us sharing their journey. It seems that in rescuing Ned (now Chewie) – Chewie rescued Lesley and was her support through a very tough year. You can read her story here.

Giant size…sometimes too much.

Giant heart…never enough.

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Second winds

After weeks of scorching hot and dusty dry – we caught a weather break and had unseasonably mild temperatures for a bit. The garden got its second wind, and sent blooms skyward again.

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Spectacular Sunflowers…

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Dazzling Dahlias…

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Daylilies…

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A second round of Delphinium…

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And the long-awaited appearance of those elusive Naked Ladies.

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Then – on Sunday – something truly amazing: clouds and a very light rain. You don’t realize how much you miss those drops until you live in California through three years of drought. It was short-lived, but spread a hush of gray over the garden.

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From riot to quiet.

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“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.” ~ Benjamin Franklin (Lucky agrees!)

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Even the dragonflies were smiling.

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Doing our Part

Our garden not only provides a welcome place for rescued dogs – it supports them through donations for commemorative bricks in our Memorial Garden Path and plaques on our Garden Wall.

This is Sally.

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This young, puppy-faced dog has already had a lifetime of breeding. Those days are over. Pampering and TLC are our orders for her moving forward.

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But pups are not the only creatures helped by our garden.

Monarch butterflies have a symbiotic relationship with Milkweed – their host plant.

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A female monarch lays its eggs on a sprouted milkweed plant. The eggs hatch in four to five days producing tiny yellow, black and white banded caterpillars which feed solely on Milkweed. After three weeks of voracious munching, the caterpillar enters the pupa stage and gradually changes into an emerald-green case ringed with golden dots. After five weeks old, the transformation is complete and it emerges as a butterfly.

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Two or more summer generations might be produced in the North before the migration begins for over-wintering in the South. Their principal winter vacation spot is Mexico, with some finding warm refuge in Florida, Cuba or Southern California.

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Today, Monarchs are disappearing in huge numbers. Their habitat is being lost due to development, overuse of herbicides, climate change and roadside clearing programs. Once common, this beautiful butterfly is on the verge of collapse. We can all help by creating Milkweed “way stations” – which is exactly what we have done in the Memorial Garden.

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While it is a perennial, hardy for zones 3-9 – the Milkweed we planted last year did not reappear. So we reinvested and have installed a couple dozen more plants in small patches throughout the garden.

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The brilliant Gulf Fritillary, which flourished in our area until the 1960’s actually became extinct in our region.

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For reasons unexplained, it made a reappearance around the year 2000. Its host plant is the Passionflower vine – which graces one of the entries to our garden.

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The Gulf Frit has a particular taste for the nectar of Lantana, Mexican Sunflower and apparently, Verbena.

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It’s no surprise that it has found a welcome home here.

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And then there are the bees. Colony collapse is threatening honey bees everywhere. Honey bee pollination is critical for tree nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables. The loss of Honey bees threatens crop production and other species who depend on it as well.

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There are many theories surrounding the cause of the disappearing bees, but little certainty. We can support them now by improving their health and habitat – and reducing the things known to be hazardous to both. Give up or severely limit the use of pesticides. If you must use them – avoid applying during mid-day hours, when honey bees are most likely to be out foraging for nectar and pollen on flowering plants.

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Plant bee-friendly plants – those that are good sources of nectar and pollen such as bee balm, coneflower, goldenrod, aster, borage and sunflower.

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Finally, there are those that we unintentionally support in the garden. Bunnies, lizards, snakes and birds are welcome guests – as long as they keep a respectable distance or don’t eat more than their share. The birds – which have been knocking off the grapes and gobbling them up – may be pushing their luck this year.

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They better watch out. I bet we can find some bird-dogs around here somewhere!

How We Come Here

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I’ve learned that the best gardens are patchworks of the found, shared and transplanted. The trees, flowers and shrubs of the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden are a collection of new, old and passed on beauties.

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Some arrive on our door step. Other have been lifted from gardens we love – always with permission, of course!

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Their common destination is a loosely structured garden with unique pockets created for the creatures who inhabit it. Bunnies, birds, snakes, pesky snails –

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and dogs, of course.

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Like our plants, they arrive from everywhere. Jersey Girl – one of our newest arrivals – traveled all the way across the country from Tennessee thanks to a network of folks dedicated to rescue. Her adventure took over two weeks of travel and foster. Passed from one to another like a precious gift. She is terrified of thunder and her people knew that our quiet valley would be a better place for her.

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Eve was found wandering. She was accompanied by a large tumor – likely from raising too many puppies – and she is almost completely blind from cataracts. If we can successfully do away with the first, we hope to remove the other and restore her health and her sight.

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Some arrive on wings – like our Taiwan dogs…

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and a prayer – for a new life and a forever home. Surrendered, found, rescued.

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Rescued dogs – like rescued gardens – return their good fortune a hundred fold.

Kiss of the evening sun

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I arrived late to the garden on Saturday – after lending a hand with the dogs’ last evening run. Peggy had been out earlier in the day. She is a weeder-extraordinaire and her work was evident everywhere.

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She happened upon a Killdeer egg. These silly birds have a nasty habit of leaving their eggs in the walk-on bark. The mama bird seeks camouflage – without consideration for the fact that this is a walking path. Peggy surrounded it with rocks to alert all.

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Evening is my favorite time in the garden. It is especially beautiful – and peaceful –

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as the sun lowers on the horizon and casts cool shadows after a day of baking sun.

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“The kiss of the sun for pardon,

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The song of the birds for mirth,

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One is nearer God’s heart in a garden

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Than anywhere else on earth.” ~ Dorothy Frances Gurney

Eve got a last walk through the garden. Blind – or nearly blind – and clearly a recent mom – she had been found wandering on the road. I wonder if this sweet girl knows how fortunate she is to have arrived here.

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By morning, Peggy’s noble effort had been undone by some predator.

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Luckily Mama had moved another to a safer hiding spot.

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Our work starts anew.

“If the world could remain within a frame like a painting on the wall, I think we’d see the beauty then and stand staring in awe.” ~ Conor Oberst

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Summer’s Arrival

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Summer is officially just around the corner – as the 100+ degree temperatures last weekend made clear. Deep, bold colors replace pastels in the garden –

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sprigs become stalks.

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and the bees are so busy gathering that I can weed – or photograph – among them and barely be noticed.

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“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.” ― Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

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Last weekend was ridiculously hot. It happened on the same weekend last year. 105-108 in early June. Record breakers. But the early heat wave was followed by a much more temperate summer. Fingers crossed that we experience a repeat this year.

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While the heat did away with the last of the spring flowers, it did coax out blossoms on the Bee Balm, Agapanthus, Lantana and Rudbeckia…

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Now all we need are the Sunflowers and Dahlias which are coming along.

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Only a few of the Milkweed (Asclepias) – which was everywhere last year – have reappeared. Probably eaten by those nasty Cucumber beetles. I will need to replant from seedlings soon for our Monarch friends.

The dogs are clearly loving the cooler temperatures this week. This face greeted me early Saturday morning. Hello Milo!

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He and his friend Molly are one of three pairs we have recently received.

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These beautiful long coats feel much better in cool breezes!

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“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” ― Henry James

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Cheers to the arrival of summer!

The Birds and The Bees…and More

A fresh batch of new volunteers came through the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden today during their orientation.

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Maria is smart enough to address the question proactively: no, there are no dogs buried here. Just a quiet place to remember, gather with friends and enjoy some peace and quiet with those in our charge.

We try to make the garden a welcome place for all – the birds and bees – and more.

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There are plenty of warm places to sun or hide for lizards and our friendly snakes.

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We leave bunny burrows alone as long as they only take their share.

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Makeshift bird baths, seeds, worms and ample bugs (no pesticides) support a variety of feathered friends.

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And we plant purposefully to attract bees and hummingbirds including butterfly bush, gaura, coreopsis, gaillardia, bee balm, dahlia, lavender, sage, aster, daylily, coneflower, verbena, yarrow, zinnia, delphinium, penstemon, lantana, milkweed and more.

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Fittingly, Saint Francis – the patron saint of animals and the environment – watches over. Maria has just completed his new stone pedestal…a fitting throne and a beautiful addition to the garden.

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He whispers to the pups – like newbies Chip and Cookie – ‘everything will be alright’.

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And the garden whispers to us in the cheerful chatter of birds, the hum of busy bees, and butterflies gracefully gliding from bed to bed.

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“Every day is an opportunity to make a new happy ending.” ~ Author Unknown

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