Look Up

My preference for a packed garden has led to some thuggery.

I spent the day cutting back prized but overgrown California fuschias, cerinthe major (honeywort), and even California poppies to allow the verbascum, sea holly, and blazing star see the light of day.

It’s a happy garden that grows so vigorously that it needs to be edited in May!

Sometimes, gardeners get tunnel vision; all we see are the weeds and work.
The same with rescue; the sad stories and hard days can overwhelm.

To be sure, the usual culprits are there in the garden: Bermuda grass and wild morning glory in particular.
But I say ‘look up.’

In rescue, you learn that you cannot dwell on the obstacles and setbacks. You have to look forward to the good that can be done. While our hearts still ache for the loss of our little Rose to Parvo, we have been celebrating the recovery of Lilac. She stayed with us for a bit to ensure that she would go home strong and healthy –

and so she could make up some lost socialization time during her period of isolation.

Post-darkness, she is a gift of sunlight and happiness.

Look up dear gardener – at the magnificent roses, the tall Verbena that towers, and the Daylilies in bloom.

Look up to the brilliant Yarrow, Matijila poppies, and Jupiter’s Beard.

Look forward to the Delta sunflowers, the Dahilias, Agastache, Penstemon, Bee Balm, Rudbeckia, Zinnias, and Salvias. They will be here before you know it.

The weeds, like troubles, will always be there. But it is the good and beauty that deserves our focus.

Happy life, sweet girl.

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

A Garden Is Not a Place

“A garden is not a place: it is a passage, a passion.

We don’t know where we’re going;

to pass through is enough;

to pass through is to remain.” ~ Octavio Paz

I am never alone in the garden. When all have left and I have it to myself, I am still surrounded by the memories of all that remain.

Fall Garden Project Number One

No, really, there are no remains in the Memorial Garden…although you might suspect otherwise if you saw this.

While we were away, fall signaled its arrival.

Just hints so far, but the creatures know.

And with cooler days come a mountain of projects. First on the list: a complete demolition and re-do of the raised bed area of the garden.

Once, these housed a mountain of overgrown and deadly blackberry brambles. They spread their spikes throughout the garden, so they were banished to the perimeter a few years ago where they (and the bunnies) thrive safely out of the dogs’ paths.

Blueberries, California Poppies and a bed of Rosemary took their place, but the spot was too dry and hot for the blueberries, the boards were rotting, and the Bermuda grass was winning the war on all fronts. I have learned to let nature have her way…to a point which does not include Bermuda grass!. So, the raised beds have been razed and the blueberries donated – and in their place will be gentle mounds hosting native and drought-tolerant selections more appropriate to the site while echoing other sections of the garden.

The first order of business, however, are trenches.

When it rains, everything on the property flows from the dog yards and kennel to the garden. It helps to keep the dogs drier (our first priority) but creates lakes in the garden. We lost one tree this year to the swamp that collects in the center; we want to prevent that going forward. So, in the design are trenches and mounds – to act as catch basins for some of the deluge while keeping drought-tolerant plants high and dry.

Maria helped me with phase one: the blueberry and box frame removal while unearthing and capping the existing irrigation.

Nash came to the rescue to cut down and remove the heavy redwood boards.

And while the dogs did not quite grasp the principle of sled dogs to help in moving wheelbarrows of gravel,

Kermit the cat was happy to provide supervision and amusement.

A few plants will go in this fall to get established, but mostly, we’ll fill the bed with fresh compost and leaf mulch and let it “cook” over the winter to be ready for spring planting. I have learned the hard way: preparation and patience pays rewards in the end.

What’s on your fall garden list?

The Return of the Ninja Gardeners

A few brave roses somehow survived frost, hail, and cold and were still attempting to put on a show on a foggy Friday. Such is gardening in Northern California.

But the arrival of crocuses and narcissus signal – it’s time for the roses to go.

Our gardeners are like ninjas; rarely seen – but they leave a trail of weeded and dead-headed beds behind as evidence of their stealth powers. Once a year, I am able to wrangle them together for our annual rose pruning day.

Ina and Dee cheated and snuck in a little early – graciously lightening our load a bit.

I think Ina was afraid that if she did not tackle the iceberg roses personally, we would see a repeat of this summer photo.

Still, with nearly 100 roses, the advance team was appreciated. There was plenty left to tackle. Arriving early on Saturday, we managed to complete all by mid afternoon, despite the impossible distraction of puppies in the yard next door!

And thanks to our ninja hauler – not a trace of clippings was left behind.

Wrangling the group for a photo is a whole different challenge. I have yet to capture the illusive Dee on camera, but the rest of them did not escape my lens – and that includes Nala, our gardening companion for the day.

Thank you gracious gardeners, for another successful prune day. Spring cannot be far away!

To Rule A Garden…Or More

“Anybody who wants to rule the world should try to rule a garden first.” ~ Author Unknown

I found this unattributed quote and it struck me as true. Nothing humbles like a garden – a tiny microcosm of the world where distinct forces work best in harmony, but are sometimes pushed into doing battle for survival and the chance to ensure future generations.

I’m not really sure that anyone ever rules the garden; to assume so would tempt Mother Nature’s scorn. But to tame and transform a garden calls upon many of the same qualities required of great leaders.

1. Collaboration
A successful garden requires a close union with nature. To be truly connected to the earth demands a genuine interest and care for the welfare of all who live there: the flowers and trees, the birds, bees, butterflies, and tiny toads. Each has a role in the lasting success of the garden. Learn to live and work together.

2. Vision
A gardener must be practical and grounded – making the best of what they have been dealt in wind, water, temperature, and soil. But a gardener also keeps one boot firmly planted in the future – looking seasons ahead in decisions about where to plant sun and shade, laying a good foundation with well-nourished soil, and considering the needs of all for space, habitat, and life essentials.

3. Observant
Mother Nature will not be controlled. But by studying with patience and watchfulness, she will share her lessons. A gardener earns her respect by being gracious and persuasive, but never controlling.

4. Empathy and Tolerance
We share our gardens with countless creatures – each simply going about the business of living their lives, feeding their families, and ensuring their survival.

This is their home, too. Share with empathy, compassion, and an appreciation for their unique contributions to the garden.

5. Innovative
A gardener’s failures are many. Learn to accept them with grace. To succeed means to be a perpetual student, tester, and inventor. What you can’t renew: transform. For the things you can’t (or shouldn’t) change: learn to adapt.

6. Ethical
We have but one earth. Treat it with care. Make sustainable choices and live by the motto: do no harm. The passerby in awe of that oversized, out-of-season flower does not know – but the earth does and carries any lie.

7. Passionate
A garden is built of passion and purpose reflecting the heart of the gardener who is blessed to work and walk among its inhabitants.

Without passion, a garden is merely a chore. Be motivated by passion, but lead with humility.

Who Let The Dogs Out?


Who let the dogs out? Well, actually, I let some of them out, interrupting gardening chores today to help get the dogs out while most everyone was at the Reunion Picnic. Once a year, Homeward Bound takes over a local park where dogs from the “Class of 2000” on come together. It’s a great opportunity to see the results of our work in the happy faces of the adopted dogs and their humans. Here’s one group courtesy of my friend, Rob Kessel:


But what I was really referring to is how empty our “dorms” are after so many going-home celebrations last week. At least George will be on our list this week. Happy life, George!

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But don’t feel sad for those of us left behind today. It was blissfully quiet, with plenty of friends to keep us company.


The bunnies are surprisingly patient posers…


And the birds are nesting everywhere.

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They are so resourceful, hiding their nests in grape vines, shrubs and under chairs (leave it to the Killdeer!). But this one pretty much takes the cake.

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Speaking of bunnies…yes, indeed…they were the culprits. The dahlia replacements protected by chicken wire are alive and thriving.

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We have delicious apricots on the tree…


apples and grapes in our future…


just don’t ask about the lawn. We’re sacrificing it in favor of the beds this year with even more limitations on water.


By August, we’ll be brown, but today – the kennels are nearly empty, the garden is lovely, and all is well.

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“Rejoice in the things that are present; all else is beyond thee.” ~ Montaigne

Promises Kept


It wasn’t a lot … but it was something … and in our current state of drought, we are grateful for anything.


Just after all the dogs were walked,


dark skies turned to a quick downpour –


with the promise of more on Tuesday. Every drop and every cool day extends our hope for the garden (which looks lush and full in spring) to survive another California summer.


“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” ~ Thomas Fuller

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Sixty five roses fed on Saturday before the rain … perfect timing.


And, five of our longer-term residents found their way home this week, including two pairs that we promised to keep together: Lucky … who I wrote about in January

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Dexter and Pogo …

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And handsome Finnegan and Seamus.


Promise made. Promise kept.
“All that we behold is full of blessings.” ~ William Wordsworth

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Do you suppose Saint Francis can request water on behalf of the dogs’ well-being as well as the garden?

With Good Company

“A single leaf working alone provides no shade.” ~ Chuck Page

It was a great weekend at the rescue and in the Memorial Garden where I was joined by Maria, Anna, Peggy and Steve. It’s unusual for so many of us to gather at once. With a moderate storm in the Sierras above us, the skies looked ominous.


Steve assured us that it would not rain. He lied. But before the brief shower sent us scurrying for cover, we managed to get a lot done. Steve, Maria and Anna muscled the last of our weed tree stumps out of the ground.


The hideous black plastic bucket that covered the stump for months soon held the evidence of its permanent demise.


Anna’s mom, Lynn, donated nine bags of oriental lilies. We thought we were getting nine bulbs!

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Peggy set to work planting them. Their fragrance will soon fill the air.


Anna is a weeding machine. A woman with a mission, she is systematically eliminating every last trace of crab grass –


while Rob has been busy rehabbing the real grass.

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We’re blessed that so many young people want to support our mission of rescue. We had a full crew of youth volunteers this weekend.

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This is Sydney with Woody;


and new walker, Sierra, with Sequoia.


Another of our hunting dogs was adopted. Let’s just say that some “going home” photos are easier to capture than others!

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Remi was SO excited to be with his new little brother, Parker! No dogs were injured in the making of these photos. They loved each other at first sight.

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“No road is long with good company.” ~ Turkish Proverb

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The Seeds of Today and Yesterday


“Memory is the power to gather roses in winter.” ~ Author Unknown


Gardens don’t have memories. They die back in winter and come forth in spring to show the results of our hard work – or the havoc the birds and nature have sown.


But surely, they have souls.


Each year the garden is reincarnated; reborn. Taking on a remarkably similar, but changed version of its former self. It’s journey – a combination of planning and happenstance.


A blogger I admire – Will, of Will and Eko “Marking our Territory” fame – wrote a beautiful tribute this week to his brother’s dog, Dutch, titled “On Losing a Dog.” If you haven’t read it; you should. He captures so perfectly the grief we feel when our most accepting companions leave us. But there was one line I could not shake. He wrote: “A dog has no journey of their own, no thoughts of past or future, so they give themselves fully to us in a way no person ever could.”

Will is right that a dog’s journey is largely controlled by others, but the dogs we rescue at Homeward Bound most definitely have pasts – and memories of them. Some are very hard to let go. We have seen dogs that mourn the loss of their human or canine sibling; others that have been traumatized or mistreated. One of our newest arrivals, Missy, is clearly thinking only of her past. Surrendered for a minor transgression, she does not understand why she has gone from family dog to homeless dog, or why she was left in a place she finds so overwhelming. Shaking, tail tucked, her body language says “I’m afraid.”


As soon as she sees the vet, we will hope to have her in foster. Gorgeous, she should have no problem finding a home. We will guide her on a new journey – with a secure and loving future. And she will, no doubt, give herself fully and gratefully to a person who will make her feel safe and loved.


“All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today and yesterday.” ~ Chinese proverb


Until the Fall

The garden – like the rest of us – is desperately trying to turn the corner to fall.



It was not to be this week – with summer still making itself known by delivering temperatures over the century mark.



With the surrounding rice fields drained, even the crawdads are trying to seek safe haven.


I guess the word is out that we rescue, as most were scooped up and transported to our pond.

After a very hectic and full-house summer, we delighted in sending 14 dogs home last weekend. However brief the respite, there are, thankfully, a few open spots in our kennel “dorm.” I think all of us could use a bit of a rest from the crazy pace and heat of summer. Like the garden, we are a bit wilted and worn.


I look forward to cooler days and fall projects. Last year was the entry way – freshly planted and a looking a little bare this time last September –


now full and flourishing.


And the re-worked Iris bed. Last September, we carved out some center space for annual color while the irises take their own rest.


The summer plantings have completely taken over and will look even more beautiful as the season changes.

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There are bulbs to thin and plant, beds to re-work, and trees to install as the season’s cycle begins again. But all of that will have to wait until we have a bit of cooler, crisper weather suitable for hard labor. Until then, we’ll just enjoy the company of dogs.


A Garden’s Friend

As dog is man’s (and woman’s) best friend –


I find that Lavender is the garden’s. A loyal giver, and a hard worker – it offers much to its surroundings. Its strong sturdy stalks support delicate sweet flowers.


Its soft blue grey goes along and gets along with everyone.


It rebounds well from adversity, spreads heavenly perfume…


expects little, and gives a lot.


Happy to be a supporting player –


but fully capable of leading the charge.


It is a perennial friend…


and a gracious host to all.


Lavender. Friend to the garden. Qualities to emulate with friends.

“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.” ~ Dalai Lama