The Best Part of the Garden

It was a very hot, sunny day in the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden today with temperatures over the century mark. Not ideal gardening conditions – but nothing that a margarita and a nap won’t cure.

With all of the beds finally planted and the major projects done until cooler temperatures in the fall, it is nice to be in maintenance mode at last!  Maria and I used a weed whackers to clean up the edges and the section in between the orchard trees. A garden that is tidy on its paths and edges hides many imperfections and just looks happier.

We adjusted some drip lines, added some mulch and addressed some issues with a few of the roses. Given the heat, we ensured that everything was well watered. The sprinklers and drip lines have been doing a good job. Still, the cooler weather next week will be welcome after today’s furnace.

The best part of the day are the dog visits. We see more of the older, sanctuary dogs in the garden, as they like to come sit in the shade while the younger dogs prefer romps in the adjacent yards and splashing in the kiddie pools.  We’re very happy to welcome these regal dogs who will live out their lives here at Homeward Bound due to advanced age and/or significant health issues. Dedicated walkers like Tatia are drawn to them. Here she is in the shade of the Willow Garden with Baron and Maria.

The only thing better are the sounds of families who have come to bond with a dog matched just to them. Word spreads quickly through the pens and gardens, and we are all delighted to hear when another Golden Retriever leaves to go to its forever home.

Too Hot!

Almost five hours in the Homeward Bound Memorial Gardens today, working with Maria. The temperature when I left with Maria still working: 104 degrees. This is how I feel…

…rescued Goldens like Hootie are our motivation to carry on!

Look for an update later, after liquid refreshment and a nap!

Dog Rescues Volunteer Gardener

As volunteers at Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue and Sanctuary, we should know about the “occupational hazard” of being around so many wonderful dogs in need. One of our volunteer gardeners showed up a couple of weeks ago with spade and shovel; she left with a dog.

On a pretty Sunday in early June, Sue planned to garden, walk dogs, and then join other volunteers training shelter dogs in the obedience class. If you are a regular reader, you’ll remember that  Sue has a special needs Homeward Bound rescue named Brock, a couple of cats, a very active grandson, and is a devoted volunteer. She also has a huge heart for those in need.

The dog she expected to work with that day was “taken” – or was it? The dedicated teams at Homeward Bound have a special knack for match making. Winston, a puppy, was suggested instead. Not exactly a Golden Retriever on the outside. But he has the heart of one on the inside.

This chocolate pup was a stray, picked up by the City of Stockton Animal Services and named Mateo. The shelter has few resources, and dogs are not kept long. He was lucky to make his way to Homeward Bound where he was renamed Winston.

Sue caught her first glimpse of Winston shortly after his arrival and evaluation in late May. He had been momentarily confused with Brock – who was with Sue while she was gardening with her grandson that day. The confusion was quickly cleared up, but the resemblance shared by the two was unmistakable. That should have been a clue.

“By the end of the hour, Winston had shifted from feisty, flighty and floppy to calm, collected and charming,” said Sue. “He epitomizes ‘puppy eyes.’ When I returned Winston to his kennel, I sat with him a loooong time.”

We expected Sue to stop by the garden before leaving for the day. Instead, she was captured with this bundle of energy packed in her car and a huge smile on her face. “Winston drove home with me that afternoon. I later realized that Brock came home with me two years ago on the exact same day – June 3rd.”

He has since been renamed Cooper. He has all of the usual puppy behaviors to work through, along with other issues resulting from lack of attention and training. A work in progress. But he also loves snuggling, is a velcro dog, is great with Sue’s grandson, adores Brock who looks like his twin, and now has a forever home.

You just never know what the garden will turn up.

Things Learned in the Garden

First, as the tile says, “a garden is meant to be shared.” All kinds of two and four-legged creatures are drawn to the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden. Some to toil, some for reflection or remembrance, and some simply in search of stray tennis balls!  All are welcome – even those that don’t have legs (snakes) as long as they are friendly.

Be adaptable. Things change in the garden. The tree that was a twig now covers the garden bed in shade. A rice field overflows and changes the composition of your soil. Time and nature have their way. Fighting is futile. Things that worked in the past, might not work in the present. A garden teaches you to adapt, adjust and move on.

Plants are like dogs; they need the right home and elements to thrive. Put two vigorous and bossy plants side by side and something is going to get overrun. Try to plant a shade- loving plant under the hot sun, and it will wilt, then sizzle. Find complementary matches and settings – and you’ll be amazed at what blooms.

Listen and learn. Our volunteer gardeners have all level of experience and much to share. If you pay close enough attention, the land itself will tell you what it needs to put forth its best effort.  Similarly, the way a dog looks or leans in to you will tell you just about everything you need to know about what it needs to feel loved.

Finally, volunteer dog rescuers, walkers, groomers, feeders, trainers, vets and placement teams have hearts as big as the dogs they care for. They absorb the trauma of whatever brought these dogs to this special place, stare down countless hurdles, and with patience and nurturing, bring out the best in every dog at Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue and Sanctuary turning ends, into new beginnings.

Sunset in the Garden

With the temperature over 100 for the past two days, I made an after-work trip out to check on the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden. I wanted to lay eyes on the new plants in the Willow Garden and make certain that the Herb Garden with its still young plants were surviving the heat.

I passed a bunny as I was walking in (too quick for the camera), our snake (we have to name that guy!) and something was most definitely lurking in the Iris Bed. I have no idea what. It wasn’t coming out, and I was not going in! I guess they were telling me that this was their time in the garden – and what a beautiful time it is.

I thought mornings were spectacular in this country setting, but they are nothing compared to the magic of sunset streaming through the sunflowers.

The beds looked good for the most part, but the trip was worthwhile. Everything in the Willow Garden got some extra water, and a few thirsty friends got an assist. Things will be a bit more mild over the next few days, thank goodness.

I found another gem in Maria’s bed. A painted tile that magically appeared. Very fitting.

Chance Encounters

There were few people, but lots of creatures in Homeward Bound Memorial Garden today. Most everyone was at the Homeward Bound Reunion Party, where adopted dogs and their human friends get together to reconnect and trade stories.  In the garden, the most delightful encounter was with a boy named Chancy.

He is total sweetheart and a complete gentleman with some special, but manageable needs for the right human match. You can read about him here, and see additional pictures here. His sad, but regal eyes say it all: take me home. I’m a great find and loyal friend.

I arrived early today, as the weather was expected to heat up. The wind has been blowing for two days – keeping things cool while I installed the rest of the Willow Garden, but wrecking havoc on the Sunflowers. I staked them loosely and set about planting: Lily Turf, Mondo Grass, African Iris, a Chartreuse Huechera and Barberry. Soaked well, with drip line installed and heavily mulched – I hope they will weather the next few days of high 90-degree temps in their new home.

As the beds mature, there are more bees, butterflies and even a Hummingbird spotting. With the quickly rising temperature, others arrived; a camera-shy lizard, and our resident snake. This guy used to scurry away when we walked by. Apparently snakes like warm stone, and this one was not moving! Stare down.

Deb’s Dahlias are taking off. It won’t be long before they tower over the rest of the perennial garden and grace us with a bold display of color.

The Tree Circle Gardens are freshly weeded and filling in; in the Bulb Garden the spent bulbs are tied off with the daylilies now blooming; and the Cottage Garden is growing large and full.

Everything got a deep soak in anticipation of hot days ahead. Think good thoughts for our Memorial Garden under that hot Sacramento Valley sun!

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.

One of the Homeward Bound volunteers gifted the Memorial Garden with prayer flags. They are inspired by Tibetan prayer flags, used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The belief is that their prayers and mantras are blown by the wind to spread goodwill and compassion.

This thoughtful woman provides the colorful flags, inscribed with messages of remembrance, to people who have recently lost their dogs. It is a touching tribute to the four-legged friends who have graced our lives.

The cloth frays and the printed images fade as they are released over time to the wind and presumably, the heavens. As life moves on and is replaced by new life, hopes are renewed by continually placing new flags alongside the old, welcoming life’s changes and recognizing a greater, ongoing cycle.

When you lose a dog, you never think you will be able to fill the huge hole left in your heart. Yet when you are ready, you will find that each leaves space for another. Like the flags, the heartache fades with time – and new relationships are born.

These flags are fitting in the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden – dedicated to the dogs we have loved, and the opened hearts they inspire.

A Sweetheart in the Garden

Breeder dogs are dogs that are kept solely for the purpose of producing liter after liter. Many never leave their cages – much less experience the wide open country spaces of the Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue and Sanctuary near Sacramento.

This pup visited us as we worked in the Homeward Bound Memorial Gardens this weekend. Her dog walker shared with me that this beautiful, sweet girl is a breeder dog rescue.  Trying to get a picture of her face proved difficult; she would not raise her head to me despite warm pets and praise.  She is still very shy and unsure of her new surroundings and freedom.

A quick internet search on breeder dog rescues brings up unspeakable stories of abuse and neglect. There are already too many rescues and shelters overflowing with abandoned dogs.  If you are a dog lover, please, please consider rescue.  The gratitude expressed, and the bond created by bringing these amazing creatures into your home and heart is beyond measure.

As I went back to work, she and her walker were working together on some trust exercises – simple things, like taking a treat from the hand.  To my surprise and delight, I felt her quietly sneak up beside me, leaning in close as I adjusted one of the new drip lines. These little girl has a very big heart in need of a human who will love her. Much as I enjoy visiting with her in the gardens – I look forward to the day I see or hear of her going to her forever home.

A Sanctuary for Goldens

Jody and AlyssaJody was one of our visitors in the garden this weekend.  She and her husband, Mike, are the co-founders of Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue and Sanctuary near Sacramento, CA.  Visiting with her was Alyssa, a 12-year-old cancer survivor – thanks to the care of Homeward Bound. Given her age and recurring health issues, Alyssa is not a good adoption candidate.  At Homeward Bound, however, she has a forever place in the Sanctuary.

Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue & Sanctuary is a volunteer organization which rescues and heals displaced, abandoned, and homeless Golden Retrievers and Golden/Labrador mixes throughout Northern California, no matter their age or health. The organization not only secures safe, loving, homes through a comprehensive adoption program, but also provides sanctuary for Goldens who cannot be adopted.

The Sanctuary was inspired by Jody and Mike’s second Golden Retriever, Chelsea. Hit by a car, the vet told Mike and Jody that she wouldn’t make it due to the severity of her injuries. But, Mike told Chelsea that if she did make it, they would devote their lives to caring for other Goldens.  She pulled through, and they have devoted their lives to rescue ever since. You can read about Chelsea’s story in  “Chelsea’s Tales, Memories of a Rescued Golden Retriever.”

The Sanctuary is a place where dogs can be dogs; running, playing and swimming in big, enclosed, backyard-like pens, and smothered in attention and love.

We volunteer our efforts to their Memorial Garden – a place to reflect on the Goldens we have known, and to hopefully raise funds to support the efforts of this amazing organization.

Today we installed the beginning of the Willow Bed at the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden. That meant 20 bags of shredded bark to keep the weeds from re-appearing; a stone path surrounding a beautiful relocated bench built by other Homeward Bound volunteers; and the first of many planned plants joining the Bearded Iris, Japanese Maples and Redwood including Japanese Forest Grass, Heuchera, and a few small compact bamboo shrubs. These will multiply, and will be accompanied by African Iris, Astilbe, Black Mondo Grass, Lily Turf and more.

It instantly created a welcome, shady spot at least 10 degrees below the surrounding sunny paths. How welcome? We saw more dogs and dog walkers in the garden today than we have in the past few weeks! Each stopping to rest on the bench, enjoy the breeze, and take in one of the best views of the Gardens.

When it is done, this will be one of my favorite beds. It is already dog-approved judging by Butterscotch’s reaction.  She decided to take a roll in the bark, like most dogs roll in grass. Butterscotch is not exactly a pure bred Golden – more like a “Golden Plus”,  but her volunteer dog walker Allie doesn’t mind. They make a great pair!

The Gardens were also packed with camera-shy volunteer Gardeners. Joanne came by before the dog training class. These dedicated volunteers increase the odds of placement by bringing out the best in each dog.  In fast order she weeded several of the beds. (How do you not love a volunteer gardener with a preference for weeding?!) Sue is in the same training class, arriving early to spend some time weeding and deep watering. She left with a surprise – more on that later. Vonnie and Randy came out with son in tow to add some more plants to the Butterfly Garden – over the very loud objection of the Killdeer Bird who guards her nest in their bed.

While we have attracted bees in droves, and spotted a few Hummingbirds already, Vonnie was worried about the shortage of Butterflies so far. Not to worry. This little white one was spotted not long after you departed. Perhaps a Cabbage White one? Please weigh in if you know your butterflies!  We’ll see many more, I’m sure.

It was a long, very warm, day in the garden…with lots accomplished including drip lines to three of the beds, thanks to Maria’s expertise. (I’m sure she left near sunset…again!) More pictures and stories to follow. One blog at a time!

Thanks to all the volunteer gardeners. Things are looking great in the Homeward Bound Memorial Gardens!

Saturday Morning Finds in the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden

You never know what you will find in a country garden on a very early Saturday morning. While tomorrow will be my true work day out at the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden, I made a quick trip this morning to check on things after a several very hot days, with June 1st temperatures reaching 100 degrees.

I was greeted by a snake in Maria’s Bed Garden,


buzzed by a plane flying low over the sprouting rice fields next door,


welcomed by the smiling face of the sunflowers, now blooming,


and to my delight and amazement, I found happy garden beds looking perky and no worse for wear, despite the recent heat. On the contrary – the Salvia that has struggled for the past month went from sad to sensational. Well, almost sensational. Give it one more month!


Best of all, I found our pallet of stone, delivered. Next project: a stone patio under the plum tree where rescued Golden Retrievers and their human dog walkers can take a shady break while enjoying the gardens.


Time to get to work!