When a group of gardeners first answered the call to help create the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden, the design included a dozen or so beds, each devoted to a specific species or type of plant.

There were planned beds for iris, viburnum, daylilies, white roses, ornamental grasses, succulents, perennials, and even a one devoted to container plants. It was a design born of the individual interests of the volunteer gardens who would be dedicating their time but lacked something essential: unity.

The garden got underway based on this design, but as some of the original volunteers fell away, those of us who remained started shaping a different vision.

Through trial and error, we learned what worked best in the clay soil and the Valley’s extremes of heat and cold without a great deal of babysitting as the garden does not have daily keepers.

Native plants began to play a larger role along with drought-tolerant plants suited for our Mediterranean-like climate.

Gradually, divides of successful combinations were repeated throughout the garden giving the disjointed patchwork needed cohesiveness.

The repetition brought order to the chaos of the unconnected beds. Patterns of color, shapes and sizes bridged divides and created balance without the need for unnatural barriers or symmetry.

Now, species are echoed throughout with an overarching theme of greys, silvers, blues, purples, mauves, and white that perfectly support dashes of vibrant seasonal color.

There is also a better sense of scale with plants relating to others around them and the trees and statues that form the garden’s bones.

Foundational plants provide year-round color and texture: artemisia, lamb’s ear, ceanothus, barberry, agastache, lavatera, iris, lavender, Santa Barbara daisy, sage, yarrow, fescue, penstemon, rosemary, and grasses.

Spring bulbs, summer splashes of dahlias, California fuschia, coreopsis, annual and woolly sunflower, and glorious fall displays of aster and Mexican marigold ensure that the garden is interesting all year long.

The result of is a greater sense of harmony: every color in the rainbow is represented at some point in the season, yet the beds flow and fit together, and the whole is strengthened.

What a world this would be if we applied the same principles outside the garden.

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?

When You Just Say “Try”

Every single person that contributes to our mission of rescue is essential and valued. Still, there are some donors whose extraordinary gifts over the years have created an essential foundation for our work. Many had not been to the rescue in a decade or more; so much has changed. Since or founding, our facilities and our programs for the dogs have morphed from buckets and tubs and potty breaks to a fully functioning, more modern operation with enrichment programs to support the dogs. To showcase all – and to show this unique group of donors all that they have contributed to – we hosted them last weekend for a Big Dog Brunch.

The morning began with Mimosas in the garden – made beautiful by the return of my wayward gardeners. It looked magnificent.

Despite an unwelcome heat wave, the roses’ second bloom appeared on cue

along with the Agapanthus,

Bee Balm,

Day Lilies,

Butterfly Bush,

Blanket Flower, Yarrow and Verbena.

From there, we took folks in small groups on tours of the facilities including the in-ground, heated swimming pool, senior yard and sanctuary, vet clinic, kennels, puppy palace, yards and training pavilion.

The volunteers were able to share how each resource benefits the dogs and invited them to demonstrations of swim therapy and playgroups.

At the brunch that followed, each received a small book capturing all of the special projects – a take-home reminder of the impact they have made.

Saying ‘thank you’ is one thing; giving people an opportunity to touch, see, feel – and be touched by – all that they support (hopefully) makes a lasting impact and demonstrates our genuine appreciation.

The garden – like everything they saw that day – was a labor of love. A volunteer effort. Created from dirt and weeds, it – and all that surrounds it – are a reminder of what can be accomplished when you just say “try.”

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!

How Did It Get To Be So Late?

“How did it get so late so soon?
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?”
~ Dr. Seuss

The Calendar says “December.” I knew it was coming; even wished it so. But it arrived so quickly.

The valley fog has set in.

We had our first real rain.

The leaves have nearly finished falling; the beds are all raised; the bulbs – nearly 500 of them – are all planted.

The Dahlias are lifted and stored for the winter. And the best indications of the season’s close are my aching knees, the tired bees…

and the stack of garden magazines by my bedside for inspiration. For gardeners – winter is for imagining. Sometimes, our plans are larger than our reality. And sometimes, not.

Last October, the front entry was a barren stretch of dirt.

The weeds had been killed off. The ground covered with cardboard, leaf mulch, and dirt mixed with compost to “cook” for the better part of a season. Some tiny starts were installed late in the fall so their roots might grow strong before spring (Ceanothus, Lavatera, Smoke Tree, Lupine, Iris, Crepe Myrtle, Barberry, and Iceberg roses).

This was the design that I thought might take two or three years to reach maturity.

In the spring, I added Lavender, Asters and Miscanthus grass divides. And one season later, the bed exceeded all of my expectations.

The bed has created a perfect surround for the remembrance tree that our president and her father crafted with the original tags of dogs who have come through our doors on their journeys home.

In the garden, I have learned the benefits of patience. If you can clear a bed, fill it with good soil and nutrients, and let it rest for a season, the reward may be more than you imagined.

So it was with Ariel and Mason.

These two very special senior citizens – a bonded pair – have been waiting a long while for their forever home. They were both of advanced age and in need of medical attention when their human passed. Destined for a shelter, their odds were not good. An area partner intervened and recognized how much they needed each other. Placing this mismatched pair would take some time…something we could, thankfully, provide to them. We thought we found the right place once, but a little misunderstanding about the purpose of chickens put a quick end to that.

Still, they kept the faith and waited patiently. This week, they went home with a longtime volunteer. We could not have picked a better human for them if we had imagined one all winter long.

Happy lives to you two. We sure are going to miss you around here!

With Gratitude

“For each new morning with its light,

For rest and shelter of the night,

For health and food, for love and friends,

For everything Thy goodness sends.

For flowers that bloom about our feet;

For tender grass, so fresh, so sweet;

For song of bird,

and hum of bee;

For all things fair we hear or see,

Father in heaven, we thank Thee!” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

For the community I have found, for the generosity that makes our work possible, and for the many pups who have touched my heart this year – I give thanks. I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

Autumn is the Hush

“I’m not ready for winter” is the refrain I hear as the fog sets in and the volunteers don their winter wools. But I am. Or nearly so.

The garden is putting on its final show – a glorious crown to a long, hot summer.

As if it saved up all its energy for a final encore, displaying its growing maturity in tall drifts of purple, orange, pink and gold.

By the end of the month, the raising of the beds will be complete,

the dahlias lifted, the bulbs installed for spring, and the remaining leaves turned to mulch. Then, the garden and I will both be ready for a long rest.

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ~John Steinbeck

Reading about wildflower seeds, I tried an experiment and set some packets of wild Columbine, heirloom Poppy, and butterfly mixes in the soil and simply stomped them into the ground. If nature can self-sow, why not help her along?

“Over everything connected with autumn there lingers some golden spell—some unseen influence that penetrates the soul with its mysterious power.” ~Northern Advocate

With so many “going-homes,” even the kennel is quieter with room in the inn. It goes in waves this way. Enjoy it while you can; linger longer with each pup until the next transport arrives. You will hear no complaints from them.

“No spring nor summer’s beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one Autumnal face.”
~ John Donne, “Elegy IX: The Autumnal”

If the tempo of summer is allegro – fall, despite all of its chores, is adagio. A slower pace. A gradual letting go. A last romp in grassy fields and golden sun before the rains and mud.

“Autumn is the hush before winter.” ~ French Proverb

Everything In Its Season

I love the velvety purple stalks of Mexican sage. It heralds fall; its amethyst hues offset by the season’s golden leaves. A perennial in most gardens – but not in our Homeward Bound Memorial Garden. It is too wet in winter, and too hot in summer. The clay soil and baking sun are too much for this tough, but not quite tough enough, sage.

The first three seasons, I moved it to different spots in the garden hoping I would find just the right home for it to thrive. But no amount of pampering made a difference. It was magnificent in fall and gone by spring, never to sprout again.

Now, I treat it as an annual. I find a spot where it can be spectacular while enjoying and enhancing the company of others.

And when it is finished blooming, I thank it for its beauty, plant spring bulbs over it, and bid it a fond adieu.

Despite our best efforts, some things we love are not meant to be with us for long. I think that only makes them more precious.

Lindsey was our miracle puppy. Born an insulin-dependent diabetic, she should not have seen a few weeks much less nearly a year.

“She’s going to break your heart,” our Doc said. It is a kind way of saying ‘let her go.’ If Lindsey had been in pain, we would have seen the wisdom in that. But while Lindsey was a perpetual tiny girl…

she was happy and loved and fawned over until she left us as suddenly as she came to us – passing quietly away in the night.

Cavanaugh is 14.

Karma, only eight.

Both were left in shelters with terminal medical issues. For both, their time is likely measured in weeks, maybe months, but not years. Both were deserving of a much better ending. So they came to us and we were told, “just love them and spoil them.”

This is one of the most important gifts we can offer. Without any expectation that they will see the coming spring, we can be there for them when they need us most.

Karma will be going home this week. We call it hospice foster, matching special needs dogs with extraordinary angels who know that it is not the number of days that count, but the quality of our time together.

It’s hard to love them so when you know the time is short. Still, because the time is short, it is impossible not to love them even more.

“Every blade in the field, every leaf in the forest, lays down its life in its season, as beautifully as it was taken up.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Dogs, like people, do not come with expiration dates. Love while you can. Live every day. Give what you are able knowing that you made a difference. You never know how something beautiful will be reborn.

We Now Return to Our Regularly Scheduled Program

For the first time in months, I have a weekend without a work project – and without a puppy. Little Journey has found her forever home.

Now named Charli, she greeted her new Mom with a smother of kisses and flat out stole her heart. But she picked the right heart, because this Mom is an experienced dog person and a good leader with kind instincts. Charli has grown kids to play with, a new Dad who is making her steps so she can reach the people bed, and a one-year-old canine cousin named Max who will keep her in her place. She has a big backyard, lives by the lake, and when she is old enough, will become Mom’s running companion. I could not be happier for her – or for her new family.

Another delight: my wayward gardeners have returned as fall has arrived.

Ina finished making the shed immaculate and moved the Lilac tree to a much happier home. Peggy and Steve were back with Mary who was being watched carefully having spent two days in intensive care for eating raisins!

And Maria set the stage for fall with her scarecrows and adorable pumpkin patch.

Anna is permanently excused (until Rose pruning day) for her work as an adoption counselor – and care of her latest charge, Nala.

The garden, meanwhile, is stunning.

Once towering stalks of budding Asters are now bent and beautiful mounds with their purple blossoms covered in bees and butterflies.

The Dahlias have never been larger or continued their blooms so late in the season.

They have thrived in their new home.

And Going Home photos are now staged in front of turning trees – creating loads of heavenly leaf mulch to lighten the clay soil in the beds this spring.

It is time for reveling in the colors of Autumn, raising the beds, and planting bulbs before putting the garden to rest for winter.

And hopefully, a brief hold on puppies!! Happy life, Journey Charli girl!

Return to the Garden

“Where will you begin?” she asked.
“At the beginning, I guess.”

This sign was posted over our shed door. The weeds are indeed laughing. Two hours after the last puppy of Irish’s litter was adopted, in rolled the van with six more! I can’t show them to you due to a promise we made to the kind human who brought them to us. She saw that they were in need and intervened. We won’t give her up as she may yet return with more.

Needless to say, my hoped for return to the garden was again delayed. And the weeds took full advantage. The blueberries were overrun, the paths were overtaken, crabgrass invaded, and the garden shed disappeared in a mass of cobwebs.

Maria refused to weed the herb garden bed; she said that it was all to be gone or she was washing her hands of it. I couldn’t bear to see it all dug up and sitting empty; we have months to go before the winter. So it has been reclaimed as a community bed. Let the whining begin.

As the last litter numbers dwindled over the course of a week, I was able to spend a little more time in the garden. Bit by bit, it is getting there. And with our last two little fluff balls now safely home, the garden is mine ours. And the weeds? Well who is laughing now?!

The Dahlias are beautiful.

The blueberries are once again peacefully co-existing with the California poppies and smothered in the pine needles they love.

The grapes are still producing…in September!

And as our rivers are still full from our long wet winter, I am watering, watering, watering to bring the garden back to life.

Now that the weather is beginning to cool, the gardeners, too, are making their return. Maria is planning her October display, Dee cleared out the daylilies,

Rob rebuilt the leaf mulch container for fall,

and Ina cleaned the garden shed!

Puppies are a joy – and they need what they need when they need it. Many of their new families stay in touch and I delight in seeing the pictures of them growing as fast as the weeds in the garden. (This is Mocha with his new big brother.)

I am so proud of them. I miss them a tiny bit. Still, I am happy to be back in the garden.

Beckoning Fall’s Glory

The Delta Breeze finally blew in off the Bay, bringing an end to the stifling heat and still air while providing welcome relief to the parched garden. The days are still warm, but the cool nights provide a long-awaited respite after the months long scorching summer sun. The ground holds its drink better; the wind breathes life back into exhausted plants.

Fall is my favorite season. Here, it is a second spring extending our flowering season from September through Thanksgiving. The vivid colors of summer give way to the richness of gold, crimson, and purple velvet.

Instead of the giddy anticipation of spring or the trumpeting of summer, fall is a time for soaking it all in as the sun turns gold and the season slowly turns another page.

“Summer ends, and Autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night; and thus he would never know the rhythms that are at the heart of life.” ~ Hal Borland

Which is not to say that fall is not busy in the garden. The beds must be raised in preparation for winter rains, the bulbs planted, and the leaves mulched. And then, there is all the catch up required after a summer of distracting puppies!

The garden work provides time for reflection while surrounded by the chirping of tiny frogs in fading rose blossoms,

the call of birds gathering by the hundreds, and the watchful eyes of a beloved friend.

The low asters beckon to their relatives towering above them – all started from one transplant from the Historic Sacramento City Cemetery.

They will soon create violet waves across the garden. And as the leaves change color and drop to the ground, the garden will remind us again of life’s impermanence.

“The days may not be so bright and balmy — yet the quiet and melancholy that linger around them is fraught with glory. Over everything connected with autumn there lingers some golden spell—some unseen influence that penetrates the soul with its mysterious power.” ~ Northern Advocate

Here’s to warm afternoons turning to sweaters, and green turning to purple and gold glory. Here’s to fall.