Elfin Magic

There are elves among us.


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…


beautiful sayings that magically appear in the beds…


stepping-stones crafted by small hands…


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


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


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


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,


And darling Nikki, also recovering from surgery.


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


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






and butterflies.


There is elfin magic here.


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

Rain Glorious Rain


Rain. Glorious Rain.


A Pacific storm – an atmospheric “river” we refer to as the “pineapple express” – dumped a more than generous amount of rain in Northern California setting a record in Sacramento for most rainfall in a 24 hour period. It helped our nearby Folsom lake to rise nearly 3 feet in a single weekend, and the Sierras above us were topped with more than four feet of snow. While we are all soggy and practically swimming in it – we are rejoicing.

Homeward Bound might well be renamed “On Golden Pond.” Our banks have overflown…


And our parched Memorial Garden is a bit under water.


But what a glorious sight it is.




All the dogs got out despite the weather…


and Rocky, Lisa, Zoe and Eleanor managed to get adopted by devoted families that made their way to us despite the downpour.




The trees are practically bursting with joy.


“Rain is grace; rain is the sky condescending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.” ~ John Updike

These Pacific storms – which have been absent all winter – typically deliver about a third of our annual rainfall. While this one only puts a dent in our deficit, it is a welcome gift and a hopeful sign of good things to come.



So many have shared a prayer and a rain dance for our golden state. Thank you.


Anyone who says sunshine brings happiness has never danced in the rain.”

Work is love made visible

Q: “What are you planting today?”
A: “Stone.”
Big weekend of work in the Memorial Garden; I am just recovering.


Jody and I began the stone walkway project on Saturday. I finished on Sunday, while she oversaw the completed clearing of the adjacent pen. Moving a half ton of stone certainly makes you sleep well at night. But the results are worth the effort, I think.

“It is better to wear out than to rust out.”
– Bishop Richard Cumberland

The curve creates obvious pockets for drifts of plants that echo the natives in Ina’s garden, coupled with some perennials to bridge the front and back of the garden. Next stop: nursery!


The garden is about to burst into spring. We’ve discovered that our flowering season is longer here; but winter leaves a little later. Things that have sprung in my home garden, are still hinting at spring in the Memorial Garden. The breeze that cools over the rice fields is welcome relief in summer, but keeps a chill on a while longer in spring.


We were joined once again today by a group of students from the University of San Francisco. They are studying Fundamentals of Organizational Management with a focus on nonprofits, and selected Homeward Bound to get some hands-on experience and information. They were attracted to us as an all-volunteer organization; and for our mission of rescue and sanctuary.


They had an opportunity to spend time with our President, and some of our newest recruits. Meet Lily…




And Lucy.


After spending time with the dogs, trainers and team leaders, Jody let them experience the manual labor side of rescue – clearing the adjacent pen. Not bad for city kids! It looks immaculate.


We return them to the metropolis a little tired, dirty, and wiser about the work of a nonprofit.

“Work is love made visible.”
– Khalil Gibran

A Welcome Frost


Below the frosty morning surface of the garden, all the little microorganisms are busy creating nutrients. But for gardeners in need of rest and recovery, January is mercifully slow. After a week of hard overnight frost in the Sacramento Valley, the roses in our Memorial Garden have finally succumbed.


On New Years’ Day, Jody and I completed pruning and tying the grapes; soon, the roses will be ready for their turn.


Yarrow is the only perennial still in bloom,


but we are graced with a silvery green chorus of Artemisia, Lamb’s Ear, Lavender and Rosemary.


The drama of magnificent blooms has been replaced by wildlife’s romantic grace.


“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.” ~ Andrew Wyeth

With the plants retreating back to the ground, I can see the need to add more permanent structure to the garden; some raised mounds to create height interest and keep tender plants from flooding; a clearer entry path; more evergreen and grass foundation plantings; a stone wall perhaps (a gardener can dream!) The garden has come a long way from last January’s blank canvas – but the picture is not complete yet, by any measure.

As the garden demands less right now, I have quite literally ‘gone to the dogs’ – helping out our dedicated dog walker team.


Today, I got to assist in an introduction; one of our Homeward Bound rescues meeting the pup of a prospective adoptive family to ensure a good match for all. What an incredible feeling to see a connection made; hoping that another may be on its way to a forever home. That was George’s good fortune today, (shhh…one of my favorites.)


I knew I should have gotten in just one more walk with him! Happy life, my friend!

Wet Walk Around


Walking dogs between rain storms provided a chance to spend some time in Homeward Bound’s other eight acres – beyond the Memorial Garden. Here are a few vignettes from the pond which has overflowed its banks, and a very soggy landscape. This is what winter looks like in the Sacramento Valley. Good thing dogs can paddle!



Winter Wools


“The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cottons into its winter wools.” ~ Henry Beston, Northern Farm

We all had on our winter wools this weekend, with a light frost blanketing the garden on Saturday morning. It’s early for that in the Sacramento Valley. It disappeared quickly, but left the garden a little too wet and cold for any heavy duty effort.


Only a few blooms remain in the garden now –


Mostly, the palette has changed to the colors of the season. Greys, browns, silvers and antique golds replace the brilliant colors of summer.


The pups don’t seem to mind the the low, cloudy skies, as long as they are outside, walking, and among us.
“A dog is one of the remaining reasons why some people can be persuaded to go for a walk.”

This is Norman,




and George and Lucy.


I have a crush on George.


I met another Homeward Bound pup this weekend; an alumni named Brody. His human Dad is the manager at one of my favorite places – Green Acres Nursery in Sacramento.


Brody is apparently in charge of customer relations. What a handsome boy! An invitation was issued to visit us in the Memorial Garden, where many of their plants now reside. Although, they might want to wait until we are back in our summer cottons and looking at our colorful best!

What Blossoms Here

After last weekend’s deluge, it was good to be back in the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden, focusing on clean-up. Lawns were mowed, leaves were raked, and spent blossoms were removed. It seems that more than a few of our favorites haven’t figured out that it is December. Many of the roses are still pushing out blooms,


The Blue Geranium that struggled all summer in the heat has made an appearance,


The Daylilies are still gracing us.


And Maria’s Sunflowers? Well, don’t tell them or their Bee friends that it is winter.


The day was so beautiful, Maria took advantage of the warmth and finished planting the newly reconfigured St. Francis garden with Gardenias, Lavender, Thyme, and more.


She was a little distracted – in the best way – as she spent time getting acquainted with Champ, who will, hopefully, go home with her next weekend as her second, permanent foster.


Homeward Bound rescues Goldens and Golden mixes no matter what their age or medical condition. Some, like Champ (who has cancer), have medical issues that make them unable to be adopted. Special people, like Maria, take them as permanent fosters.


Homeward Bound covers their medical expenses, while fostering families or individuals donate their homes and hearts, knowing that in many instances, their time together may be short.


This week, Champ will meet Maria’s other permanent foster, Beau. If it is a match, their family will grow. Many other times, medical needs can be addressed, clearing the way for a long, healthy life. This is Lincoln – who arrived before Thanksgiving, with a broken leg and ribs, having been hit by a car.


Surgery put him on the road to recovery, and when he is ready, to adoption as well.


The sun was not the only thing shining down on us after such fierce storms. Good fortune recently graced many of the pups you’ve seen here as they found their forever homes, including Gracie…


Mama Bear…




And little Scout.


Proving once again – more than flowers blossom at Homeward Bound.


Farewell to Fall

November served up a last magnificent fall weekend at the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden.

When the sun is t-shirt warm, the garden is still showing off, but the shadows grow long by mid-afternoon, it is a perfect time to get in the last fall plantings in the Sacramento Valley.

Before the December rain and cold arrive, Ina added grasses to the front-facing California Natives garden –

while the rest of us focused on getting our spring bulbs planted. “Autumn is a season followed immediately by looking forward to Spring.” – Anonymous

Susan and Jeff planted Crocus, Daffodil, Freesia and Ixia in the tree circle gardens.

By this time next year, these will be shade gardens; the canopy has grown so quickly!

We received a generous donation of bulbs and divisions (thank you, Marguerite!)

I added more than 20 Naked Lady bulbs to the Willow Garden, along with Crocosmia. To the Perennial and Hummingbird gardens, I added Crocus, Hyacinth, Tulips, Narcissus, Freesia, Anemone, Ranunculus, Ixia and Allium.

Paired with the existing Iris Garden and bed of blooming Daffodils, we should have a riot of spring and early summer color throughout the garden beds. Peggy and Steve were out to tend to the Iris bed and change out the fall decorations for those of the season.

Their message to Santa; a touching reminder of their passion for rescue.

While most enjoyed a long holiday weekend of feasting and football, our dedicated volunteers spent their Thanksgiving weekend at the ranch, walking, bathing, feeding, training and playing with the pups as the kennels are full. This is Rob’s new foster, Brittany. Blind in one eye, but as beautiful as ever.

Scout is a favorite pint-sized Golden mix, who is incapable of taking a bad picture!

Tucker is a new arrival, and thinks sunning in the garden after a bath is a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

And this is Mama Bear. Not a golden at all,

but a true black beauty and sweetheart.

Champ was out for a stroll,

as was one of our favorites – Bogey. Blind in both eyes, but that doesn’t stop him. He loves people, walks, and playing “find-it” for kibble in the field. There is nothing wrong with his sniffer!

But the best part of any weekend are the adoptions. Today, Pancho found his home with this young couple from San Francisco. We’ll miss him in the garden, but so happy he has a new family to call his own.

Inspiration from the WPA Rock Garden

I have taken so much inspiration from my fellow gardeners at the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden. With a season under our collective boots, there is a garden closer to home that I now appreciate even more.

It is the WPA Rock Garden at William Land Park in Sacramento.

This three-quarter acre gem is tucked inside the park,

between the quaint Fairytale Town, Sacramento Zoo, the outdoor theatre in the round,

and the duck pond.

It was originally built in 1940 as part of the New Deal’s Work Projects Administration – thus WPA – and has been our city’s hidden treasure for generations.

But it wasn’t always the oasis it has become.

A well-known local horticulturist, Daisy Mah, took over care of the garden in 1988 after it had been overgrown by ivy. This sounds like a familiar tale to our Homeward Bound volunteer gardeners.

Instead of the typical water-thirsty and shade-loving plants you find in neighboring gardens, she planted drought-tolerant plants from the Mediterranean climates.

The paths are laid with decomposed granite; the beds raised with low rock walls.

The naturalized mixture of grasses and perennials, flower and foliage, light and shadow remind me of Ina’s Cottage Garden…

with little surprises tucked into every corner.

Beginning with a budget that would not even buy you a night at the movies – ingenuity, propagation expertise and, as rumor has it, fertilizer originally contributed by the zoo animals, has created this meandering maze of delights.

Daisy Mah has announced her retirement from the City Parks and Recreation department this year.

What will happen with to the garden remains to be seen, with the economy already severely testing city resources.

A great community volunteer effort has risen to the task of maintaining the park, and some have worked for years with Daisy to maintain this wonder. Hopefully, the WPA Rock Garden will continue with this dedicated group.

One thing is certain – Daisy Mah has created a living legacy.

One that deserves our admiration and our commitment to carry on her good work for the generations to come.

The Garden Rules

I like this: “My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.”  ~H. Fred Dale

I came across these “Top 10 Gardening Mistakes” recently and thought it would be fun to see how we stacked up in our first year effort at the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden?

Mistake 1: Planting a Garden in the Wrong Spot

There’s nothing wrong with our garden spot. In fact, the land was probably flooded many times before the levies were built, leaving soil rich in clay and silt which we added amendments to. While young trees will eventually lend more shade, the plants thrive here in the full sun.  I heard that The Memorial Garden was once known as the dumping spot for the property. No more! And besides…we’re surrounded by Golden Retrievers! There couldn’t be a better spot for a garden.

Mistake 2: Accidentally Pulling Up Flowers Instead of Weeds

Yup. The rule of thumb is: if it removes easily, it is probably not a weed. You usually know that right after it has been lifted! I also purposefully planted “weeds” to attract butterflies. See the previous post What Is A Weed on Milkweed and Monarch Butterflies.

Mistake 3: Not Preparing the Soil

Not guilty. Maybe overly ‘not guilty’. In removing waist-high weeds to uncover garden beds, we turned a lot of soil and added amendments. Ina, our resident Master Gardener, suggested a more measured approach; digging amendments only into the spot you want to plant, and smothering surrounding weeds in mulch. She argues that turned weeds in newly enriched soil have a perfect environment for sprouting. She applied her approach to the nearly maintenance-free Cottage Garden. Good lesson.

Mistake 4: Overwatering

Check. But only for a few plants that were misplaced for their surroundings. Most of the garden is on sprinklers instead of drip. Not ideal – but it was the most practical approach. So we have to be thoughtful about plant positions. There was a little trial and error involved in the first year. A couple have been sacrificed along the way.

Mistake 5: Planting an Invasive Variety

Guilty, I think. I could not resist planting some California Poppies. If they reseed profusely, the other gardeners will be cursing me next fall. But aren’t they lovely?!

Mistake 6: Not Taking Wildlife Into Account

We were warned. We figured out how to co-exist with the Killdeer birds that lay their eggs in the beds;

and we made peace with the snake (who has been absent of late),

but the bunnies have occasionally gotten the better of us.

Thankfully, things grow so abundantly in the garden that we can spare some extras. But do they have to eat the herbs right down to the plant base? Moderation, please, little bunnies!

Mistake 7: Not Giving Plants Enough Sun

Definitely not guilty. Our garden was made for sun-lovers. Three years from now, when the many trees mature, things will look very different and we’ll have a lot of re-arranging to do. I can’t wait to find spots for Hydrangeas, Astilbe, New Guinea Impatiens, and Fuschias!

Mistake 8: Spreading Too Many Seeds

Maria. Sunflowers?

Enough said.

Mistake 9: Using Too Much Pesticide

Mulch is our best friend. It keeps out the weeds, and keeps in the moisture. We went through tons of it. For our garden, we found that shredded bark worked best. Light enough to layer on thick, but still workable. Next year, we might want to just truck it in.

Mistake 10: Planting Too Close Together

So Guilty! In fairness, nothing I have every grown in this Sacramento Valley has grown as profusely as it does in this garden. The verbena, marigolds and petunias in the bed above were started from a couple of six-packs. Sue was worried that they would never fill in. Surprise.

Same with the Hummingbird garden above. The rule of spacing plants at one half their expected height was followed; their expected height was just really misjudged. As a result, we’ll merge these two beds this fall, giving ample room to all.

And here are two more rules for good measure:

Mistake 11: Clumps of many different plants are less attractive than larger groups of fewer plants:

Says who?

And finally,

Mistake 12: Don’t put the brightest colors at the end of the border which will lead the eye right out of the garden.

Point taken. We will try to remember that in the coming year, thank you!

Mid-Summer Update

“Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.” ~ Sam Keen

In the hot Sacramento months of July and August, the garden is best tended to in the early morning and early evening. I snuck out to the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden late yesterday afternoon and early evening to get some of our weekly heavy lifting done, knowing that Sunday would also be over 100 – and that Maria, my Sunday gardening partner, refuses to quit as long as there is something more to be done.

So today, with the weeds largely beaten back, the deep watering done, and the heat turned to ‘high’, we enjoyed a more relaxed pace in the garden.

Our newest volunteer, Pat returned this weekend (yeah!) and did an amazing job of dead-heading all of the roses along the fences. She claimed to be a novice at the task, but with a little instruction, that is no longer the case! This is a zen-like, but time-consuming job – so we are very grateful for the extra hands.

Pat is a dog-walker, soon-to-be-adopter.  She lost her own Golden a bit ago, and is now ready to open her heart to another.  Well almost.  She has a trip planned in the coming weeks, but after that, she’ll be on the hunt. In the meantime, she is afraid to look, for fear of falling in immediate love. We’ll keep her busy in the garden until the time is right!

I swear we have magic soil in this garden.  Things grow so quickly and brilliantly in these beds.  We found this gigantic Johnson grass weed hiding in the Daylilies. A week ago it was small enough that its blades were camouflaged.  A few days later, its height has given it up as it towers over the bed’s rightful occupants.

This sprouted in the Willow Garden since last weekend as well. I have no idea what it is, but the larger stalk is already a foot tall. It looks like an Amaryllis, but this is not the right time, or place for that…and two stalks? (Magic soil?) I’m sure that it will reveal its identity to us soon, but if you know, please advise!

The grapes have begun to ripen…

along with the apples and pears.

The birds are enjoying the seeds of the spent sunflowers in Maria’s bed, while new and amazing blooms still appear.

The Bee Balm is thriving…

the neighboring Coneflowers are the beneficiary…

and Jody’s garden is on its way to ‘full and tranquil.’

No Goldens visited us today. Too hot. They were happy to go out for their walks, jump in their pools, and take their wet bodies inside to the air conditioning! Can’t say as I blame them!

I laughed, however, as I watched Rob try to coax two new arrivals into posing for pictures. Imagine how strange and nervous these pups feel when they first arrive. They don’t know that picture-taking is just one of the steps on their road to a new forever home. Rob is one of the dedicated Homeward Bound team members that I see almost every weekend working with the dogs. He has a special “dog-whisperer” way with the ones who need the most help. The many volunteers like him make me proud to be a small part of this special place and mission.

Maria’s Notes from the Garden

Maria did an early evening check on the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden this week to see how things were faring in our 100+ degree Sacramento heat wave. Ina surprised her with a visit earlier in the day to water, so a work visit turned into a rare chance to simply take in the garden as the sun mercifully dropped lower in the sky.

She found a Mantis – praying over her Sunflowers…

and a beautiful sunset.

Beau, her nine and a half-year old Homeward Bound foster dog, stayed home where it was cooler.

Maria is one of those special people who foster – generally taking the older, special needs dogs. What a good second-chance life for Beau. He seems to be right at home in his own little garden, complete with lizard!