Published in People,
Places & Plants magazine
(or, great paw-prints)
“What’s a hand-basket Mummy?”
“It’s what my garden’s
gone to hell in, darling.”
As I gaze out of the window the look
of horror on my face is not that normal end-of-March/beginning-of-Spring
look on most gardeners’ faces as they survey the winter
damage to their gardens. Oh no! Mine is one of abject despair.
One that speaks volumes about the lack of attention paid
to a garden for one full year in favor of the new family
member. And that addition to the family sleeps peacefully
at my feet - worn out from all the damage he’s wrought
on my garden. Yes, my love-child - my one-year-old Golden
let me say that getting Toby was one of the best things
I’ve done for myself in years. Second, I’ll
add that it’s been disastrous for my garden. None
of the dog-training books - at least the many I’ve
read - say anything at all about bringing a new puppy into
a much-loved and well-established garden. Well, actually,
the more precious of them do urge you to train your pooch
to perform all the bodily functions in specific places but
that didn’t work! The day I brought Toby home was,
I think, the one and only day we had snow last year here
in Rhode Island. The book I was reading at the time said
I should train him to pee & poop in one chosen place
so, an hour before driving to pick him up, I was outside
shoveling a path through the snow from the deck to the chosen
spot (which of course later turned out to be right in the
middle of where the Invisible Fence would run, thus rendering
it utterly useless for that purpose - but I didn’t
know that then). The moment of truth came when I took him
out for the first time down the deck steps to the yard and
softly, lovingly, carefully, caringly, as any studiously
good dog-owner would do, “walked him” up the
shoveled pathway to the place of great-choosing. I placed
my little bundle on the ground for the first time, expecting
who-knows what, and he took off like a bat out of hell racing
across the frozen wastes rolling and frolicking in the snow,
then pee-ed somewhere in the nether regions of the garden.
So much for that, and after a few days of this unruly behavior
I gave up on that aspect of training. My entire garden shows
this lack of fortitude on my part. In fact my lawn right
now is showing that lack - it’s a delightful polka
dot pattern of bright green and yellow. Would that I could
say it was by design! Maybe a few variegated chartreuse
Hosta ‘Emerald Tiara’ strategically planted
might tie it all together?
The lawn suffered yet more damage when
Toby got a girlfriend, and this relationship certainly did
not meet my approval. This “perky” little black
dog of no particular breed, whose owners do not keep her
confined in any way, skids full tilt in to the garden to
taunt and tease young Toby. This neighborhood slut clearly
has the upperhand and leaves Toby exhausted. The two of
them tear - literally - around the garden taking the lawn
with them. I canceled my account with the lawn care company
who had, to date, done a superlative job of bringing my
lawn to verdant organic green. What a waste of money, paying
to maintain a churned up mash pit!
This year’s spring gardening chores are not outlined
in the “Idiot’s Guide to Dog Training.”
So, I guess I’m the idiot who has to make up for paying
more attention to my puppy than to my garden. I was in complete
horticultural denial for a year and now I have a great dog
and a seriously messed-up garden.
I cruise the garden daily with my plastic
bag and hand-shovel to do the land-mine pick-ups, and that’s
the easy part! Now not only do I have to repair the damage
- fill in the pot-holes, and so forth, but I also have to
figure out how to return to gardening with Toby alongside
sharing my tasks with me. Just this past Sunday, which was
unseasonally warm, I got a taste of what’s to come.
I was busy cutting back the buddleia with my back to Toby.
When I straightened up and turned around I discovered the
shrub littering the lawn as Toby gaily tossed the cut branches
around, grinning from ear to ear. I pulled a few weeds -
and Toby pulled a few more, except that they weren’t
weeds - but my favorite white Thalia miniature daffodil.
A few fragile crocuses went flying too!
Oh yes, and I noticed the Cherry Laurel
‘Otto Lukyen’ looking more forlorn than normal
after the winter, so I fell to my knees to inspect it only
to discover how Toby had kept himself cool throughout the
summer - amongst the exposed roots in the deep hole underneath.
I watered my baby Katsura, a sapling
from nearby Blithewold arboretum, on Sunday, or at least
I thought I did. But when I came back to the house to turn
off the hose I found Toby lazily chewing through it. At
least he was chewing the hose and not the tree - there’s
always an up side, right?
How can I end this by saying anything
other than Toby makes me laugh. I understand that laughter
increases endorphins, which increase your energy level,
which I’ll need if I’m to put my garden back
into some semblance of gorgeous.
Yeah, yeah, woof, woof - I love you