Gardening With Hounds

It’s unfortunate that puppy time at Green Spring Farm coincides each summer with our local garden center’s 50% off sale.

beneath the linden tree

I look forward to Weber’s Greenhouse sale all year, planning which gardens I will renovate, where to add one or two to cover up an ugly spot in the yard.  This year I decided to renovate two shade gardens next to our front door; one beneath a maple tree, a place where the hardiest plants have trouble, and another next to it, in deep shade beneath the spreading branches of a Linden tree.  Off I went to Weber’s where I bought a couple-hundred dollars worth of hostas in variegated varieties, Christmas ferns, and a few “dead nettles,” which sound morbidly ugly, but make a beautiful ground cover, especially in dry shade.  I spent the weekend in the middle of a Virginia heat wave arranging and planting them, hauling manure from my compost pile to amend the ugly soil under both trees, arranging rocks for a “natural” look and then sitting back with a gin and tonic at the end of the day to admire my work.  Then Guy called.

Guy is our new huntsman.  He and his adorable girlfriend, Fran moved here from England in late June.  Guy is a sweet-faced guy with a wide smile, close-cropped sandy blond hair and the kind of energy that some people find in a can these days.  “So you want a couple of puppies to walk?” he asked me.  “Sure,” I said, looking out my kitchen window at my lovely new garden.  I’d sprinkled a few pink impatients between the rocks for color.  They shone there between the handsome dark green ferns and pale striped hostas like little girls dressed for a party.  “I’ll pick them up tomorrow,” I said.

After Motive and Monarch arrived, I spent each day worried sick about my new gardens.  I tried to concentrate on a task, but found myself running to the window to see if the pups had dug it up yet.  Each time the little beasts approached the gardens, I’d look for a new distraction.  I tried to move their play-space around back where we have a fairly indestructible concrete patio, but they usually insisted on wandering back to the new fern garden where our cat, Mr. Magoo likes to hang out.  The puppies enjoy pestering the hell out of him.

Monarch, Mom and Mr. Magoo

As the week progressed, I looked for puppy distractors.   Come to find out, puppies love

Who knew? Puppies like corn-on-the-cob.

corn-on-the-cob. My niece, Sarah, and her husband John, brought their little boy Morgan for dinner one night.  Morgan is teething.  When his mom gave him a piece of corn-on-the cob to chew on, I thought, hey, that should work for a couple of teething puppies.  It did.  Any time the puppies approached my gardens, I’d run outside to entice them around back with a cob of corn, which they’d fight over for a half-hour or so.  A  half-hour is ages in puppy years.  Our patio is littered with chewed corn cobs every evening, which I gather up to throw to the chickens—The Green Spring Recycling Program.

Motive and a jumping carrot

Baby carrots are great because they jump.  I have a friend in Maine who has a perpetually hungry yellow lab. Her vet told her to feed it carrots to stave off the munchies.  I like carrots too.  While snacking on a few baby carrots the other day, I thought of my friend and threw a few to the pups.  Motive discovered that when she pounced on a carrot, it jumped, sometimes clear off the porch.  It turned into a game and Monarch joined in.

Toads jump too.  Monarch found a toad in our storm drain and called Motive to come look.  That kept them occupied for at least fifteen minutes.

Monarch finds a toad

Things were going pretty well until Harry came.

Harry is my Mom’s dog.  She named him after a character in her favorite movie—that old Alfred Hitchcock film, “The Trouble With Harry.”  Mom turned eighty-six last November.  Dad died two Novembers ago.  Mom adopted Harry in January.  I call him Hilarious Harrious.  He’s some sort of long-haired dachshund mix who thinks he’s royalty.  And he is at Mom’s house, but when he’s here he’s surprised to find that he’s a dog.  I won’t let him on the furniture, or sleep in bed with Mom.  He sleeps in the mudroom with our dogs and is aghast to find that he has to pee and poop outside, of all places.

“What’s one more dog?” Bill asked.

Harry in the vegetable garden

Harry and Mom arrived for a visit last Saturday evening.  Bill and I weren’t home, but our sons Calvin and Robert were here, minding the puppies, dogs, horses, cats and preparing dinner for my brother and his wife who were bringing Mom from their home in Charleston, West Virginia.  Mom was in bed by the time Bill and I got home around eleven. I asked Calvin, “How’d it go?”

“Pretty well,” he said with a touch of regret somewhere in the back of his throat.

“What happened?” I said.

“Well, Harry jumped out of the car and they ran around in your garden for a while.”

“Who?”

“The dogs.”

“ALL the dogs?”

“Yep.”

It was dark outside.  I didn’t have the heart or nerve to take a look.  I could just imagine hosta leaves shredded from their slender stalks, impatients trampled and ferns flattened.  I wanted to cry.  What the hell was I thinking, trying to garden when I knew that we would soon have puppies?  You’d think I’d learn.

“You could put that piece of snow fencing that’s on the shelf in the machine shed around your garden,” Bill suggested.  I should have thought of that days ago.  Too late now.

When I woke the next morning, I made a cup of tea and, not wanting to see the damage, took it to the back porch to drink it.  There’s always next year, I thought.  Weber’s sale is an annual sale…

Finally I had to go to the barn for morning chores.  I walked around front for a look.  It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected.  A couple of hostas were flattened.  One lay in the center of the brick walk, its roots bare and naked of dirt, the leaves looking shocked and embarrassed.  I dug a hole with my bare fingers, quickly buring the roots, tamping them gently back to earth.

The paddock gate at the barn has a squeaky spring that lets the puppies know I’m on my way each morning.   “Let us out!  Let us out!” they howl.  “There are gardens and corn cobs out there!”

“Puppies” I say as I open their stall door.  Who can stay mad at a puppy?

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About Martha Wolfe

MFA, Bennington College, June 2012 in creative non-fiction and fiction biologist equestrian, fox-hunter
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