Gardeners seem to welcome every kind of life into their own. Well, ok, maybe not snails, Japanese beetles, deer, aphids and woodchucks-who loves these creatures? A gardener”s distaste for certain pests doesn’t necessarily result in weapons; many gardeners tolerate the wildlife, as we have to share our planet. But some creatures live in our gardens, and our lives, by invitation. We do a good job, looking after them, and they reward us with their unconditional love and friendship. My Jojo (formally known as George) so enriched my life. He appeared at my front door one day from a home across the street that he apparently did not like, and never left. He suffered children, carrying him around in his favorite brown paper bag. He bossed around any dog that came to visit. He lived to be 22; I lost him too soon.
He loved the outdoors. Most days he was in the garden; he would protest if I didn’t let him out to prowl the night. He never, ever, had a bath, by the way.
Some wildlife comes to me, inexplicably. This toad made himself known one day in 2004, and lived in my greenhouse until 2008-at which time he walked out the front door one morning, and moved on. As I know that any environment that has healthy toads speaks to a healthy environment, I had great affection for him. Why did he decide to leave? I prefer to think he went looking for a girlfriend.
Victor and Agnes were at home in the garden, but their favorite places were my drafting table, any open drawer, or anyplace I had the New York Times spread out. I inherited her along with the house and 5 acres I bought-she was the best part of the deal. Victor I did not have long, but my memory of him has been long.
Cosmo was as fine a dog as ever was. He lived to be 14, and was a fixture at the store for the last 7 years of his life. Kids loved him; I watched a child lean over into his face-and blink his eyes open and shut three times. “Do this, if you love me”, he said; he insisted to his Mom that Cosmo blinked at him. This I choose to believe. People still come in and ask for him. The last few years he actually lived at the store. Though he was deaf by then, he would start barking when my car would pull up in the morning-how did he know?
These creatures have been much a part of my gardening life, each one of them, a part of my landscape. Each of them had strikingly different personalities, but they shared the space well with me, and with each other.
My orange Maine Coon cat was named Roscoe, but I always called him Babyhead. He was incredibly shy and reserved-but when he was old, he decided he liked people. It was pretty charming, watching him say hello to strangers at 13.
Jack and Libby belonged to Rob. I thought to surprise Rob with a gift of a mini-schnauzer; no, he wanted two schnauzers. So fine, 2 schnauzers it was-brother and sister, the only two in the litter. Those two dogs were never far from Rob for the better part of 15 years. They grew up in the back of my work truck, and graduated to retail store duty in 1996. Until May of 2008; Jack was almost 14.
Libby was the last of a group that spanned some 24 years of my life. I think the last year she spent without Jack was tough, but Rob loved her up plenty and she loved Rob fiercely in return. The last 6 months of her life she mostly slept on a bed next to my chair in my office; I knew I did not have long with her. She was the last of a very fine group; her passing is the end of an era. Libby Yedinak, Sept 1994-June 2009. No matter the grief, I was very lucky indeed to have each and all of them. Any gardener knows that to everything there is a season, and the seasons turn sooner or later. But knowing this does not make it much easier; how I loved them all, and how I miss them.
If you have ever been to my store, or my home, it’s easy to figure out that I am a dog in a person suit, and my Cardigan Welsh Corgis are little people in dog suits. The little people have the run of both of my places.
I call my garden Corgi Run-presiding over it is a very fine weathervane-English made of course. It was a birthday present from Rob, whose feelings about dogs are no different than mine.�
Milo, my dark brindle Corgi, has an unexpectedly big and disarmingly compelling personality. He persuades customers to pitch his beloved balls for him. He is a dog with a lot to say-vocal, is putting it mildly. I am convinced he understands English. He is as relaxed with visitors as he is in front of a camera; I should have named him Hambone. Rob thinks I should buy him a flock of sheep for his birthday this year.
My red brindle corgi Howard, is a dog’s dog. Bred like Milo, for herding cattle and sheep, he herds everyone who comes in until he is sure they are friendly. He is always working. Letting me know when someone comes, patrolling the property. Extremely reserved, even shy, he will let out a blood-curdling howl when startled. I think he is as handsome as Cary Grant, although he abhors having his picture taken.
The pair of them welcome every visitor with their version of a Las Vegas style welcome- a lot of horn and hoopla. They can be a lot of horn and hoopla in a garden, too.
A reader with corgis wrote me recently to ask what I recommended planting in a garden with dogs. I do not think what you plant is nearly as important as where you plant, and at what level. My dogs are creatures of habit-they have their routes. I designed my garden not only to hide their routes, but accommodate them.
My boxwood hedges have “corgi doors” cut into them, at their level. They love going in one door, and out the other.
My asparagus is companion planted with roses; they avoid that area altogether. My row of snakeroot has a barked corgi route immediately adjacent. My fountain has a frame of herniaria surrounding it, which acts like a doormat for all the grass clippings and other debris corgis carry around on their feet. They are too short to be any problem to my pots-I feel for gardeners with tall dogs. The many changes of level in my yard are like a obstacle course they never tire of; those stairs also slow them down. They sit under my life size moss cow when it’s raining. I make sure they have room on the deck to observe what’s doing in the neighborhood. Any low groundcover is bound to show Corgi-wear, but after all, it is their garden too. It’s a good look, a garden that looks like someone lives there.
I do not have any kids, except the aforementioned kids. I would never want a garden so precious it had no room for dogs and kids. The small garden space which was all mine as a child no doubt played a part in why I do what I do now.
Deborah Silver is a landscape and garden designer whose firm, Deborah Silver and Co Inc, opened its doors in 1986. She opened Detroit Garden Works, a retail store devoted to fine and unusual garden ornament and specialty plants, in 1996. In 2004, she opened the Branch studio, a subsidiary of the landscape company which designs and manufactures garden ornament in a variety of media. Though her formal education is in English literature and biology, she worked as a fine artist in watercolor and pastel from 1972-1983. A job in a nursery, to help support herself as an artist in the early 80’s evolved into a career in landscape and garden design. Her landscape design and installation projects combine a thorough knowledge of horticulture with an artist’s eye for design. Her three companies provide a wide range of products and services to the serious gardener. She has been writing this journal style blog since April of 2009.