My Old Dog

I know there are a lot of dog lovers out there and it’s not just me. So forgive me if I spend this time to talk about mine.

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You see, for about the last three years my beloved border collie Skye-dog has been living on borrowed time.

Some of you may know that in late February 2011 she was diagnosed with lymphoma.  After we got over the shock of such a gut-wrenching diagnosis and put our proverbial ‘big girl panties’ on, and remembering that my first dog, Riley, lived only a month after her diagnosis of auto-immune hemolytic anemia brought on by a cancerous tumour in her chest, we were keen to fight and said yes to treatment.  In the case of canine lymphoma it is chemotherapy.

Never having had a friend, family member or even acquaintance who had gone through chemotherapy, but only feeling scared and apprehensive, we asked about how it would affect her quality of life.  We were told that most dogs do very well and show very few side effects:  the possibility of diarrhea, perhaps vomiting, some inappetence and likely tiredness within a few days of treatment was what we should expect.  So we and Skye-dog embarked on a six month course of chemotherapy.

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Our goal was to achieve remission and to stay cancer-free for as long as possible.  The veterinary oncologist said statistically the first remission was likely to last 12 to 18 months at best.  If she relapsed, successive chemotherapy treatments could be given but the succeeding remissions would get shorter and shorter until such time as we would have to accept the inevitable. Our luck had not been good with treatment for a chronic condition so we did not have very heroic expectations.  If Skye didn’t react well to the chemotherapy we could always stop.

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However, she surprised everyone by not only flying through treatment but also by continuing to live without any symptoms of her lymphoma for what has now been three years and five months.

She is now just over 12 years old and still with us.  I am happy to say that lymphoma is a word rarely mentioned in our house and we choose to believe that we have it beat. But she is now an old dog suffering from old dog ailments, the most serious of which is spondylosis.  This is a condition that affects the spine, resulting in ‘bone spurs’, which are bony growths that manifest between the vertebrae.  Some say they form as a result of trauma others as a result of a genetic predisposition — most common in older, larger dogs.  This growth can affect the nerves along the spine creating pain, stiffness, limited range of motion and sometimes, lameness.  If severe, treatment for younger dogs can involve surgical correction but for older dogs, it is simply pain management, restricted activity, relatively benign procedures like laser therapy, neural therapy (sub-cutaneous injections of homeopathic remedies), acupuncture and physiotherapy.  We have done all of the above except for acupuncture and Skye’s first foray into hydrotherapy begins tomorrow.

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Skye loves water so I’m hoping that she takes some pleasure in this new experience.  Her first visit will include getting used to the environment (a long, narrow raised pool with warmish salt water) and the hydrotherapists themselves who will introduce her to the routine by first giving some underwater massage. She’ll wear a doggie life jacket to ensure she doesn’t need to work too hard and may not even swim at all until she feels comfortable.  I’ll be alongside the pool during the exercise, praising her and encouraging her on.

For a dog who has always been fast, fearless and bossy, seeing her struggle with her back legs, choosing to bypass the stony beach and its floating dock on our daily walks and finding new hobbies like toad hunting and short-distance ‘two-ball’, has been a real transition for the both of us. As an older dog, I know her time left with us now is limited.  I am so grateful that the lymphoma didn’t take her three years ago — but — accepting this ‘new normal’ of restricted activity, abbreviated walks and lots of snoozing is making me sad.  I understand it can be characterized as anticipatory grief, and that we can become mired in it if we don’t pay attention.

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So, we will be off to the swim therapy tomorrow, thankful that we are still a team, thankful that each day starts off with our walks and is marked by doggie meal and ‘pill time’, that our kitchen counter is full of her bottles and potions, that her beds are almost in every room of our house, that her snore is music to me and that our car will always smell of ‘dog’, that is, her.  No matter what the future holds, she will always be my Skye-dog.

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The romantic garden of Page Dickey or Garden Conservancy Tour: Part IV

What I believed to perhaps be the highlight of our garden touring was the North Salem, NY, home and life-work of Page Dickey.  She is known for her garden writing, primarily two books that chronicled her life alongside her garden here at Duck Hill (Duck Hill Journal: A Year in a Country Garden, 1991; and then Embroidered Ground: Revisiting the Garden, twenty years later in 2011).

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The garden is clearly mature.  A product of years and years of love, both volumptuous and restrained, overgrown and controlled.  Dickey has called this garden home for the last 30 plus years.

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One of the first things I thought upon entering this garden was, “Gosh, her husband must really like to prune.”  And I see in this personal article by Anne Raver in the NY Times from 2010 that her new millenium husband, Bosco Schell, does indeed enjoy clipping.

Thankfully so.  Because these boxwood balls (what is it about men and their boxwood balls?) are barely navigable, but who wants to nix such mature specimens?  Not Page Dickey who says in her most recent book, “I don’t have the energy to start again.”

The crabapple trees that form a grid in the courtyard garden next to the house are really what she is referring to when she says this.  If there was any thought to taking them down and starting again, it is clearly not an option.  For they are floriferous in the spring and then demonstrate such linear architecture in the winter months that taking them down would be nothing less than criminal.  Embraced by neatly clipped yew hedges, these trees need constant attention so the paths can be navigated without getting a branch in your face.

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But there are such beautiful moments here; moments where the visitor can breathe a bit easier and smell the fragrance on this hillside.

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I have always gardened in confined spaces.  Urban gardens, bounded by garages, fences, walls.  My hands ache and my back weakens when I imagine tending a garden that is even a little bit bigger than mine in the city.

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There is a lot to do here.  And Page Dickey is keenly aware of what happens when your garden grows beyond your capabilities.  Replacing perennials with shrubs and ground covers in order to help curb the maintenance is an important focus.

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And this is exactly what she’s done in parts of the property.  The shady parts.  The wild parts.  The parts that become a focus, and a relief, with age…

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All made more spectacular because of the contrast with the civility closer to the clapboard house: the highly organized and pristine vegetable garden that was a naive inspiration to me…

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But this garden is not simply a set of views, images or lessons.  It is someone’s home.  Someone’s passion with plants, moments in time and space, shared with family and animals.

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I really appreciated the glimpse.  And the imagining without the work.  Thank you to all those gardeners who clip, rake, sweep, snip, stake, and primp so that when we come and visit, it all looks so easy.

 

 

Garden Conservancy Tour 2014: Part III

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Are you as crazy about these pebbled concrete pools as I am?  This garden is the little jewel in the middle of Hudson, NY, called ‘Hudson Hood’ and the third private garden we visited on our tour this summer.

Hudson is worth visiting for the history alone.  What I didn’t know is that although much of its downtown core has been gentrified and adopted by ex-NYC’ers as their ‘retirement project’, there still exists a very real divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.

Be that as it may, as a tourist you can choose to learn as much or as little about the place while you’re there.  I will save what I’ve learned for another post.  In the meantime, more about ‘Hudson Hood’.

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This urban garden is characterized as a ‘shotgun’ garden — meaning it is long and narrow.  Indeed, it is — plus it is shaded by a giant tulip tree, giving it a feeling of repose and calm.

It is primarily a green garden, with care and consideration given to shapes and textures of plants and their leaves.

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Much of the garden is viewable as you enter.  As you walk through it, you are totally surprised when you come upon a totally hidden – and modernist – pond and screened-in sanctuary…

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What is there not to love?  Such a bold departure, but a perfect spot to sit, contemplate life and watch dragonflies zip around the waterlilies….

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Having a place where you can enjoy your efforts, with a cushioned bench to snooze and have a glass of something refreshing is golden — make sure you include a special spot like this in your garden in order to make it truly magical.

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Garden Conservancy Tour 2014 – Part II

 It was the greenhouse, really, that made me stop breathing for a moment and stand there with my mouth open.  The English ivy growing up the walls, the aged paned windows, the vintage cupboard, and the stained and curling photographs.  Even one showing Mrs. Greenthumbs, Casandra Danz, in one of her comic poses…

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I don’t know if you share my opinion on this, but I could live here quite happily…

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… and know that I had found my place in paradise … is that too corny?

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But wait, there’s more.

This is the garden belonging to Peter Bevacqua and Stephen King, no, another Stephen King, in Claverack, NY.  I don’t know who these two are besides very committed, enthusiastic and experienced gardeners — with a bit of disposable income in their retirement years.  The pair moved here in 1988 from the Upper West Side, aka Manhattan, and have been showing their garden to the public as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days since at least 2004.  Although not a competition, being chosen to participate in the Open Days is, Bevacqua says, “…like winning an Oscar or something.”

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This two-acre garden (they purchased the property next door in 2000) feels like an impeccably maintained estate.  Languorous trees over verdant lawns, crisp edges and tightly clipped hedges make touring this garden immensely satisfying, since absolutely nothing is amiss and everything looks lush and well cared for.

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Unfortunately, I’ll have to leave it here since for the last week or more my computer is refusing to download anymore photos :c(    Does it not want me to share my experience of this lovely garden with you?  Or is it just being a jerk.  I would guess the latter *sigh*

Garden Conservancy Tour 2014 – Part I

I’m just back from a trip to upstate (middle?) New York for a visit to six spectacular gardens.  I thought I would chronicle them here in six parts.  These were private gardens that were open to visitors as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program.  Three were close to Hudson, NY, and the others were in North Salem, NY.

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Margaret Roach’s garden in Copake Falls is one I’ve written about before (see here) when we visited about five years ago and it was nice to see it again.  Like all of us, Margaret is trying to balance plant passion and taking care of a large garden with aging hands, backs and knees.  You wouldn’t know it though because her beds are still beautifully edged and dressed, the veggie garden full and orderly and her pots carefully placed and ready for the season.

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It is so rewarding to be able to catch a glimpse into the world of other gardeners.  Thank you Margaret for opening up your private space to hoards of admirers and their heavy, sometimes clumsy feet.

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A whole new meaning to the word “foster”

“I’m not ashamed of what I did.  I just don’t understand how it happened.”

That was my husband, who after months of care, attention and making sure I didn’t inadvertently vacuum it up or knock it down, safe-guarded this hibernating creature from September 2013 through May 2014 on the stairs down to our basement.  In my husband’s defence (in his own words), it’s dark down there. IMG_0571

 Yesterday, he set it free.

Yes, it is a dried up maple key.

But I’ll bet that maple key never saw so much love and compassion.

Earth Day 2014 and a challenge….

In honour of Earth Day, especially when this day in 2014 is grey and wet and there is little colour yet to be seen, I give you hope but I also give you a challenge….

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How are you celebrating?  Have you gone searching for the earliest spring blooming perennials in your garden?

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Did you skip your clean-up last fall and are you having now to unearth blooms from under a blanket of wet leaves?

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Are you seeing these beauties in other peoples’ gardens?  Are you now making plans for this autumn, searching for Chionodoxa, primrose and other jewels to enjoy in your own space next spring?

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This spring, I challenge you to not simply look down and appreciate the plants.  I challenge you to take a garbage bag with you on your next walk and pick up plastic, pop cans, other peoples’ trash — there is nothing that makes a landscape more unhappy and feel more unloved.   And if this blight is on your regular commute, you see it everyday and it chisels away part of your soul and your feelings of hope for the future.   Make the world, your small piece of the world, a place that can bring joy instead of discouragement.  Honour a small part of your world and clean it up.  Do it in honour of Earth Day…

But do more than this:  tell me about it!  Take “before” and “after” photos and I’ll post them — and give you kudos for a job well done.