Still Gardening with Reilly

Several years ago, Marjorie decided to redesign the perennial bed, the largest one in the center of the garden.  This decision was actually made by Reilly, our Brittany, who was four years old at the time (2006) and who spent that summer excavating sections of this bed in hot pursuit of chipmunks.

I doubt that the chipmunks would have established residence in the garden if we had not invited them to an endless dinner of squirrel corn and sunflower seeds.  Once they realized that they would never have to venture more than a few yards from the back porch, they looked around for suitable living quarters.

Early in the summer it was hard to say where the little rodents might be when not stuffing their cheeks with seeds.  But Reilly knew.  She and Dixie, an older black lab-German shepherd and Reilly’s willing partner in crime, rooted them out of the woodpile so often that they were forced to move to the garden bed.  We soon noticed the small holes at the soil surface but gave little thought to the massive network of tunnels that lied below.  Then Reilly started her own Big Dig.

Soon the perennial bed was a network of deep trenches.  The chipmunks were gone, along with most of the perennials.  Reilly would come to the back door panting, her normally pink snoot and white legs dirt-black.  At night, as she slept on her half of the sofa, she would relive the day, her front legs moving in rapid digging strokes, her muzzle twitching.

As she aged, cultivation of the soil continued to be but one of Reilly’s contributions to the garden work.  She helped with the harvest, using the instant consumption approach that she learned by observing those around her.  She worked by our sides, picking snow peas from the trellised vine, only the plumpest and sweetest.  She supervised the carrot harvest.

In late summer she liked to stretch out in the grassy walks with a fresh-picked tomato, devouring the Sungold cherry tomatoes at the peak of ripeness but only nibbling the green plum tomatoes, preferences she shared with Dixie.  We had our pick of leaky green tomatoes scattered around the garden and, occasionally, in the house.

Reilly also worked with hardscape.  She was a rock hound, scattering an endless supply of stones for me to find while cutting the grass.  There seemed to be a lot of spontaneity in this effort.  Trotting purposefully across the garden on some errand, she would stop abruptly in front of a partially buried rock, or perhaps one rock among many carefully placed around a planted tree or shrub.  In either case, after careful examination by sniffing and pawing, she would heft the stone by mouth and carry it off to a grassy spot for a little quality chewing time.

Reilly is still a constant presence in Marjorie’s garden, but age has taken its toll.  She is now, at nearly 10 years old, blind.  The blindness came on suddenly over the past month and we may never know why, other than old age.  She stills follows chipmunks and red squirrels around the garden with her nose and ears, occasionally bumping into a fallen branch or garden gate post.  And with the blindness came symptoms of Cushing’s Disease, malfunctioning of the adrenal gland that results in a ravenous appetite (she gained 20 pounds in a month) and unquenchable thirst.

Reilly in the garden, at a much younger age.

Reilly’s life has changed, but she is remarkably active for a blind creature.  She hasn’t spent any time lamenting her loss but simply makes the best of the faculties that remain intact.  And she still goes to the garden with me.  I don’t see how an earnest gardener could manage without a gardening companion like Reilly.

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About Reeser Manley

I was born in Laramie Wyoming but moved to the southeast at an early age. I was educated through my B.S. in Biology in the Columbus, Georgia area, then crossed the Chattahoochee River to earn my M.S. in Botany at Auburn University. For the next ten years, I worked as Horticultural Manager for the George W. Park Seed Co. in Greenwood, S.C. At 40 years of age, I decided to return to graduate school and in 1994, I earned a Ph.D. in Horticultural Science from Washington State University, Pullman, Washington. Fast forward through 10 years at university (7 at UMaine, Orono) and you find me teaching high school science in Eastport, Maine, the edge of the world, and writing a weekly garden column for the Bangor Daily News. My new book, The New England Gardener's Year, a Month-by-Month Guide for Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Upstate New York”, will be published later this year by Cadent Publishing. You can learn more about the book by visiting its Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-New-England-Gardeners-Year/187285218055676.)