Our winters are hard on old dogs. My dog Emily, the Wonder Dog and Vigilant Protector of the Garden, didn’t make it through the winter this year, her twelfth. Her old friends Trotter, Jake and Marlow also passed away.
Emily was a large black dog from the Humane Society. She was often mistaken for a purebred lab.She was smart, good looking, and sweet. She figured out how to turn a door knob with her mouth to get in the house. She was kind to old people, and loved visiting everybody when we went to see Dad in the nursing home.
She understood when someone was unhappy. I once watched her with a friend of mine whose dog had just died. She followed my friend around for an entire afternoon, doing her best to comfort her.
But Emily’s old heart just plain wore out. We buried her with her favorite squeaky toy, a hedgehog, next to her friend, Fred the Cat.
I believe in the importance of ceremony and ritual. People have been doing things to honor their dead since Egyptian times. And though I won’t build a pyramid to honor my dog, I am a gardener, and I’ll plant some flowers for Emily, and it will make me feel better.
Emily loved the woods, so I’ll plant woodland wildflowers for her. I won’t dig them in the wild, since many don’t transplant well. And besides, they belong there. I’ll buy them from my favorite nurseries, or from the New England Wildflower Society.
Emily is buried in dappled shade under a wild apple tree. The soil is moist and rich. I want something to bloom early by her side, so I’ll plant Hepatica, an ephemeral flower which often shows up when snow is still on the ground. Common trillium is already well established there, and I’ll add some painted trillium and double bloodroot.
I also want some plants as different and special as my dog. I’ll plant Green Dragon, a native plant I have heard about, but never seen. It’s a relative of Jack in the Pulpit, and similar in nature, but gets to be 3 or 4 feet tall.
When Emmy’s heart began to fail, we tried medication, but it didn’t work. She lost her strength, her appetite, her will to live. On her last night, when I got up to check on her, she seemed scared, so I made a bed for myself at her side, and stayed with her. In the morning I called the vet, a kind woman who came to the house and helped Emily slip away.
Just thinking of Jack in the Pulpit makes me grin. Little Jack hides in the greenery, like an elf waiting to cause mischief. I’ll plant some of those for Emily, who had a great sense of play. They grow easily from seed if planted in the fall, so I’ll wait, and plant those seeds then.
And just thinking about Emily’s wildflowers has made me feel better already.
This is the gardening guy, Henry Homeyer, from Cornish Flat, New Hampshire.
— Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and columnist.