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Alice’s Lilac Tree

It’s been a year since our beloved dog, Alice, passed away. We didn’t adopt Alice until our twins were in Upper School but, in retrospect, it seems like Alice was always part of our lives. Not a day passes without thinking of sweet Alice and her leash still hangs by the door. When I last wrote about Alice (https://beyondbehnkes.com/dogs-garden-alice-wonderland/) we had just received her diagnosis of terminal cancer and, as unexpected and devastating the news was, I had no idea how painful it would be in the weeks, months and yes, years, since her passing. Dogs and gardening make a perfect duo and as the temperatures begins to moderate and I spend more time in the garden, Alice’s absence is felt quite strongly. Sometimes Alice would curl up inside if the temperatures were too hot outside and sit in a ray of sun watching me work in the garden. When we went for car rides to look at blossoms, go to the nursery or take a walk somewhere to explore, we would often bring Alice with us. She was always game for a car ride as long as the windows were down and the fresh air was blowing her hair.

When I took Alice for walks it gave me the opportunity to “stop and smell the roses” because I would go down paths accessible only by walking. We looked at the different neighborhoods, had our favorite paths and knew the dogs, by name, in the neighborhood. Among the many wonderful things Alice brought me was the discovery of a deliciously fragrant path tucked into a cul-de-sac in our neighborhood. Without a dog or specific reason to go to that exact spot, I doubt I would have discovered those incredibly distinct smelling lilacs. I never saw them – they were behind a brick wall – but I know the smell of lilacs and their approximate bloom time. So when it was “lilac time” Alice and I would take that path so I could just stop for a few minutes and inhale that beautiful scent. Alice may have made her mark in our garden by destroying more than a few new plants and being less than careful about where she decided to dig, but she gave me the gift of exploring nature by using all my senses, especially by smelling what was blooming.

My close friend, Kelly, also loved Alice even though she’s a tried and true “cat person.” Funny enough, Alice was a dog with a cat’s personality: independent, not the world’s most voracious cuddler, Alice decided who she liked and ignored those she didn’t care for. Alice carried herself with that cool elegance so often associated with cats. I don’t know when Alice and Kelly’s understanding came to be but their relationship stood the test of time. So much so, and perhaps you won’t believe me, Alice waited for a visit from Kelly before she passed away. Kelly and I often get together for lunch and an afternoon of chatting on Fridays and when we meet at my house, Alice greeted Kelly at the door by wagging her tail and looking anxiously at me to open the door. No barks, growls or raised hair on her back. Alice loved Kelly and her feelings were requited. Alice and Kelly understood each other and even when Kelly was here with a lot of other people, I knew I would find Alice curled up at Kelly’s feet – almost like she was guarding her and keeping anyone else away from her Best Friend Forever. When we got Alice’s diagnosis, Kelly came by within a few days. As sick as Alice was (and I wouldn’t have blamed her for giving up), she clearly was waiting before she closed her eyes forever. Believe me or not, Kelly and I know Alice was waiting to say goodbye to Kelly before she passed away. That Friday, Kelly and I ate lunch at the kitchen table and Alice curled up at her feet – never moving away from Kelly. When it was time for Kelly to leave, as difficult as it was, Alice got up and politely walked her to the door. I’m pretty sure there were tears in Kelly’s eyes and she hurriedly walked to her car and didn’t look back.

When Alice passed away I don’t know what I said to Kelly. Probably I didn’t say anything – she knew. She knew Alice waited to see her before she passed away and Kelly felt the loss just as deeply as our family. To honor Alice’s life, Kelly gave us a beautiful, appropriate gift for the garden. Touched by our discovery of the lilacs in our neighborhood and knowing that Alice was a unique and slightly exotic breed (a Jindo – the national dog of Korea), Kelly gave considerable thought to what would appropriately represent Alice in the garden. In the fall, when it was time to plant trees and shrubs for the following year, a tree was planted in our backyard, perfectly located where I could see it from any window in the house. I was curious about the unexpected appearance of this addition and a few phone calls later, I found out that Kelly had arranged to have a white lilac tree planted in our yard.

A white lilac – Alice’s Tree. The scent will bring back sweet memories, the color honors Alice’s beautiful, pure white coat and likely, it would bloom at about the time when Alice passed away so it gives us the opportunity to stop and think about Alice and enjoy all she brought into our lives. When Kelly ordered the tree, she wasn’t thrilled with the first one that came and she kept it for herself, ordering me another one in hopes of a little more height and width. I like the idea that both of us have Alice’s Tree in our yards.

Despite Kelly’s careful research and ordering, the tree wasn’t in its full glory when first planted. Knowing it is a deciduous tree and has a lot of growth ahead, I dream about the years when it will be full of those deliciously scented and beautiful flowers but for now, I’m just happy it’s thriving in our yard. All winter (or what passed for winter this year) I checked on the tree to make sure it was OK. Months ago, when I first saw leaves forming on the branches, I was absolutely delighted. When we had that sudden, strong cold snap it was Alice’s Tree I took care of. I covered it with a sheet (careful not to weigh it down) to protect it from the frigid temperatures. If someone looked into our yard, they probably would have laughed at the sight:


When the cold snap passed, we took the sheet off the Alice’s Tree and were delighted to see it survived.  We watched Alice’s Tree flourish over the next month: it became full with leaves and was clearly a strong, healthy and beautiful tree. I looked for the initial sign of blossoms and thought I saw a few – but with temperatures wavering so much, nothing came out of those tiny buds. When I drove around and saw purple lilacs in their full glory I knew I would have to wait another year for my own white lilacs to fill the yard with that unique scent. And as much as I wanted white blossoms this year, just the sight of this healthy, beautiful addition to the backyard makes me smile and remember our beloved Alice. Alice’s Tree is flourishing in our yard:


At the base of Alice’s Tree are delicate white narcissus with very light peach centers and I can easily imagine the glorious sight it will make when in bloom. And although I do wish this new tree had bloomed in its first year in our yard, the rational side of me knew that would have been incredibly lucky. But it does not surprise me one bit that Alice’s BFF, Kelly, managed to get just a few white lilac blooms in this first year and I’m just as happy – if not more so – that they bloomed in her yard in this inaugural year (no pun intended) rather than mine. Alice was always looking for ways to take care of Kelly and knew we would always take care of her.  Here are some of the blooms Kelly got on Alice’s Tree:

A family’s pet is a wonderful way to explore nature and, as it was with Alice, it often helps you explore areas you might otherwise ignore. Alice’s Tree has taught me that even after they are gone, memories in nature are incredibly comforting and I love Alice’s Tree whether in bloom or not. Thank you Alice. And thank you, Kelly.

by Emily Stashower, Behnke’s Guest Blogger

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Sorry for your loss Emily. We lost one of our dogs in March of 2016 and planted a star magnolia in his memory, “Morty’s Magnolia”. We lost another one of our dogs this January and I will plant another early spring bloomer in her favorite spot in our back yard.

  2. Thank you for reading “Alice’s Tree” and leaving such lovely comments. When the emotions we experience for friends, family, pets and experiences spill into the garden, I think it brings depth to the landscape and touches our hearts. Your shared experiences and understanding is comforting.

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