It was just a seed of an idea. But it grew and grew and grew. Four years ago, Jimmy Joe Gooding was mourning the death of his beloved dog, a yellow Labrador Retriever named Gwen. They used to go for daily walks on Del Mar’s Dog Beach, located at the north end of town near Via de la Valle. After the Lab passed away, Gooding decided to create a garden in Gwen’s memory and contribute to the town where he grew up. “I needed some therapy,” he says. “This was my way of giving back.”
Gooding found the perfect spot. The entrance to the beach (North Beach, as it is officially known) was then an “eyesore,” he recalls, a tangle of dead plants and weeds. The City of Del Mar’s Parks and Recreation Committee approved the garden under its “Adopt a Spot” program designed to beautify the village. Gooding planted greenery, grasses, succulents, topiaries, and wildflowers along a winding path. It is there that he created a memorial for Gwen, as well as a fanciful plot in memory of his late friend Kim, festooned with angel figurines. He also installed “Polie’s Bench” in honor of another friend, a peaceful spot that offers a prime view of Dog Beach and the ocean beyond. A plaque there reads: “Sit here and share a smile.” Indeed, there is much to smile about at Gwen’s Garden.
“He certainly gets credit for brightening my day,” says North County resident Joan Kaestner, who enjoys walks there with her friend Connie Pittard. “Jimmy has created a mini wonderland full of beauty and whimsy. It’s an ongoing project, which he has undertaken and funded on his own.” In fact, Gooding has spent about $6,000 planting and caring for the garden. Known unofficially as the “Mayor of Dog Beach,” he devotes several hours each morning to the garden where he waters the plants, sweeps sidewalks, and cleans the sand before heading off to work as a handyman. He spends all day Sunday there, too. “Everyone is really appreciative of his hard work,” says Joe Bride, director of Del Mar’s Public Works Department. “He’s very popular.” Lifeguard Hayden Horan agrees. “He’s an awesome guy. He’s always out there tending to the garden and he’s always helping us out.” Gooding alerts lifeguards if anyone is injured and early morning runners feel safer knowing that he is there. Adds Horan: “He’s always looking out for the community at large.”
Gooding still likes to walk the beach as he once did with Gwen. But now he has two new companions: Blondie, a yellow Lab, and Koa, her male pup.