IN OUR DAILY RUSH TO AND FROM work, shopping and school, we often become oblivious to the gardens of our neighborhood where private niches of beauty lie tucked behind dark hedges and rose-encrusted gates. Participate in this year's Humboldt Botanical Garden Foundation garden tour and tea Sunday, June 13, and discover 11 diverse gardens nestled in three neighborhoods of Blue Lake, Arcata and Bayside.
On this tour you will discover steep, bramble-ridden slopes tamed into landscaped terraces, cottage garden nooks brimming with old-fashioned roses, aviaries, gurgling streams, cozy patios and a botanical collector's garden populated with eclectic garden sculpture.
HBGF volunteer Lynne Wells, a member of the garden selection committee whose garden is included in this year's tour, is excited about this Sunday's event.
"I think it's going to be one of the best tours ever, I really do. There are wonderful gardens and interesting people so that you can see the personalities of the gardeners reflected in their gardens. And there is the advantage of parking your car once in each neighborhood and then walking to different gardens, rather than driving to each individual garden," she explained.
Personality does play a role in a gardener's creation as evidenced by the landscape built by Margo Barnard of Blue Lake. A petite 5' 2", she single-handedly transformed a steep quarter-acre pie, wedge-shaped lot into a beautiful park by hauling in tons of concrete and river stone. Although she and her husband, Keith, have lived there for more than 20 years, Margo began landscaping the lot only six years ago, installing terraces supported by broken concrete slabs and river rocks.
Barnard said she really didn't get serious about the project until three years ago. While recovering from a car accident, she started gardening in earnest in order to get well.
"It was actually physical therapy for me so I just kind of puttered around the yard and got my strength back."
For years the lot was nothing but a steep tangle of berry vines and weeds. At the entrance to her yard was an abandoned alley that ran the length of her property steeply down to Railroad Avenue below. "It was all just berries and poison oak here," she explained. "The sheriff would chase people (ne'r-do-wells) and they would flee and escape up this alley. Then the neighbors came in and dropped huge pieces of concrete here (to prevent trespassing)."
Today, Barnard has turned the alley into a driveway and walkway paved with broken cement slabs. The cracks are filled with creeping thyme and blue star creeper. Her thorough, meticulous craftsmanship is so well done that you could almost ride rollerblades on the broken surface. A steep slope next to the abandoned alley has been landscaped into a long, terraced, rock wall chocked full of perennials. Three tiny ponds, bordered by gnarly old apple and redwood limbs, are tucked in the smooth river-stone terrace.
Assorted rock garden plants, like thyme, artemisia, tanacetum and sunrose, fill crannies and crevices. A chain-link fence above is lined with old roses and fragrant honeysuckle.
Because she is on a budget, Barnard grows most of her plants from seeds and starts traded with friends. The hardscape materials and fill are recycled waste she collected for free.
"My whole thing is I couldn't spend much money, but I could spend all the labor I needed to," she said. Barnard has used broken concrete to build the terraces. The fill, used to transform the steep lot into a more manageable slope, came from garden debris discarded by neighbors.
Fragrance plays a major role in this garden as evidenced by the plethora of thyme, rosemary, roses, dianthus and honeysuckle.
"I decided my favorite things are fragrance, then foliage, then flower. And the fragrance doesn't have to be sweet; it can be aromatic like artemisia and thyme," she added.
Other highlights of this landscape include a vegetable garden thick with artichokes, a copper trellis to support peas, assorted colorful leaf lettuces and a rustic redwood pergola, called Wood Henge.
While Barnard had the challenge of conquering a steep lot, neighbor Elise Scafani, whose yard sits directly below, had the challenge of managing a flat parcel that floods from a nearby creek.
"Margo wants flat, and I want elevation" Scafani said. Since the creek that borders the front of her property floods the entire yard after a winter storm, Scafani built a two- foot levee to channel water away from the yard. The levee is planted with assorted perennials in an informal cottage garden style.
When Scafani bought her old-fashioned farmhouse eight years ago, a gnarly rose and old plum tree occupied the yard. Today she has transformed it into a quaint garden of informal plantings contained within long, formal symmetrical beds. Cecile Brunner roses scramble up gated arbors. Iris and columbines nod in the afternoon breeze. Honeysuckle, hosta and assorted Japanese maples fill shaded areas. A voluptuous blue wisteria laden with bloom cleaves to the old back porch. Central to the garden is a newly constructed patio area made of broken chunks of cement and ponds. A trickling stream runs between two small ponds.
Because Scafani is a busy United Parcel Service driver, she spends weekends tending her garden.
"I like it because it is creative and I enjoy it. It's my creative outlet. The garden is so alive and everything you put in comes back," she explained.
In all there are five neighborhood gardens in Blue Lake. Up the hill from Scafani's, visit the garden of Stasia Walters and David Nakamura. There you will find the charm of geraniums cascading over a rustic wood fence. It is an artistic hollow of quiet pond and herb garden. Nearby is the garden of Lois and Larry Andersen, where you will experience the feel of an English country garden, gently tamed and delicately designed. Susan Dunn's private sanctuary is one of Old World charm. Here you can sip a glass of lemonade while listening to the chatter of native song birds clattering about a 75-year-old apple tree. Cherry trees, camellias and mock oranges abound.
If you are looking for an old-fashioned country garden with the charm of a crazy quilt, visit Brooks and Carolyn Otis' garden on 13th Street in Arcata. The 1903 Victorian era home is perched on a slope and features a wraparound deck on the south and east sides. Containers of all sorts dot the decks, much like musical notes on a staff, reflecting Brooks' passion as a musician and composer.
Assorted geraniums, potato vine, santolina, spirea, tuberous begonias and fuchsia spill from containers. For Otis, gardening is a way to relax.
"It's fun to come home from work and look at your plants and go around watering them," he said. The decks were built at the front and side of home to solve the problem of a steep, rock slope that made landscaping difficult.
"The sewer line broke in the '91 earthquake and the whole side yard had to be excavated. I thought, `What am I going to do now? We've got this huge mess.' So we just decked it over," he explained.
Enter the gently sloped backyard and you will notice a fence bordering the backyard covered with old roses enclosed in a river stone border. A patchwork of rectangular raised beds are filled with fuchsias, lavender, fat delphiniums, cosmos and assorted lettuce greens. This gives the yard an old fashioned cottage-garden feel that compliments the architecture of the house.
On the east side of the garden is a narrow, shady refuge of fuchsia, foxglove, cineraria and penstemon. A member of the fuchsia society, Otis estimates that he has between 20-30 assorted varieties. The big freeze of last December took its toll in his collection, and the plants are only just now recovering.
While touring the Otis garden, you will enter the garden next door through a rose-smothered gate. This is where Otis and his neighbors share a vegetable garden of raised beds filled with garlic, peas, strawberries and assorted greens. A 10' tall French bean tower Otis made from scrap is a highlight of this garden. Sweeping informal beds are brimming with forget-me-nots, poppies and callas.
While you are in the neighborhood, visit the charming garden of Christy and Aldaron Laird, located on H Street across from Wildberries Marketplace. Here you will see a fine example of how one can make a small yard seem spacious. This garden features four intimate garden rooms filled with herbs, wisteria, honeysuckle, heirloom roses, clematis, bulbs and a plethora of English perennials.
The Graham Road neighborhood in Bayside features three next-door neighbors' gardens full of surprises. Visit the Wells garden and experience the wonder of a three-acre botanical paradise filled with hundreds of collector's plants, many rare and unusual. It is a garden of drama, humor and art, reflecting the theatrical, artistic nature of Bob and Lynne Wells, both professional actors. Several sweeping, mounded beds are filled with perennials, bamboo, ornamental grasses and Japanese maples. Just beyond the purple-tinged pillars at the entrance to the garden lies a lush subtropical garden planted with banana, dudleya, variegated sedum, smoke tree and ornamental grass. A large boulder with soft, protruding lumps and a corpulent Jerusalem sage, at least eight feet in diameter, figure prominently here.
"I'm pretty much a collector. I have a lot of specimen trees, shrubs and perennials that I have been collecting the last five years. But a lot of the specimen plants won't reach their prime for another five years," she explained, as a flock of warblers sang in the trees above.
A soft breeze flutters the variegated pink-tinged foliage of a rare willow, Salix integra "Hashiro Nigiki," one of Lynne's favorite plants. Wide grassy paths slope down to Jacoby Creek. A copper-domed gazebo and many garden rooms, each with an intimate seating area, beckon the curious to pause and enjoy the journey. Suddenly a massive cardoon erupts like a green geyser from the center of a bed creating a bit of drama common to many of the plantings. East meets West where Oriental poppies mingle with Spanish lavender. Mounding beds brim with creeping thyme, euphorbias, boxwood borders and blue seas of nepeta.
A garden bench overlooks a native area above the creek where a towering Sitka spruce juts up from a deep pool.
The Wells garden features an eclectic assortment of garden sculpture, all with humorous, whimsical and classical names. In the woodland area you will discover a huge old snag with natural features painted to portray a female's face. Its gaping maw is painted bright red and Bob and Lynne have named it Monica. A large pond, complete with landscaped island and a replica of the Statue of Liberty, is named Ezra Pond. It boasts an eight-foot metal frog sculpture affectionately called Pond Larker, made by artist June Moxon.
In the subtropical garden lies an eight-foot-long pale marble female nude reclining on a polished black granite base. Adjacent to the entrance of the farmhouse, built in 1882, is an immense female nude made of rose-tinged marble. And then there is natural art, like the massive lumpy boulder, called the Boob Rock, flanked by species azaleas and rhododendrons. A "Floating Cloud" Japanese maple hovers in the cool dark shade like an apparition, its pale leaves trembling in the breeze.
Wells and her husband spend many hours working in the three-acre garden.
"I like the work. I love plants, the texture, the beauty, the way they move in the wind and the light. I'm a lover of beauty, and am fortunate enough to be able to do this," she said.
The Wells garden also features the Art in the Garden Silent Auction where garden art and art related to gardens will be offered to the public. Participating artists include Floyd Bettiga, Hobart Brown, June Beal, Richard Duning and Jinx Victor. All proceeds benefit HBGF.
Next door to the Wells garden enjoy live classical music with your tea and scones at the Bottemiller garden. This spacious landscape features a courtyard patio, finely sculpted paths, beds of strawberries, billowing hydrangeas and a wide variety of low-maintenance perennials. Listen to classical music sift through the trees above the creek while you mosey on over to the neighboring garden of Lee and Jennie Simpson. An expansive aviary features cooing doves, golden pheasants and assorted exotic birds. A gurgling waterfall and stream empty into a small pond. Travel along the cool, moist path bordering Jacoby Creek to a bamboo forest where stiff leaves hiss in the afternoon breeze.
Those who wish to tour these neighborhood gardens can purchase $15 tickets at garden centers and at several gardens on the day of the tour. Call the HBGF office at 442-5139 for details. Locations where tickets can be purchased include A & L Feed & Garden Store and Miller Farms in McKinleyville; Mad River Nursery and Garden Gate in Arcata; Sun, Rain and Time, Sherwood Forest Nursery, Greenlot Nursery, Harris Street Gardens, Pierson's Garden Shop in Eureka; Wildthings in Ferndale; Fortuna Nursery; and Sylvandale Gardens in Garberville.
PHOTOS by Marilyn Rothé:
1. Lynne & Bob Wells welcome us to their Bayside garden.
2. Terraced rock walls and pathways lined with aromatic foliage and perennials await at the Barnard Garden.
3. Next door at the Scafanis', columbines sway in the breeze.
4. Carolyn & Brooks Otis stand behind the 10-ft. tall French bean tower that highlights the vegetable garden they share with neighbors.
5. Roses detail
6. Wells garden setting.
7. Succulents detail
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