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In the Garden

California Formal

photos by  MARILYN ROTHÉ

GARDEN CHECKLIST  | Garden Tour locales

[photo of Jim Sullivan]IT WAS ONCE A PIECE OF WASTED land, an abandoned mill pond made into a city clean-fill dump covered with dirt. Today Jim Sullivan's acre is a gardeners' Disneyland full of whimsical topiary sculptures, burbling fountains, gazing globes and numerous pieces of garden art.

Over the years, Sullivan, who is an artist and retired art teacher, has sculpted his plot of land into a paradise where once one enters one never wants to leave. This wonderland is featured on the Humboldt Botanical Garden Foundation's 8th annual garden tour this weekend, Sept. 10.

Sullivan describes his garden as `California formal,' where the informality of California -style plants like agapantha, assorted roses, rambling clematis and Japanese maples, are juxtaposed with the formal European structures of neatly manicured Japanese boxwood hedges, brick borders and topiary.

"I call it `California formal' because it's not really formal, but there are things in it that couldn't be more formal," he explained.

The landscape is a collection of garden rooms and hallways separated by hedges, wrought iron fences, pergolas and arbors smothered with clematis. Brick paths and the soothing sound of trickling water from 10 assorted fountains tucked about the garden encourage meandering from room to room. Central to the garden is a spacious brick patio featuring several pots of assorted roses. An outdoor bar makes this a place for entertaining and relaxing. A pergola covered with climbing roses features two stained glass windows salvaged from an old church.

Adjacent to the entry to the home is a quiet Zen -like meditation room where a large concrete bowl of trickling water sits in a 7 by 8 foot concrete bordered bed filled with pea gravel. A few well-placed stones and a simple tuft of grass add peace and harmony to this quiet place. Most striking is a piece of nature's art. A heavy, oddly shaped stone with a hole in the center sits on a pedestal. It is a prized possession Sullivan found when he was 16.

"We were swimming up at Butler Valley and I saw it, and I just couldn't leave without it. My brothers were all making fun of me about this, but we put a pole through the middle and carried it on our shoulders. All we had on were shower clogs," he said.

Besides collecting rocks, Sullivan scours salvage yards and junk shops for discarded materials that have artistic merit. Much of the wrought iron in the garden was from salvage. He has collected old bar stools, fountains, pottery, chimney pots, fire escapes, bar stools and wood chunks and transformed the pieces into garden art.

[photo of garden view]"I'm an artist, so if I see anything that has a design to it I have to try using it for something," he explained.

Sullivan also finds creative uses for ordinary materials that are not usually considered artistic. He uses concrete sewer cleanouts and chimney liners as attractive planters. An intricate trellis of copper tubing features copper toilet bowl floats for ornamentation.

The whimsical nature of the garden is evident by the large topiary sculptures that quietly peek out from the rooms. Here you will find Sesame Street's Big Bird, 10 feet tall 6 feet wide, carved from a cotoneaster. A large train engine is sculpted from escallonia. This garden features a big elephant and a fat pig with a curly tail.

Then there are the purple doors to nowhere. Sullivan erected the concrete steps and doors against a tall hedgerow along the driveway leading to his house "just for fun," he said.

Tending the garden is a full-time job for Sullivan. All beds and numerous potted plants are watered by hand frequently during the summer. Hedges and borders need trimming. Lawns need mowing. It's a juggling act, he admits.

"Have you ever seen on TV where the guy is doing the spinning plate trick where he gets all these plates spinning and has to keep them going. Well, we keep building more stuff, and yet we have to keep everything still spinning. You forget to water, and then you say, `Oh, my God, there go the plates.' We hand water everything." he said.

All that work is not going to keep Sullivan from collecting junk and improving his garden, however. "I go to bed at night and think `I don't want to sleep because I'm afraid I'll miss something.' I can't wait `til morning to do something else," he said.


Garden Tour Locales

The 8th Annual Humboldt Botanical Garden Foundation tour is Sunday, Sept. 10, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. This tour is being billed as new and improved because half the gardens on the tour are new in that they have not been featured on the tour before and the other half have been on the tour but have been improved. Tickets and maps are available at all garden sites.


1. Carol Green, 944 F St. This garden complements a newly restored Queen Anne Victorian house in the historic district of Eureka. Chipped paths wind around spacious beds of herbs, wildflowers, succulents, kiwis and strawberries. The garden can be enjoyed from a variety of rest areas including a greenhouse, fire pit, barbecue and picnic tables. The garden was designed as a learning resource for third and fourth graders studying Humboldt County history and horticulture, but it appeals to people of all ages. (On garden tour in 1992 and 1996.)

2. Kate Koundouriotis, 2103 H St. This unique garden is small, but offers a wealth of inspiration. It's emphasis is garden art, rather than plants. To enter the garden is to step into a quiet gently broken by the sound of water from a fountain. A brick path leads the visitor past a visual feast including a masterful privacy screen and John King's clever, colorful tiles and planters. (New to the garden tour.)

3. Lynda Pozel and Jack Hopkins, 2605 F St. This garden demonstrates the transformation of a standard city lot into a place of beauty and serenity. The garden is subtly divided into rooms, but evident throughout is the thoughtful contrast of plants in various sizes, shapes, colors and textures. The overall effect is one of proportion, symmetry and balance. Seating in the various garden rooms enhances the pleasures of this harmonious garden. (On garden tour in 1992 and 1994.)

4. Sandra Joyce, 3016 M St. Joyce has created a Victorian cottage garden that combines whimsical garden art with a botanical plant collection ranging from wild columbines to a jacaranda tree. Visitors will be charmed by an abundance of garden art -- here a cat, there a fairy; here a frog, and there a dragonfly. An enormous California bay laurel provides an anchor for the various plantings. (New to the garden tour.)

5. Jim Sullivan, 2626 Ridgeway Drive. Sullivan describes his garden as "California formal" (See feature story above.) This garden features fantasy topiary animals, fishponds, fountains, formal hedges and architectural garden rooms. Sullivan handles materials and artifacts in an innovative manner, and his artistic touches add interest to an already stunning garden. Lemonade will be served. (On garden tour in 1994 and 1995.)


6. Rolph Hellberg, 7711 Myrtle Ave. When Hellberg's family bought this property in the 1940s, it was a farm that had been cleared from the forest. Seven fruit trees were the only planting. The current two-acre garden is the core of this farm. Years of planting have created a gracious, meandering garden that blends familiar ornamentals with more unusual plants, including dozens of varieties of bamboo. Garden tour participants can enjoy tea and scones. (On garden tour in 1996.)


7. David and Marlene Giles, 1866 Wavecrest Ave. Hidden behind this suburban house is a collection of enchanted rock gardens, water features and winding paths that invite exploration. Natural materials, a unique water system and abundant plantings create a lush, almost jungle-like series of garden rooms. (New to the garden tour.)

8. Denise and Ron Wagner, 1160 Boss Road, McKinleyville. The Wagner family worked together to create this backyard retreat -- a peaceful haven where water cascades over stones into a tranquil pool where koi glide by soundlessly. A bridge leads to an island with a large wooden swing that beckons the visitor to relax awhile and enjoy the verdant surroundings. (On garden tour in 1997.)

9. LaVerne and Bill Whitehead, 3008 Eagle Lane. This garden is luxuriously expansive, mostly given over to paths leading around beds filled with gorgeous roses and other perennials. The garden also contains a dry water course with several bridges, a play area, a vegetable garden, and an orchard with the smallest, most productive fruit trees imaginable. Even the potting shed is attractively integrated into the charming scene. (New to the garden tour.)


10. Kelli Samson, 111 Old Round House Road. Emerald green lawns slope gently from the handsome log house past koi ponds, fountains, and garden beds bursting with roses, perennials and ornamental grasses. A moon garden composed of plants with white flowers or silvery foliage graces the end of the lawn. More planting beds line the driveway, and the entire landscape is beautifully framed by the surrounding forest. Works of outdoor art will be displayed and available for sale throughout the Samson garden. (On garden tour in 1997.)

11. Carol Lawrence and Tom Cockle, Redrock Lane. Only a few years ago this beautifully kept two-and-a-half-acre garden was a cow pasture. Today it includes a wide variety of plants (many clearly identified with names handpainted on rocks) and attractive features such as a fish pond and dry streambed. The garden plantings attract many birds -- over 70 species have been recorded here. (New to the garden tour.)

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