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June 22, 2006

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Meet the Lily Master


When Tom Herd's neighbors suggested that he put his garden on the Humboldt Botanical Gardens Foundation's annual tour, he worried that it wouldn't meet the tour's high standards. "I wondered if they were looking for one of those perfect Sunset magazine gardens," he said. "I do this by myself, and I didn't know what anybody else would think of it."

photo of Tom Herd in his gardenBut when HBGF's garden tour committee came to visit in February, Herd's 95-year-old mother was in town visiting. "I think my mother charmed them," he said. "Anyway, they decided to let me participate."

Like most gardeners who open their property to the public for the tour, Herd (right) used the event as an excuse to finish up all the gardening projects he hadn't gotten around to before. He moved from St. Louis to his home on Hodgson Street in Eureka a couple years ago, and since then he's added brickwork and walkways, expanded the flower beds and revitalized overgrown shrubs around the house.

Herd is a retired art teacher who found himself spending more and more time in the Pacific Northwest on vacation. "When I went back to St. Louis from here," he said, "I'd always have a duffel bag of plants that I'd carry back on the airplane with me. I kept wondering if I could ship driftwood back, too. Then I thought, why ship it — I'll just move here."

After his retirement, he found a house to buy and went to work on the neglected garden around it. "I think the people who lived there before used the backyard as a fire pit," he said. "I'm still digging up toys and trash." To expand the flower beds and reduce the size of the yard, he smothered the grass with plastic or newspaper and piled mulch on top. Now the small back yard overflows with poppies, coreopsis, columbine, small flowering shrubs and one of his main loves: lilies.

"I was buying lilies before I even moved here and shipping them home," he said. "Now I buy more every year at Sun Valley's open house, and I've got them coming up everywhere. They're such a beautiful flower for being as sturdy as they are."

On one side of the house, he's in the process of pruning some overgrown rhododendrons and azaleas to create a more cultivated woodland look. "I think some of these plants are wild," he said. "I suspect that the people who lived here before just went out into the woods and dug up plants. I'm still seeing new things come up."

Herd's focus as an artist is on batik; he's hoping to finish work on his studio, which is in a converted garage behind the house, and return to his art soon. Meanwhile, he's outside every day getting his garden ready for the tour. He hopes that by opening his garden up, he'll meet some kindred spirits and learn a little more about gardening on the North Coast. "I hardly know what to do with some of these perennials," he said. "They just keep growing and growing. You never really need to cut them down to the ground."

He's glad to have so much to show for his short time in this new garden. "Two years in the Midwest is like one year here," he said. "If everything I planted takes off, I'll spend the rest of my life pruning."

Tom Herd has planted a small but lovely garden in Eureka; his is just one of 10 gardens that will be open for the Humboldt Botanical Gardens Foundation's annual Garden Tour. Another highlight this year is Redwood Roots Farm, which grows four acres of vegetables and berries for its CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.

The tour will be held on Sunday, June 25 from 10-5. The gardens are located in Bayside, Cutten and Eureka. Along the way you'll find music, lemonade, tea and scones and a silent art auction. Tickets are $15 for members and $20 for non-members; you can buy them on the day of the tour at any of the gardens, or purchase them in advance from nurseries around town or from HBGF directly by calling 442-5139.

Send garden news to, or write in care of the Journal at 145 G St., Suite A, Arcata, 95521.


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