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16th Annual Garden Tour

Soroptimist International of the Sierra Foothills is proud to present their 16th Annual Garden Tour. The event is Saturday and Sunday, May 16 and 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

All garden lovers will be delighted by the variety found at each home. From the professionally landscaped to the intricate designs by the individual homeowners, you will be surprised by the beauty of every garden.

Come immerse yourself in the beauty of the majestic Sierra Foothills. You will find a variety of plants from 1,500- to 3,000-foot elevations while wandering down paths of foothill flowers, fountains, native plants, ponds, a variety of trees and more.

Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the gardens. The tour is the main fundraiser for the service club. 100 percent of their profits are put back into the community with focused projects. Some of these projects are: Read Me a Story, helping to build a garden at the Grass Valley School District’s preschool, high school scholarships and supporting the Pal Program. They also sponsor a room at the Kare Crisis Nursery, support Child Advocates of Nevada County, and the American Red Cross to name a few.

You may write to this organization: Soroptimist International of the Sierra Foothills, P.O. Box 778, Grass Valley, CA 95945, visit their Web site at http://www.sierrasoroptimist.org or contact Linda Sanderson at (530) 273-7989.

We all remember the motto from the story of the tortoise and the hare: “Slow and steady wins the race.”

A good example of that can be seen in the garden of David and Diana (“Di”) Connell, whose back yard once consisted of some patchy grass, a deck, one camellia and two azaleas.

That was ten years ago, when the couple decided to do some serious landscaping.

But, as Di explains, there was a problem: “We had no idea where to start and were fresh out of money.”

So, she went to Weiss Brothers Nursery and asked if there were anyone who could offer some advice on a long-range project.

“I was introduced to Karen Bansemer,” Di acknowledges, “and after exchanging ideas we agreed this would be a five-year project, doing one section at a time. And over that time we became very, very good friends.”

Bansemer agrees the friendship flourished as beautifully as the garden: “Di is a big ‘color’ person, and so we worked in some Japanese maples, several Double-file viburnums (Viburnum plicatum tomentosum, her personal favorite), along with some heathers and conifers, dogwoods, a prostrate deodora and fir trees.”

A touch of whimsy was added to the landscape with metal sculptures by Kenny Caspar, Larry Homan and Chris Johnson and wood carving by Don Lawson.

Dave tackled a lot of the cement work and installed the basic irrigation system while Di fine-tuned the drip irrigation setup. They teamed up on bringing in topsoil, rocks and digging holes for plants and recruited friends to help install sod. Both came from families where a vegetable garden was important, and it still is:

“You might say dirt has always been on our hands,” Di laughs, “and we experiment with new crops every year, sharing the wealth with our friends.”

The one part of the 1⁄4-acre property that was transformed in a hurry was the front yard, because of their daughter’s impending marriage. Professionals were hired to pour the cement drive and installed an automatic sprinkler setup. Again, friends showed up to help install sod.

Asked what advice she’d share with others landscaping on a limited budget, Di nods: “Never be afraid to seek advice from professionals. You’ll find wonderful people in the nursery industry. If you’re short of money, doing most of the work yourself, don’t be in a hurry to get everything done. Pay as you go, and let the landscape evolve. And, most importantly, enjoy yourself!”

The Connell’s have opened their yard to the tour with one goal in mind: “We hope people will see what we’ve done and think, ‘If the Connells can do it, so can we!”

Visitors to the garden will be treated to artwork by Tricia Burbank and music by The Silver Wing Bluegrass.

One look at the 50-by-60 foot vegetable garden at the Banner Mountain home of Bud and Kim West might lead someone to believe the couple is really “hunkering down” for the “Great Recession.”

But that’s the way the Wests have been gardening for decades, growing a lot of their own food while constantly adding landscape features such as a substantial retaining wall, rockwork, planters and fishpond that now covers the spot where they once exchanged wedding vows.

Bud acknowledges improving the vegetable garden soil (once clay and rock) has been a long-term mission: “I put at least eight yards of sand in there!”

Asked if there were any reservations about covering “hallowed ground” Kim laughs and says, “It was pretty rough digging, let me tell you! But Bud just took a can of spray paint and outlined the shape of the pond and all of us – including friends and the kids ” started digging.”

Since that time, however, weddings of friends and relatives have been held at the West’s home. A gazebo that Bud’s younger brother created from salvaged barn wood has been the hub of festivities. The pond is stocked with colorful Koi carp, which are relatively safe from freeloading critters because of the West’s big Newfoundland dog. Deer are a problem on Banner Mountain, so the entire perimeter is surrounded by a tall fence.

According to Kim, “We started gardening from scratch, but along the way we’ve had some good ideas from Mike Jaime of M.J. Landscape. He worked with a big contractor for years and just started his own business about two years ago. He does the mowing and blowing of our large lawn and installed the sprinkler system and timers that provide irrigation, too. But Bud and I still maintain the flowerbeds and vegetable garden.”

Adding eye appeal and interest to the garden – which covers about a half acre ” are a number of innovative and whimsical metal sculptures by local artist Ken Casper: “He and Bud have been friends since they were in high school,” Kim notes. Also, inside the home the walls are decorated with Trompe loil paintings by Janine Christman.

Testifying to the fact that gardening is never truly “finished,” Kim observes”Gardening on Banner Mountain can be very challenging,” Kim observes: “We’re always adding new plants and flowers, using lots of natural rock, including quite a bit of petrified wood that Bud has collected over the years.

“There’s still a big pile of it out in the back yard,” Kim laughs, “so we’ve still got some work ahead of us.”

The Wests live side-by-side on Butterfly Drive with the Connells, (“We’ve been friends for years,” Kim testifies) whose garden is also on this year’s SISF tour.

Whether you visit all the gardens on the SISF tour, or only a select few, don’t miss visiting the Waxman’s garden. And go there LAST, making it “dessert” in this horticultural buffet.

As some visitors exclaim, “This is like something from Beverly Hills!”

Jerry Waxman nods his head and smiles: “Except few people could afford this much land there.”

The subdued garden amid towering trees on 21 acres is a perfect setting for the Waxman’s 8,500-square-foot contemporary home – which blends French mustard colored stucco with masonry and various shades of brown – and provides an ideal backdrop for Arleen Waxman’s vibrantly colored metal sculptures.

Combinations of red, yellow, blue, green and purple, most are created using “found objects” and grab attention from any angle.

Peter Rossi, co-owner of BP Landscaping, is responsible for meeting the needs of his clients using such plants as azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, mock orange, daphne and Japanese maples surrounded by low-growing groundcovers including black Mondo grass and other ornamental grasses.

“When it came time to start installing the landscape, I wanted the close-in area to look like a park,” Jerry recalls. “When Peter handed me a list of plants to approve, I asked him, ‘Why are you giving me this for? Just do it like it were your own home.’ And he did!”

Insofar as maintenance is concerned, a lawn service tends to mowing and feeding the lush carpet of lawn and all the mulched planting beds are on drip irrigation or timed sprinklers.

Because a pathway of round concrete stepping stones (purchased in Arizona) leads visitors around the perimeter of the home, the temptation might be for visitors to hurry.


Plant your feet in almost any spot along the way to enjoy the sound of classical music and water splashing from the teetering brushed aluminum fountain in the center of the reservoir that supplies irrigation water for the landscape. The manicured forest setting suddenly comes to life, enhanced by the wind whispering through the treetops.

Deer are a nuisance at times, Jerry admits: “We’ve got deer-resistant landscaping, but if they’re hungry enough they’ll eat anything.”

But the biggest nuisance are squirrels. Smiling wryly at the observation that some gardeners consider them, “Rats with bushy tails,” Jerry points to a circular concrete pad beneath a unique metal patio table:

“When this was being put in the squirrels up in the trees went nuts and were pelting the workmen with acorns and things before the concrete could dry. It had to be resurfaced again and again And we’ve stopped putting seed in the bird feeder. With the squirrels, there’s no chance of the birds getting fed.”

That problem aside, the Waxmans are extremely content living out retirement in their enchanted forest.

The “cornerstone” of Jerry Tassone’s garden is a single slate step he installed on a hillside to control mud during periods of heavy rain.

“Then came the next step,” he laughs of the project to stabilize the earthen steps, “and another and another. From there I continued, adding stonewalls and brick work. Then came the gazebo to take advantage of the views, and of course I needed a garden shed. It was too much trouble packing tools and supplies up and down the hill.”

At that point, the man who had worked with wood during his professional career became a gardener.

“When we moved here there was no place to do woodworking,” he explains, “but more than enough yard maintenance to keep me busy. I’d never been big on gardening or landscaping so it was really a chore to keep ahead of things, especially the muddy hillsides in winter.”

Undaunted over the next six years, Tassone used the existing plants on the half-acre lot as a foundation for what has become a neighborhood showplace.

“I added a lot of plants around the main house and some more on the hillsides,” he observes, “then came the stone and brickwork along with the fencing and concrete sidewalks.”

Keeping plants in prime condition is done with both drip irrigation and sprinklers. And, with the exception of hiring some outside help for trimming, he does the maintenance himself.

Admittedly, Tassone says there are lots of “ordinary” plants in his garden, but he’s developed a passion for Japanese maples, of which there are several species that catch the attention of visitors.

“People sometimes ask if I’m finished adding plants and fixtures,” Tassone smiles, “and I tell them I hope not! The next phase will be adding ponds and doing some water gardening!”

Enlivening the Tassone garden for the tour will be artwork by his neighbor, Wonda Avery.

It’s a pretty safe bet that many of those who visit the 15-acre estate of Cody and Suzanne Marrow will think the same thing: “I’m glad I don’t have to mow this lawn!”

Well, so are the Marrows. The thrill of piloting a riding lawn mower across that swath of turf is long gone.

“We have a landscape service take care of that and the other big things,” Suzanne says with a smile. “We just love to dabble.”

And that “dabbling” on roughly two-and-a-half landscaped acres has created a wonderland for their family over the past 15 years. Cody explains that they moved to Grass Valley from Southern California intent on finding a home and garden where their children could invite friends and have a good time. “And it’s been wonderful,” Suzanne adds.

The lawn provided a place for the kids to practice hitting golf balls their grandfather provided; there’s a volleyball court and a basketball court; the half-acre pond was a natural swimming hole (until the romance of having mud squish between their toes wore off) that was eventually replaced with a natural stone swimming pool with fountains and waterfalls.

Cody acknowledges they had professional help from BP Landscaping in creating the original design, and he and Suzanne added their own touches.

Towering pines and picturesque oaks create a soft woodsy feeling to the landscape, blending nicely with a formal circular rose garden surrounded by a topiary boxwood hedge. Camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons and dogwoods thrive in the filtered shade, complemented by colorful groundcovers and enlivened with the sound of water gushing from numerous fountains.

At one time there were more than 50 Koi carp in the pond, but the gorgeous gold ones were decimated by freeloading herons. The birds spared the darker fish, who come to be fed when Cody stamps his feet at the water’s edge. A make-believe Blue heron is perched in the water at the pond’s edge in hopes his presence will ward off more birds: “They’re very territorial,” Cody explains.

Now the children have grown, with a daughter still living nearby and sons (with grandchildren) living in Southern California. Will the grandchildren have the same opportunity as their parents to romp in this wonderland?

“They will when they get a little older,” Cody smiles.

Suzanne is particularly keen on having experienced gardeners paying a visit during the tour: “I want to meet someone who can show me the proper way to prune maples.”

Tour participants who visit the estate on the Rough & Ready Highway will be treated to live music and a display by a local artist.

If there were no garden at Pilot Peak Winery, it would still be a splendid rest stop on the SISF garden tour for the magnificent views at the home of co-owners Len and Nancy Stevens. In fact it was their view of nearby Pilot Peak that led to the naming of the highly regarded winery, created with co-owners Lynn and Jacque Wilson.

Happily, there’s a splendid three-acre garden surrounding the majestic home, including annuals, perennials and a food garden. It’s so lush that it belies the fact the garden is just two years old.

Utilizing both N.I.D. and well water, the entire garden is on timed drip irrigation. Establishing and maintaining the winery demands most of the Stevens’ attention, and they had designing help from Oak Tree Nursery to establish the garden plan.

If the color and swath of lush green lawn were not enough to entice visitors, the garden is enlivened by a free-form rock swimming pool, gurgling fountains and a pond for colorful Koi carp.

“The koi are a gift from a friend in Lake Wildwood, where we lived before moving here,” Nancy explains. “They were being eaten by birds and animals there, but have flourished here. I think our having dogs here helps protect them.”

But that didn’t stop a fresh water otter from devastating the fish and duck population in a more distant pond last. “I saw him once and he probably weighed 50 pounds. But after eating all our fish and ducks he moved on.”

In addition to an orchard that produces an abundance of peaches, cherries and apples, there’s a sizeable kitchen garden. Visitors who see its five-foot tall fence routinely ask if deer aren’t a problem: “We have no deer,” Nancy says, “because we have a mountain lion. We’ve seen him from time to time.”

So, apparently, have the deer.

Nancy says she’s always had a kitchen garden, with seasonal crops, but at her former Lake Wildwood home, “it was much harder than here because of the deer.”

“I do like to garden, but with running the winery there’s only so much time and so I have a young couple – Patrick and Molly at “Garden Faire” – helping me. What they do is edible landscaping, all organic. They set up the garden and let me do as much as I have time for and they come in and do the rest, which works really well.”

Walking through the rose garden she’s asked if there are any particular favorites and color comes to her cheeks: “When they were planted I misplaced the name tags, so I have no idea what they are. They’re all just very pretty.”

On the periphery of the landscaped area are rows of Sauvignon blanc grape vines.

One piece of garden sculpture, of a boy and girl reading while seated on a garden bench, intrigued the Steven’s Golden Labrador retriever, Cooper: “For two or three days he’d bring sticks and things and leave them at their feet, thinking they’d throw them for him to fetch!”

A true gardener is a person who answers the question, “Which would you rather do: stop gardening or lose an arm?” by asking “Which arm?”

One of those people is Lisa Hall, who shakes her head and laughs, “It would have to be the left arm. I’m right handed!” Gardening is her passion, which will be evident to everyone who visits “Hall’s Hillyrocks.”.

Estimating she spends as much as 12 hours a day in the garden, weather permitting, Lisa says she ends the day, “feeling totally fulfilled. I know I’ve accomplished something.” And when she’s not in the garden, her passion is genealogical research.

Lisa and her husband, Robert (whose skills include designing and building exotic motorcycles and restoring a 1941 Willys coupe – not gardening) had plans to build a larger home on their hilltop site, but scrapped that move when their grown children left them as, “empty nesters.”

Where the new home was to be is now simply room for more garden, and Lisa couldn’t be happier.

“When we first started gardening here, every hole we dug meant picking out rocks,” she sighs, “but we also found that the boulders created pockets where leaves from the trees and manzanita collected for years and years, leaving incredibly rich soil.”

Leading a tour of her garden, which is peppered with some enormous boulders that have been transformed into waterfalls, she says repeatedly: “Everything is in transition.” That’s a true gardener’s way of saying, “I’ll never be finished.”

The plants that make up the garden constitute a horticultural “Who’s Who.” Like an artist choosing colors for a painting, Lisa is constantly experimenting with new combinations. A dead manzanita became a perfect support for a primrose honeysuckle; foxgloves are planted among lilies and daisies; tiny grevelia planted last year in the rich soil have become broad-shouldered specimens; lantana provide splashes of yellow and orange; cacti and succulents create their own architectural statement; purple osteospermum provide a swath of color from March through October. And of course there’s a vegetable garden, relying heavily on raised beds.

Did she have any professional help designing the garden?

“Oh, no,” she says, waving her hand in dismissal: “If I think the color’s going to be good, I put it in.”

Words of caution: There’s a steep pathway using rocks as stepping stones best navigated from the bottom up. It’s too easy to be distracted by the plantings for less nimble-footed visitors. And Lisa’s enthusiasm for gardening is absolutely infectious!


Eisley’s Nursery

Grass Valley

A to Z Supply Garden Center

Atelier Salon

Citizens Bank, most locations

Grass Valley Florist

Longs Drug

Mill Street Clothing

SPD Market

Weiss Bros. Nursery

Wild Birds Unlimited

Lake of the Pines

Longs Drug

Citizens Bank

Nevada City

Prospector’s Nursery

SPD Market

Citizens Bank

Penn Valley

Nevada County Farm Supply & Nursery

Citizens Bank


Capital Nursery, All locations

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