Drama and drought watchwords of this year’s Garden Tour

By John Jackson on April 7, 2014

Lead-front page_2014_GardensTour_for websiteThis dramatic solarium at the Clayton home of Bob and Robin Griffiths houses a large collection of succulents and unusual potted plants. The Griffiths recently reduced the thirsty landscaping in the front with a drought tolerant cactus garden. The home is one of six on the Clayton Historical Society’s annual Garden Tour on April 26 & 27.

When the six homeowners around the Clayton area open their gardens on the weekend of April 26-27 to show off their hard work at the 22nd annual Clayton Historical Society Garden Tour, don’t be surprised if some of the bounty is edible.

Interest is always high for the popular tour, but this year could draw many eager onlookers looking for ideas in water conservation. Plus, this year’s tour includes a look at a permaculture design at a local farm.

“Bumblebee Farm,” owned by Rob Kingsbury and Nadine Findley, is a four-year- old food garden that rests on one acre of land. This type of garden has never been included on the tour before. Its permaculture practice takes advantage of 12 raised beds and several different types of soil to minimize water use and “take advantage of what nature can give us,” says Kingsbury. His goal is to make the growth of his plants a fully sustainable and natural experience.

“When you look at nature, it does so much better through the whole season, whether it rains or not,” he says. He wants to avoid a situation where “if something goes wrong with the weather pattern, we lose the whole crop.”

Decks in the garden are made from reused materials and “rainwater-catching” is carefully thought out for maximum effectiveness. All of this allows the garden to produce an incredibly robust crop that has something sprouting all year around. “Our artichokes start coming up in the winter and we have three types. Right now we’re eating the purple artichokes,” Kingsbury says. He also points to a long list of organic fruits, vegetables and nuts that grow continuously from the garden: strawberries, raspberries, grapes, almonds, peaches, plums, apricots, limes, lemons, apples, and apricots are just the beginning.

Traditionally in the self-guided tour, flower gardens are the main event and this year they will exhibit water features, outdoor stonework, a waterfall, a pool surrounded by plant life, and a sunken seating area with a glass fire pit.

One of these gardens is owned and maintained by Lyle Swallow and Jack Becker, who believe that the “selling point of this yard is how to take a small space and make it as useable as possible.” The entire lot that the home rests on is just .18 acre, offering significant challenges to designing a workable landscaping plan. “The challenge was how to make the yard useable, and we really did it in two pieces. We did the backyard first, then we did the front,” says Swallow. They ended up creating three differently unique seating areas in the back with different themes: an herb garden, dining area and fire pit. In the front yard, they mixed a meadow theme with a traditional lawn, considering curb appeal as a high priority. Between the two spaces, they have carpet roses, day lilies, papyrus and several grasses that grow all year. The result has been rewarding, according to Swallow.

“The thing that people say they like about a garden like this is that it is small. It’s really easy to find interesting big yards,” Swallow says. “A lot of times, people want to know what creative things they can do with a small yard.”

In all the gardens on the tour, drama is the watchword with imaginative stonework, wandering pathways, unique hill designs, inviting pools, waterfalls and natural plantings.

The Clayton Historical Society Garden Tour is April 26-27, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. The Garden Tour is the major fundraiser for the Clayton Historical Society. Tickets for the tour are $30. For more info or to buy tickets, go to claytonhistory.org.

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