In a shaded, north-facing upper Morton Street neighborhood, an Ashland couple has created a little garden paradise that's stingy on water use, produces lots of food and integrates itself with a patch of wild evergreen forest.
It's been quite a challenge over their three decades there, but Vicky Sturtevant and Alan Armstrong — both hailing from gardening families — love spending hundreds of hours a year grooming native flowers and veggies that are naturally drought-tolerant and deer-resistant.
Their double-lot yard is a crown jewel on the 18th annual Spring Garden Tour, set for 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 9, and sponsored by the Ashland Branch of the American Association of University Women.
"You'll see some really spectacular rock gardens, container gardens and another that shows what people did with a large amount of land on a hillside," says Julie MacDiarmid of Soroptimists. "They really developed enjoyable spaces and food is a big part of some."
The 11th annual tour features five gardens from Jacksonville to Central Point and include the Touvelle House in Jacksonville. The other locations are given to ticket holders.
The popular tour will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 8. Cost is $15.
Tickets and maps can be bought on the day of the tour at Caprice Vineyards, 970 Old Stage Road, just north of Jacksonville. Tickets also are available at the customer service desk at Grange Co-op in Central Point or Medford or at Fidelity Print Quick in Central Point. Tickets may be purchased at www.soroptimistrv.org; click North Valley and then SINV Garden Tour. Tickets can be purchased by mail until June 1.
Proceeds go toward community service projects: Women's Opportunity Award (college scholarships for local women who are the head of their household), Start Making a Reader Today program, Crater Foundation Women in Education Scholarship, Wine Walk for Women's Health grant program and KidSpree.
It's a tour of six gardens where owners have focused on water-wise landscaping, which means they have traded in lawns for native plants that are well composted and mulched, thus recycling kitchen waste and reducing water use.
The couple's large lot stands in the full winter shade of 50-year-old firs, ponderosa pines and madrones. It's a natural woodland from which the understory has been cleared to reduce ladder fuels, making it an inviting walking space.
In front, Sturtevant and Armstrong have left a small patch of grass but turned the rest into planting beds accented by native wildflowers that grow randomly among scree and rocks — hot and sweet peppers, tomatillos, melons, artichokes, zucchinis, yellow squash, cucumbers, beans and little tomatoes, which climb on rods of bamboo. Asparagus has been coming in since March.
A rain barrel sits at the end of a downspout, just like in the old days, and a hose can attach to a spigot and the bottom to water plants downslope.
From their forest, the couple feed downed branches through a chipper, making their own mulch. Kitchen and yard waste goes in compost bins in the forest and the processed stuff is laid directly on the earth and covered with bark dust.
"We've tried to meld a native, natural area with an urban lot," says Sturtevant. "We've tried to live with all this shade and we grow our own food."
In his statement in the tour brochure, Armstrong notes, "Shade and granitic soil have been challenges to our first priority: growing fruits and vegetables. After annexing the forested lot above us, we've thinned the woods to gain light and reduce fire danger, reintroduced native plants throughout and searched for ways to tie together our home's domesticated garden front with its wooded, natural backdrop."
Plants are selected to attract birds and butterflies. Berry bushes flank the driveway, and Sturtevant says they even recycle rotting berries in a place where birds tipple the juice and get tipsy.
"They sit around afterward and look quite satisfied," she says.
Mimi Pippel of AAUW in Ashland says, "This garden is perfect for what we're emphasizing on this tour, which is using a lot of native plants and wilderness as we reduce water dependency."
Other stops on the tour are:
The self-guided tour is $20. Tickets are available at www.aauwashland.org/ via PayPal and at Paddington Station and the Ashland and South Medford Grange Co-ops. Proceeds will go for operations and, if enough tickets are sold, for scholarships for low-income women in the valley. The AAUW also has other events for scholarships.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.