When Pat and Gary Waller decided to escape the suburbs encroaching on their Rogue River home, they weren't dreaming of gardening. Committed to an active outdoor life, they wanted country living. Then their new home outside Hugo came complete with a magnificent walking garden, encompassing four interlocking ponds, streams, an orchard, garden rooms and an impressive vista. They couldn't be more tickled with their acquisition. Equally impressive, they both agree it's not that much work. Wow.
Perhaps it is because they are having so much fun. As avid fly-fishers, they only need go outside to practice their art. Three of their ponds were installed by the previous owner who dreamed of owning a trout farm. The heat of Southern Oregon's summers nixed those plans. Now, the Wallers have them stocked with rainbow triploids, a sterile trout.
The only animals fenced out of the Waller garden are the deer and elk. "There are some pretty decent elk herds around here," Gary says. "The fence makes this garden possible. In here, you don't have any nibble problems from anybody."
The roaming animals were just too destructive for the previous owner, who installed the 8-foot deer fencing around the entire 18 acres. The body of the fence is hard, black plastic, which disappears into the background. Two electrified barbed wires run the length of the fence. Without the electricity the elk might mow it down, says Gary. "With the electricity they definitely know it's there. We'll see tracks where they go around it."
Chicken wire, laid at the fence's base with half its width along the ground, helps keep some of burrowing animals out. "The animals do get through; it doesn't seem to stop them," says Gary. But they enjoy most of the visitors — rabbits, raccoons and coyotes — and the tight fencing allows them to give their dogs full run of the property.
After two years with the garden, they are still excited and still learning names of the plants they've inherited. Both now retired, they've willingly given themselves to learning the intricacies of the filtration and irrigation systems, and the rigors of fertilization and weed control. They are good-natured about the less successful aspects of their adventure into gardening.
With 50 fruit trees in the landscape, they were expecting a large harvest. After duly pruning, spraying for blight and monitoring the crop, they saw the resident animals steal the harvest. During a trip to town, "the digger squirrel got the peaches," says Gary. "Pat found the pits at the base of a stump."
Luckily for the animals, the Wallers take much pleasure in their sightings and are satisfied with their own harvest of apples, pears and grapes. Blueberries are an invitation to the tanagers. Other birds are fed near the house, below the wide deck that overlooks vistas of the garden and the view toward Merlin. Chickadees, nuthatches, juncos and goldfinch are a few of the winter visitors.
The heron don't have much luck in their ponds, which are much too deep for these fishing birds. Instead, mallards, wood ducks and Canada geese find a welcome home.
The pond nearest the house holds koi, catfish and bass. It is ringed with stone, some quarried — some found, including marble and local boulders. An, as yet, unused wood duck nest sits in a silver dollar poplar. The Wallers count agate hunting among their hobbies, and their collection of many years has a space under the tree. Other trees in the gardens ringing the pond include a weeping atlas, an atlas, vine maple, blue juniper and eucalyptus. Shrubs include star magnolia, rhododendron, and rose of Sharon, trained as a tree. Perennials include canna, grasses, thyme and blue star creeper.
Gravel paths lined with metal bender board wind around the garden beds and all the ponds, providing a satisfying crunch with each footstep.
At the back of the house, a narrow garden sits below a steeply rising hill. Beyond its trees, miners once searched for gold, says Pat. The garden includes shrub roses, Viburnum davidii, Japanese maple, cotton lavender and kinnik-kinnik. Following the path to the north, a rhododendron garden sits beyond the deck. It includes a number of different cultivars, all bearing red flowers, with blooms throughout the spring.
Further along the path, garden beds curve alongside the stream that flows from the spring that feeds the ponds. Feather grass and nandina anchor the raised beds. Another weeping atlas cedar crosses above the path, supported by handsome wrought-iron braces. Gary estimates it grows two feet a year. Its weeping branches are pruned to drape elegantly on either side of the path.
The path winds back around the front of the house where perennials are planted in masses — pink wisteria, pond lilies, orange, white and yellow day lilies; purple agapanthus; roses of all colors, pink phlox — so swathes of color appear all summer. But color appears in all seasons. In the autumn, the long driveway lights up with multi-color sweetgum leaves against deodar cedar. The Japanese maples are brilliant red. In winter, blue junipers and spruce and red nandina penetrate the mist. The northwestern view looks out toward the land Pat's Neely ancestors settled in the 1850s. It's no wonder all the seating in the house is oriented to the view.
"When we first got here I was so intimidated," says Pat. "But it's turned into so much fun."
"Every year it gets easier," says Gary. Wow.