When John and Virginia Mee decided to put down roots in John's hometown of Medford, they did it in spades — garden spades, of course. In 1985, they purchased a 1938 home built by John's aunt and uncle (see Homelife, June 2006). John remembers the house from childhood as a place he spent time every weekend, and "it just seemed like home." Gertrude Lewis, John's aunt, was a stalwart member of the Medford Garden Club. John and Virginia began "gardening from day one" and their landscape, while completely their own, has added to the family legacy.
Before the Mees started planting, the house had a traditional rose garden and several stellar rhododendrons among the foundation plantings. The front yard was anchored by a spectacular pink dogwood. That tree continues to stop traffic each spring and the rhodies and a few roses are still in the yard, says John. "We started planting right off the bat," replacing roses that weren't doing well. Roses, which John acknowledges "don't always bloom like their pictures," are among the few plants John will remove. "You have to just go in and yank them out when they don't perform," he says, a sentiment echoed by many rosarians. Rather than maintain a traditional rose garden, John chose to flank the front walk with hybrid tea roses.
One of John Mee's retirement goals has been to have fun every day. His garden has been a place to do that in spades. He's cooked up a number of author Jerry Baker's recipes to fertilize and control pests. "I felt like a mad scientist, but they worked." Other tips from his gardening experience:
* A soap spray controls aphids on roses. Since he monitors plants daily, he usually prevents an infestation by killing the bugs by hand.
* When he plants, he usually adds large rocks, bark or stumps, and not solely for the looks. The plants seem to perform better, whether the soil is warmed, cooled or gets additional nutrients, he says. "It's like they are out in nature, in the country or the woods, not in town."
* He also uses Vitamin B-1, a root stimulant, "on everything." He's saved plants with almost no roots with repeated applications of the vitamin. In a diluted solution, "I use it on existing plants, too. It seems to rejuvenate the plant."
* Water soluble fertilizer keeps the planter boxes and containers healthy. The rest of the garden is maintained with annual applications of compost. "It just disappears."
In another early project, John reduced the height of the mugho pines that flanked the base of his driveway. He trims them back annually to maintain the shape. Today, the shrubs still display handsome contorted trunks.
Renovation went hand-in-hand with additions. "It seems like I keep adding more garden area every year." One project turned the area between the house and garage into a shady retreat. A small porch off the kitchen holds a dining table. A few steps down, a patio filled with plants and western memorabilia is a favorite place to spend time in the outdoor season. Vining wisteria and honeysuckle provide a long bloom season and attract hummingbirds, who also feed from five sugar-water feeders. A koi pond with a cascading waterfall was inspired by a suggestion from Warren, the Mee's son. Father and son shared the task of digging the pond by hand. A true do-it-yourselfer, John finished the pond with concrete, rather than using a liner.
"I love dressing in my grubbiest clothes and working in the yard," he says. "It's pleasurable to plant something and watch it grow. When you lose a plant, it's like losing one of the family."
Once the patio and deck were complete, he and Virginia started putting plants in. "It came out really neat. When you sit out there, now, it's a jungle. We love it." Lamium is planted near the pond, along with Irish moss, dichondra, azalea, hosta, astilbe and "a lot of ferns," he says. "I love ferns." Maidenhair ferns are one of his favorites and fill window boxes in the front of the house, as well as a box on the patio.
Most of the flowering plants bloom in shades of pink. It started with the original pink dogwood in the front yard, but the family legacy wasn't the sole inspiration. "I love pink," says John, "and it looks good with the stone color of the house.
The garden is filled with memorabilia: old farm implements and quaint birdhouses are his favorite items to collect. "I grew up on ranches and with folks in the logging business. I like outdoor things."
His large family lives nearby and John knows they're keeping an eye on the family legacy. "It's like I'm doing it for them" he says. "They're enjoying it, too."