If you find yourself driving off a side road in Shady Cove and notice your gas gauge is running low, be sure not to drive up the hill with the gas and oil signs. Instead of what looks to be an old time gas station, you’ll find the home and garden of Aaron and Colleen Aho. Generously decorated with gasoline and other memorabilia, the garden conjures memories of kinder prices at the pump.
The entrance to the Aho property features a greeting booth complete with a full-sized plastic vintage cartoon bear holding a duck. While heading up the driveway, you see a rusted Model T off to the left. Straight ahead is Aaron’s prized gasoline memorabilia-fi lled workshop, with vintage gas station and tire store signs decorating the exterior and an interior fi lled with such collectibles as metal trucks and assorted advertising signs.
Using collectibles in your garden is a great way to truly leave your personal mark. Here are a few tips to make it work:
Focus on a specific theme, material, or subject, such as an Asian motif, metal or stone objects, or a specific animal, respectively. Doing so, will help you focus when searching for items.
Resist the urge to complete your decorating all at once. Part of the fun in seeking out collectibles is the thrill of the hunt. Besides, if you're a gardener faced with a new yard to plant, it will probably take you a few years to get the garden just the way you want it
Pay attention to the scale of what you buy, relative to the size of your garden. Objects that are too large can overwhelm your garden, and tiny things can get lost in a big yard.
"Buy collectibles and objects that you love and you'll probably find a place for them in the garden," says Colleen Aho. "And if over time you find what you've bought doesn't work, you're not out a lot of money."
A patio area with vintage metal chairs is off to the side of the shop. Behind the patio are more gas signs and two vintage (and non-working) gas pumps.
A shed next to the patio bears the sign “Chris & Rita’s Trading Post,” which serves as a storage area for fi rewood.
On the other side of the patio sits Colleen’s greenhouse with an S & H Green Stamp sign atop the front door. An outdoor bar done log cabin style is in back of the greenhouse and is equipped with a television inside along with assorted libations. Next to the bar-sitting on top of an old wagon wheel, rests the following words on a vintage sign: “Hot Beer, Lousy Food, Bad Service, Welcome, Have a Nice Day.”
The centerpiece of the garden is the lush running creek and pond accented with grasses, maple and willow trees, vinca, annuals, decks, and some vintage garden ornaments. “The creek was already on the property, but I was able to build the pond with the help of a water pump,” Aaron explains. The Ahos have an understanding that one side of the creek and pond is for Aaron and his gasoline collectibles, and the other side is Colleen’s turf.
Colleen and Aaron are self-described avid yard sale and thrift store shoppers and consequently have been able to get their various collectibles on the cheap, including many building materials. Aaron likes to say that "we were 'green' before it was popular," referring to the current trend of using recycled materials in home construction and decoration. Many items in their yard were given outright to them by friends. "I've gotten many collectibles either for free or for very little money because they were things in need of repair," Aaron adds.
The Aho's property covers 1 1/4 acres and is a great example of what can be accomplished with a lot of time, work and a big dose of imagination. The property today is not anything like what it was 15 years ago when the couple bought it. "When we first got this place, it was just a lot of poison oak on the ground with sycamore, madrone, with oak trees, and a cinder-block shed," Aaron explains.
The couple lived in California at the time, but knew they wanted to live in Shady Cove, a move that finally happened in 1999. Fortunately, Colleen's father lived on the property before the couple moved, and had a go at the enormous task of destroying the poison oak. "It took him almost four years to get the job done," Aaron says, adding that there was no way to landscape the property until the poison oak was under control. "We'd come up here on our vacations to work on this place, and built the house before we started landscaping," Colleen says.
They tackled the garden in sections. "We weren't really gardeners before we had this place," Colleen explains, adding that it was through trial and error, asking a lot of questions at local nurseries, and searching for information online that she learned her gardening basics.
As to Aaron's gasoline memorabilia collection, he got started on it about 15 years ago. "A friend had a large collection," he says, "and that's what got me hooked."