In this world of rising gas prices and "stay-cations" there is nothing quite like having a private park in your backyard. Tucked into a cul-de-sac in east Medford, Joan and Jim Potvin's garden is an enchanting place to while away hours or even days.
It wasn't always that way. Twenty years ago they bought a large hilly lot for their home. Like many home-owners, they surrounded the new house with grass, but it wasn't long before they decided mowing that hillside was too much work.
If you would like to add a tropical plant to your garden, you must keep the plants potted so you can move them inside in winter.
"Ideally, you need a good amount of sun and good air circulation, but not near a heat source," says Jennifer Loizeaux, assistant grower for Ashland Greenhouses. "A frost free garage with a window would work."
"Insect infestations can be a problem," she adds. "Keeping dust off the leaves will slow down getting spider mites. Keep the plant clean."
To minimize problems, wash the plants down and hand pick off any bugs before bringing them in. In a pinch, a bath of insecticidal soap helps.
All the Cuphea, Alteranthera, and Iresine species can be grown locally and brought in for the winter, Loizeaux notes, as well as Plectranthus and Dracaenas. Take a cue from the Potvins — if you really like it, try it.
They added a few shade trees 10 years ago, and a few small beds for flowers. Then seven years ago they started pulling out most of the grass and terracing the hillside with retaining walls, adding more planting space and a large waterfall.
The original tulip tree and fruitless mulberry are huge now, and have been joined by a wide variety of other trees, including a palm tree that they thought was an ornamental grass when they bought it. They never expected it to tower over them one day. But their philosophy for this yard has always been trial and error, which sometimes brings nice surprises.
They also have a maple, dogwood, linden and flowering almond, pussy willow, and weeping birch along with multiple cherry and plum trees. A crape myrtle has pride of place near the center of the yard. They have two topiary shaped evergreens. In a neighbor's yard, large evergreens further the park-like atmosphere.
"We really like the dogwood and flowering almond for color in the spring," Joan says, "and the weeping pussy willow, which is usually the first one out."
They've combined a variety of bricks and stones in different areas for walls and paths. Seating areas are scattered about the yard, including one in a shady area under the big trees where nothing would grow, so Jim just bricked it in. Here, they find respite in the heat of summer and a place to watch the assortment of birds that frequent their feeders.
The hillside beds contain blueberries and camellias, roses and tulips, hyacinth and daylilies, under-planted with sweet alyssum. They add cosmos, carnations, petunias and pansies to the front of the beds for more color. Jim likes marigolds around the waterfall and Joan added water lilies. Impatiens and geraniums are tucked under trees. Behind the house is a grape arbor with red and green seedless grapes. Mounds of nasturtiums fill other beds.
"I love nasturtiums," Joan says, "they fill in everything, keep out the weeds and bloom all summer. It takes a pretty hard frost before they stop blooming."
The cascading waterfall that adds its peaceful sound was Jim's project. He hauled trailer loads of rocks from a friend's country property and dug out the small pond by hand. At first, they had only one pump in the pond to circulate the water, but found the water evaporated too quickly in the summer. A second pump with a water level sensor was hooked to the water line and refills the pond when it gets low.
Joan has two special flowering plants one doesn't usually see in Medford yards — a bougainvillea and a mandevilla, or Brazilian jasmine. These tropicals add focal color to the yard with bright fuchsia flowers. Joan doesn't mind at all that she has to take them in each winter.
"There are actually a lot of tropicals that can be grown in Medford," says Dale Sullivan, owner of Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery in Talent. "Just keep them from freezing."
"I wait until the evening temperatures go down to 40 degrees; then I bring them in," Joan says. "They don't grow a lot, but they blossom all summer. Then I keep them in a room with a lot of sunlight in winter."
The willingness to try the unusual and pull out the failures created this park-like getaway inside the city. Stay-cation, anyone?