Entering the drive to John and Gee Gee Walker's home, the informal symmetry of the front yard is immediately striking — an impeccable lawn, with balanced perimeter plantings. Despite all the signals that this is a formal garden, visitors soon learn that's "not all there is" in this professionally maintained garden on the slopes of Roxy Ann.
The Walkers moved from Southern California, persuaded that the Rogue Valley is a great place to retire. Not only do they enjoy new friends and local activities, but the Southern Oregon climate permits more garden plants than were available in their former home.
"I love the spring flowers, which we didn't have in California," says Gee Gee. That balmy weather didn't deliver the necessary dormancy for bulbs that she loves: hyacinth, daffodils, and tulips. Azaleas, rhododendron, dogwood and camellias are other favorites selected for their gardens as well.
The gardens in the front yard are planted with deer-safe landscaping plants. The Walkers' property rises above the street, and they decided to install a garden, anchored with large boulders and at the center, a flagpole with a small garden underneath it. A flowering plum and a weeping cherry flank the edges of this welcome garden. After a fall planting, Gee Gee is looking forward to her first spring with daffodils there.
Two maples line the driveway. Three had been planted, but in an act of goodwill, one was removed after it began to block their neighbor's valley view. "I put myself in their shoes," says Gee Gee. "Removing it has not in anyway changed the look of the front yard." At the near corner of the yard, a redbud tree is visible from the front windows. Blooming in early spring, it produces delightful fuchsia-like flowers.
This arrangement provides year-round interest, with spring flowers and great fall color. The informal symmetry supports the calming view of the distant views. The home has a wraparound porch where a 180-degree view of the valley is possible. A breezeway bisects the house. "I'm so happy to have it," says Gee Gee. "In the heat of summer it's always cooler there."
Once in the back garden, the formal theme disappears. The focal point of the naturalistic planting is a deep pond and cascading water feature. "John imports tropical fish and through the years we've had every kind of aquarium imaginable," says Gee Gee. Now, they have a koi pond instead. "They're very easy to maintain, much easier than an aquarium," she says.
Koi are quite easy to tame, but the Walkers have avoided that for the safety of their fish. Hungry wildlife are plentiful on the hillside of Roxy Ann. The pond's design and layout makes it less attractive to heron. The landscaping and the pergola over the patio do not give these big birds enough wing space to land safely. To be safe, the Walkers have a mock heron ornament which is moved around the garden, deterring these solitary hunters. If you don't move it, warns Gee Gee, herons will get wise and come to fish. A "cave" built into the pond gives the koi a hiding place in case raccoon come to hunt and doubles as a winter hibernation space.
While deer are no danger to koi, they are a garden menace. The Walkers' garden is protected by a full wooden fence rimming the back yard. Sans deer, a hybrid tea and miniature rose garden grows in a formal planting. Gee Gee especially enjoys the minis, using them for arrangements in small vases all summer long. "They're easier and seem to be hardier," she says.
The backyard is small, but it also includes an herb garden with spearmint, thyme, basil, oregano, parsley and cilantro. These are placed in the ground in their containers, so they are easy for Gee Gee to replace as needed.
The pond and patio area have western exposure, so in summer are mostly used in morning, early afternoon and evening. Barbequing is another pastime, as is bird watching. Graduate of a local bird identification class, Gee Gee watches with binoculars and spyglass from their second story deck. Left in its natural condition, a seasonal stream along the perimeter of the yard attracts many birds, a challenge for her identification skills.
"As the pond matures, the character changes," John says. He enjoys the natural look of this tidy back yard. Against the glorious view of the Rogue Valley, there is something close at hand to enjoy from early spring to mid-November. Retirement certainly has its pleasures.