December may be the season of joy, but Cindy and Gordon Wood have found happiness year-round in their backyard garden in East Medford.
"Weeding, deadheading, digging holes: It doesn't matter what we do. We love it," says Cindy.
Along the west side of their house, Gordon Wood built two large, raised beds for the family vegetable garden. Cindy Wood was still harvesting strawberries at the end of October.
"I give them away to everyone," she says. The second bed holds tomatoes, lettuce and zucchini, which were still growing at the end of the season.
"We have to pull them up and put down manure soon," she said.
When a windstorm took down a tree, Cindy found a new place for a cantaloupe hill. " 'Ambrosia,' " she murmurs the variety name. "It's the best."
The 2-foot beds have made a big difference in labor, says Cindy. But the best labor-saving device was a new potting bench she got this year. Gordon had it made from recycled wood.
"It's been lots and lots of fun and made everything so much easier. I don't have to bend over."
It wasn't always that way. A lifelong crafter, Cindy didn't include gardening among her passions until her friendship with Pam Harmon turned her into a "gardening monster." The two women shop together, often on the spur of the moment, and track down plants at nurseries from Ashland to Grants Pass.
"We have great fun," says Cindy, laughing. "Very rarely, we come home empty-handed, but mostly the car is so full you can't fit in another plant."
Having shade, sun and pond-side conditions all in one suburban backyard gives her ample excuse for shopping and variety. Her plant list is impressive: about 10 clematis, 23 different grasses and numerous roses only begin the itemization.
A plant collector's garden is one of the most difficult to design, but Cindy makes it look simple and beautiful, employing plant families, hardscape elements and strategic placement to create a rhythm that holds the garden together. It's even more impressive when you learn the garden perennials were introduced only five years ago.
The story begins with Cindy and Gordon sitting on their new deck. They couldn't see a waterfall located only a few feet away. It was hidden behind a railing and border of tall shrubs. Within a few days, the obstacles were gone, and the deck opened to a view of the yard and its cascading stream and pond. Then the garden renovation began in earnest.
"When we get an idea, it doesn't take long to begin working on it," says Cindy. "It's a collaborative effort."
They removed uncounted evergreen shrubs, revealing hardscape elements hidden by the overgrowth. This helped define new planting beds. Gordon removed layers of bark, landscape fabric and "black, sticky" clay soil and installed raised beds with rock borders.
Gordon does most of the hard labor, while Cindy plans and designs. They both love scouring nurseries for new plants. Gordon's preferences inspired the many ornamental grasses, a bit ironic because his main criterion for the new yard was "no lawn." Their selection includes, Miscanthus, Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster,' Pennisetum orientale 'Carly Rose' and little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, a prairie native with blue-green leaves that fade to a rosy purple in fall.
"I used to buy him a new grass and then buy something for myself," Cindy confesses. "Now I love the grasses as much as he does, so I'm always looking for a unique one. They add so much movement to the garden. It's soothing, especially with the water."
Clematis is one of Cindy's favorite plants, and she has about 10 varieties scattered through the garden. "I can just sit and admire the blossoms. They give me so much joy." A "Multi-Blue" is planted in a rose bush, creating a striking display in spring and fall.
Unique features of their inherited landscape are a small aspen grove and a collection of Japanese maples strategically placed around the garden. Cindy's perennials are planted around them. Gordon loves large rocks; he began collecting them from a friend's ranch in Sams Valley and from a Bureau of Land Management quarry.
"They use crowbars to pry them up," says Cindy.
With a little urging from her friend Pam, Cindy planted a shade garden under the aspens, with a variety of ferns, hostas, huecheras, astilbes and azaleas. Although the grove is in a far corner, the couple enjoys a close-up view from a nearby bench. Another favorite spot to enjoy the view is from a gazebo at the center of the garden, which offers a different view of the pond and cascade.
Set on patio block, a six-place metal table is used for summer dinners, made bug-free by net curtains. Holiday lights around the perimeter of the frame and a candelabrum provide enough light for playing games, she says.
The garden would be "pretty much maintenance-free" if they didn't continually come up with new projects, says Cindy. Next year will bring pond deepening to protect their koi, but inspiration is possible anytime they look out the window.
"Between the two of us, we come up with all these different ideas," says Cindy. "This keeps us pretty busy."
And joyfully so.