Sally Melgard has always had a passion for the historic and is trained as a architectural historian. Moving into her 1910 Queen Anne Victorian in Jacksonville was the realization of a lifelong dream. She loves caring for her home, and this interest extends into the garden.
"I wanted to maintain an historic atmosphere appropriate to the age of the house," says Melgard.
To achieve that she connected with the Jacksonville Garden Club. Despite a herd of problems, she has been able to attain what she wanted — a sweet, old-fashioned yard to go with her Victorian home.
Part of her success is due to the good bones of the yard she inherited, from the picket fence to the arching walnuts overhead. Camellias, roses, lilacs, daffodils, primroses and irises were commonly used plants at the turn of the 20th century and fill the foundation plantings and beds around the house. Other foundation plants include mature rhododendron, lilac and a snowball bush. Sweet woodruff and violets provide ground cover. In spring, the lawn fills with violets and crocus, which delays mowing until blooming is finished.
When she "fills in the holes," she limits her plant palette to those that resonate with an older home. She's created a beckoning landscape and provided a number of seating areas around the yard, usually wrought iron, that allow one to take advantage of the invitation. Potted spruce keep up the interest in winter, as do carefully placed statuary, antiques, such as an old milk can, and other garden ephemera.
One of her first improvement projects was to soften the pathways around the garden, narrowing and curving their lines. At the main entrance to the home, the walk runs along a large garden full of sun-loving perennials. In early spring, violets and grape hyacinth are the first to emerge. In summer, Shasta daisies, irises, butterfly bush, peonies, foxgloves, lavender, miniature roses and lambs ear take turns in the spotlight. The old water pump that once served the home's residents in the kitchen is now mounted in a place of honor.
"It evokes the era," says Melgard.
The focal point of this bed is the large, round, bird house with multiple entrances that stands above the plantings. Collecting bird houses has been a 10-year passion for Melgard. Her collection includes some carefully rendered, Victorian-period houses complete with gingerbread, whimsical folk art and architecturally inspired bird houses.
She's installed several patios and sitting areas around the lawn. Off the kitchen and office, a picnic table invites outdoor dining. Nearby, a stand constructed from a curving manzanita branch displays two ephemera-inspired bird houses. One has an old soup spoon artfully placed over the heart-shaped entrance. A rustic log swing supports a round bird house with carved four-pane windows and a chimney made from a branch section. The textures and the garden art create a lovely atmosphere.
Under one of the two black walnuts, she installed a small flagstone patio with a wrought-iron bistro set. "It's a nice place for coffee in the morning and a glass of wine at night," she says.
It's all quite different than gardening in the Sierra foothills, where she and her husband had a miniature horse ranch.
"The marauding deer come and eat all the plants that the garden centers and books say are deer-proof," she says ruefully. "The Jacksonville deer have cultivated a taste for them."
This further limits her planting choices, but prevention efforts, such as netting her roses and using repellents, have provided mixed and limited results.
When the plants are in leaf, the yard is completely private, says Melgard. "It becomes like a little garden bower. The tall trees shade the yard and "keep the house cool and inviting."
Even with the competing deer, Melgard manages to have summer flowers: zinnia, asters, petunias, rose campion. The house has five doors on the first floor, which Melgard loves to keep open in the summer, giving her two Cavalier King Charles spaniels the run of the yard.
Those aren't the only animals you'll find there. Her two miniature horses, Marmaduke and Lonesome Dove, "mow" the lawn. The picket fence is tall enough to keep them in, says Melgard. "It's a great treat for them, although sometimes they take a nip of the flowers."
Better them than the deer.