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Creating a lasting oasis

When Barb and Len Eaton had their house remodeled, they didn't stop with the inside. With it came a picture-perfect remake of the garden and landscaping, complete with an outdoor dining room and fireplace.

It's the crown jewel of the 19th annual Spring Garden Tour organized by the American Association of University Women of Ashland.

The self-guided tour, which benefits scholarships and social programs for women, as well as the environment, runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, June 8. Participants can tour five gardens and enjoy refreshments at Grizzly Peak Winery.

Entering the rear garden, visitors are stunned by the classic symmetry of this "Mediterranean-theme oasis," as it's called by Kelly Eaton, its designer — and the daughter-in-law of the Eatons. Her husband, Jason Eaton, of Conscious Construction, remodeled the house.

A lovely fireplace nestles under a pergola, dominating the west wall. It's surrounded by a tiled dining area with a table for six and another table for four. Flagstone walkways wind about the secluded yard, threading between mature Ponderosa pine and oak trees.

There seems not a blade of grass out of place — and the effect is deeply meditative, with views of mountains (but not neighbors) in every direction.

With the region in drought, the AAUW this year is emphasizing two big ways to cut water use: reduce grass and increase drought-tolerant plants. The Eatons' landscaping does just that.

The city of Ashland is co-sponsoring the event as a way to promote its Water Wise and Fire Wise programs, offering water audits and wildfire audits through the city Conservation Commission, says Mimi Pippel, co-president of the Ashland AAUW. For details, see www.ashlandsaveswater.org.

A rich selection of flora lines the walkways of the Eaton garden — salvia, barberry, day lilies, heather, hardy geraniums, fuschia, pin cushion flower.

"This is my sanctuary," says Barb Eaton. "My garden is my best therapist. It's pure joy to be out here with the bees and butterflies."

The south part of the garden offers bleeding heart, pineapple guava, echinacea, day feather, flowering currant, yew, dogwood and redbud. In the northwest corner, vegetables grow apace.

The wood fence is adorned with hanging sculpture, including lots of Green Men and a Dionysus. One plaque appropriately notes, "If you love the life you live, you will live the life you love."

In addition to the Eatons' oasis, four other gardens are on the tour:

  • A former orchard with native plants near the forestland interface. Foxes have been seen here, munching persimmons high in a tree. A pond edged with local rocks provides habitat for frogs, birds, opossums and others. Native plants include camas, dogwood and currant.
  • A flowering woodland with a dramatic gate provides an example of lawn converted to the "whimsical ambience" of daffodils, irises, tulips, Asiatic lilies, hyacinths, gladiolus, rhododendrons, sage, lilacs, strawberries and more.
  • A neighborhood garden above Siskiyou Boulevard uses simple, natural materials, native plants, modern lines, edible gardens and sculpture, with a cottage, an alpine creek and a concrete-and-steel bridge. Grapes, ornamental grasses, heathers, rhodies, ferns and drought-loving maples help form the landscaping.
  • Lots of young fruit trees, including apple, pear, peach and plum, combine with artistic features and views to give visitors lots of ideas for their own gardens. Roses and clematis climb the rear fence. Raised beds contain veggies and herbs. Deer don't find much to munch here.

The Ashland AAUW raised $22,000 last year for young women's scholarships and other programs. The tour sold more than 400 tickets and netted $6,000. The organization — the largest AAUW in the state — has branched out from scholarships and donates funds to help bring new bedding and kitchen items to Dunn House, a shelter for abused women, says Pippel.

The tour will feature refreshments and live music by More Fools Than Wise Madrigal singers, at Grizzly Peak Winery at the top of East Nevada Street. Tickets cost $20 and are available at Paddington Station and the Grange Co-ops of Medford and Ashland. Tickets and maps are also available on the Ashland AAUW website at www.aauwashland.org.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Kelly Eaton, right, designed a Mediterranean-theme garden for Len and Barb Eaton around their Ashland home. The garden is part of the 19th annual Spring Garden Tour organized by the American Association of University Women of Ashland. - Julia Moore