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Passion for plants

“For someone who is passionate about plants, making a garden is not like falling in love in an instant, but like living with someone for a lifetime.”

— Roger Turner, Design in the Plant Collector’s Garden: From Chaos to Beauty, 2005

When visitors step through an arbor gate into the front yard of Michael Flaherty and Kate Ingram’s Jacksonville home, it’s instantly apparent there is a passion for plants here.

Old orchard trees mingle with young maples, understated grasses brush up against showy peonies, and rhododendrons that are just now presenting their last spring flowers share a bed with daylilies that are still preparing for their golden summer display.

“To me, garden design is like a puzzle. I like to figure out how to make all the pieces go together,” Flaherty said recently.

The Flaherty-Ingram homestead is one of six properties in Jacksonville and Medford featured on the 11th annual Spring Garden Tour hosted by the Medford chapter of the American Association of University Women.

This year’s garden tour takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 8. The $20 admission (free for children younger than 12) helps AAUW provide educational scholarships for local women and girls.

The Flaherty-Ingram home, on South Third Street, is one of Jacksonville’s historic houses. Built around 1890, the house was completely renovated the year before the couple bought it in 2002. Since then, they have focused on overhauling the landscape by creating what Flaherty calls different “destination spots” from what used to be a sloping expanse of lawn.

Flaherty softened the slope of the backyard by installing terraced garden beds, surrounded by low walls made from stacked stone and connected by moss-covered stone steps and a path.

On one side of the backyard, Ingram grows an enclosed vegetable garden filled with raised beds of kale, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, artichokes, zucchini and marigolds. On the other side of the yard, an old heirloom apple tree with a tree house provides shade for a paver patio and seating area. Nearby a hot tub beckons.

Flaherty also built a wooden deck right around a large golden chain tree at the back of the house. Ingram added other artistic touches to the landscape, such as a rusty metal sphere, a blue bowl water feature and a Buddha statue. Next to Buddha, a garden stone engraved with the Chinese fu character offers a message of happiness and good fortune.

Flaherty and Ingram do, indeed, feel fortunate that they happened to meet in 1998 when Flaherty was an opera singer with the Portland Opera House. It wasn’t long before Flaherty decided living out of a suitcase was no longer appealing, so the couple put down roots and eventually raised their two children in Jacksonville, where Ingram grew up.

She is a life transitions coach, specializing in grief mentoring, and the author of two books, “Washing the Bones: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Transformation” (2013) and the soon-to-be published “Grief Girl’s Bedside Guide to Grief.”

Flaherty admits that when he and Ingram met, he didn’t know the difference between bugloss and begonias.

“But I’ve always liked nature and working with my hands, so I started dabbling in landscaping while I figured out what I wanted to do for a job,” Flaherty said. “Then I discovered that I really enjoy creating outdoor spaces because it allows me to be artistic in a new way.”

Not only did Flaherty continue to experiment with garden design in his own landscape, he also participated in the OSU Master Gardener program in 2009 and created the rain garden at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point. Now he’s the owner of Veridian Designs, a landscape design and contracting business that specializes in creating sustainable, low-maintenance residential landscapes.

Looking around at all the changes he’s made to his landscape, as well as the work that’s still left to do, Flaherty said, “This place represents my evolution as a landscape designer. There has been a lot of experimentation, and I’ve used what works with my clients.”

What has Flaherty found most effective for creating gardens and landscapes that reflect their natural surroundings?

“Study the site first, and know sun and shade exposure at different times of the day,” Flaherty said. These conditions help to create several microclimates within one piece of property. Figuring out which plants will thrive in each microclimate is challenging; however, happy, healthy plants are the reward for thoughtful garden design.

Flaherty also recommends careful planning to address difficult spots in the landscape and other potential problems. For example, he installed drainpipes and a rain garden for a low spot in his front yard. He used highly adaptive, heat-tolerant plants in an area of the backyard that receives intense late afternoon sun. He selected deer-resistant plants to discourage the four-legged “frenemies” that roam Jacksonville’s residential streets, and he enclosed the vegetable garden with high fencing.

“Having a cohesive design plan is important so the landscaping project doesn’t become overwhelming,” Flaherty advised. “Once you have a blueprint, you can break the project down into smaller phases. Start close to the house and in the spots that you naturally gravitate to, then work outward from there.”

Flaherty and Ingram hope their gardens will inspire tour goers to think about what they might accomplish in their outdoor spaces. “Even a small landscape can feel bigger if it’s designed with different places to go for different purposes,” Flaherty said. “Every outdoor space can have a unique feel to it.”

Spring Garden Tour tickets can be purchased in advance at any Grange Co-op store, the Blue Door Garden Store in Jacksonville, and Penny and Lulu’s Studio Florist in Medford. Tickets will also be available at the gardens on tour day. Gardens can be toured in any order, but leave pets at home.

For more information about the garden tour, visit the AAUW Medford website at https://medford-or.aauw.net/.

Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com or visit her blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.


Featured gardens

890 S. Third St., Jacksonville: Historic home with minimal lawn, vegetable garden and terraced garden beds featuring plants with staggered bloom times and varying textures.

850 S. Third St., Jacksonville: Repurposed stone from the property, archways covered in fragrant vines and restful seating areas are featured in this peaceful garden. An eclectic oasis created at minimal expense using gifted and propagated plantings.

49 Valley View Drive, Medford: Shady, woodland garden filled with native plants that are pollinator friendly and drought tolerant. Recently designed and planted with contrasting colors, shapes and textures. Art displayed in the garden is provided by Northwest glass artist Randy Perkins; sales benefit local AAUW scholarships.

130 Veranda Place, Medford: Asian interest abounds in this historic area garden, which features an arbor with Japanese maples and a gong, pagodas and a Buddha. A flowing water fountain and a warm corner fireplace create spaces for quiet reflection.

2590 Meadow Creek Drive, Medford: The garden features a complex design of flowerbeds and walkways alongside beautiful trees. Colorful perennials, whimsical garden planters, and private patio spaces are also showcased.

3503 Admiral Way, Medford: Recently designed with no lawn, this garden uses ornamental grasses, garden art, and a dry creek bed to ensure minimal water usage. Enjoy a view of the Table Rocks and a cold drink at this year’s Hospitality Garden.

Ingram added artistic touches such as a rusty metal sphere, a blue bowl water feature and a Buddha statue.