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Waves of blooms

The 1939 Holmes mansion, built by Harry Holmes of Harry & David fame, is the crown jewel of this year's 2016 Spring Garden Tour of the American Association of University Women in Medford.

The rhododendron-rich gardens on this nearly two-acre spread on Modoc Avenue in east Medford almost went to seed after the wealthy, visionary founder died in 1959. Grossly overgrown, the grounds were restored to glory by the most recent owners, Dr. Jay and Paula Beckstead, over the past 18 years.

The Becksteads plan to move after he retires in October. Saturday's Spring Garden Tour will provide visitors with a look at the wonderland the Becksteads cultivated to match the classic lines of the colonial revival mansion designed by Paul Revere Williams, a noted architect of the times who designed the homes of many Hollywood stars.

The gardens spread over every corner of the property, and flowers emerge in cycles so that something is always in bloom, says Jay Beckstead. The north corner — the first spot visitors encounter going up the driveway — is rich in roses, azaleas, rhododendrons, peonies, daylilies and Japanese maples under spreading black oaks. 

The many flowering trees, including cherry and plum, were a long-ago Mother’s Day gift, he says while walking his terrier, Asta, through a long, flowering “philosopher’s tunnel,” which traverses the north and east perimeter of the mansion’s circular drive.

At the end of the walk, visitors will find iris, hydrangea, a golden chain tree and, toward the east side of the mansion, a European tricolor beech, says Diane Reil, AAUW tour director.

Beckstead jokingly describes his years of doing this immense project on his own (no gardeners), even pulling out many aggressive, overgrown laurel trees with his Acura. Paula, who calls herself “the mulch maven of Modoc,” assisted.

The estate will start its transformation this fall into a residential facility for the Southern Oregon Friends of Hospice. The gardens will be used to help patients connect with nature during their final stage of life, says Executive Director Susan Hearn.

“In the philosopher’s walk, we wanted a contemplative place to stroll, and it was already here,” she says.

“We promise to keep it up using community volunteers,” Hearn says. “We have garden clubs and 90 volunteers signed up already.”

Says Beckstead, “It takes 90 people to replace me out here? Now I feel honored!”

In addition to the Holmes mansion, the tour includes five other stops:

  • At 1869 Hidden Village Place, Medford, visitors will find vistas and diverse acreage that showcases use of color, native plants and habitat plantings for hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.
  • At 2764 Misty Lane, Medford, the gardens include a profusion of colors and whimsical artistic details, a koi pond and hanging baskets.
  • At 1898 Bristol Drive, Medford, a compact cottage garden was carefully planned and planted with everything from food to flowers, with only a small lawn.
  • At 972 Old Stage Road in Central Point, a property is featured with hundreds of rose varietals, a peach orchard and an excellent example of a drought-tolerant desert garden.
  • At Caprice Vineyards, 970 Old Stage Road, tour-goers will find wine and food available for purchase. 

“We have an eclectic mix of gardens," says Reil, "including a monarch way station, a pollinator garden, a rose hybridizer with some 2,000-plus cultivars. … Our two smaller gardens are absolutely loaded with color and manage to artfully fit in just about everything you could imagine.”

For eight years, the AAUW garden tour has given all its profits for the higher education, at Rogue Community College and Southern Oregon University, of girls and women, especially single moms returning to the workplace after their children have grown, says Reil.

The tour has been held in autumn, but with the end of Ashland’s AAUW spring garden tour, the Medford branch shifted to spring, she notes.

The self-guided tour runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 11. The cost is $15.

Tickets can be purchased in advance at any Grange Co-op retail store, at the Blue Door in Jacksonville, at Caprice Vineyard in Central Point and at any of the gardens on the day of the tour.

For details, see http://medford-or.aauw.net/2016-spring-garden-tour/

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

Jay Beckstead, creator of the Holmes House gardens, and Gail Etchie, of the American Association of University Women, tour the grounds of the Holmes mansion, which are featured on this year's garden tour. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta
The grounds of the Holmes mansion include a pool with views overlooking the valley, as well as extensive, mature gardens. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta