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Gardens for Good

Ten years ago, Michele and Richard moved into a “boring landscape” in the Dark Hollow Road area, took Master Gardener training, built a greenhouse and reshaped their yard into a dreamscape of flowers, well-inhabited birdhouses and vegetable gardens with so much food they had to find ways to give it away.

Their garden will be a main attraction on the 17th annual Gardens for Good Tour organized by Soroptimist International North Valley. The tour, which usually draws about 300 people, provides money for area women who are the sole support for their families and are engaged in some kind of training or college.

Gardens for Good is a self-guided tour of six impressive gardens in the south Medford-Phoenix area. It will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, May 18. Tickets cost $20, and to encourage carpooling, the cost is $70 for carloads of four.

“The awards of funds can be used for baby-sitting, gas or rent, or other expenditures that help women get ahead,” said Geni Moots Plotnik of Soroptimist.

The Dark Hollow Road garden shows what can be done when three generations of a family, living together, shape a dream that’s “a great teaching ground for us and the grandchildren, and where my 4-year-old can run out and grab veggies for lunch,” says Sujana, daughter of Michele and Richard, and mom of two.

Richard says he wanted “an Old MacDonald’s farm.” It boasts 18 varieties of table grapes, blackberries and trees of walnut, almond, peach, apple and fig.

It may look like a paradise in which to relax, he says, but it takes immense amounts of work to raise volumes of shallots, beets, zucchini, peas, radishes and sweet potatoes, and preserving them all — except for the peas, which get eaten as they are harvested.

Michele is in charge of the endless rows of plants and flowers — and the greenhouse, built by a neighbor, where she says she “lives” in winter when the sun is out.

In their younger years, seeking spiritual riches, the couple spent many years at an ashram in India, where their daughter was born (and got her Indian name), and where Michele picked up many Eastern influences on gardening, including the placement of many figures of Buddha, Ganesh (an elephant deity), and whimsical angels, dragons, turtles and mushrooms.

Apprenticing here as a Master Gardener under Marsha Waite, she took a fancy to day lilies, mixing reds and whites, sometimes assigning new names — Chomp Chomp, Fooled Me — to 126 hybrids that emerged from their delightful experiments.

Her tidy and simple gardens abound with dahlia, peony, iris (including miniature iris), daffodil, twirly filbert (a bush), columnar apple, gladiola and hollyhock.

Among the other gardens on the tour are:

A park-like setting in Medford that’s been nurtured for more than 30 years. Originally built and stocked with rhododendrons, the garden includes many plants and trees that tower over special areas. Azaleas, bulbs and perennials have migrated and spread. Visitors can take in a breathtaking view of the valley then wander the pathways up through giant rhodies.

If you have ever dreamed of varied, beautiful, resilient groundcovers and grasses that pave the way for spreading perennials flanking labyrinth paths, here is your model. The journey begins beneath towering Italian cyprus. The owners have worked 13 years to transform their gardens, which highlight texture and color. They carted tons of brick, rock and stone by hand to create elaborate paths with varied textures and plantings, including a creek bed that carries runoff from the roof.

104 English sparrows top the fence framing this charming labor of love. Beginning with a bare lot 11 years ago, this Medford couple transformed the property into a venue that reflects their creative and personal interests. Rocks and shells have been carefully chosen and transported from near and far; these lovelies now gather in unique patterns and themes amidst perennials, bulbs and arbors. Look carefully — hidden wizards and agates abound.

Beginning 30 years ago, these Phoenix gardeners began clearing invasive star thistle from this pastoral four acres. Beneath stunning views of Payne cliffs and Mount Baldy backdrops, they have hosted weddings for their four daughters. Now grandchildren come to feed the chicks and cows. Areas of the garden include the Wine Patio, the Bower, the Play Yard, the Rose Garden, the Wedding Lawn and the Pot(ted) Garden, with paths throughout. They even have a quaint outdoor shower that is used year-round. Tea and lemonade will be served at the Outdoor Bar, handcrafted by the owners.

Truly the Pinterest gardener of the valley, the architect of this Phoenix garden has nurtured a cornucopia of inventive, enticing ways to honor things we can plant. Over the past three years, she has filled nooks and crannies, yielding a wonderland of in-ground and creative container groupings. Garage-sale treasures of repurposed metal, wood, ceramics and furniture emerge at every bend of the small front, as well as around the bubbling water features in back.

Highlighting the considerable good the annual fundraising tour accomplishes, the North Valley Soroptimist tour booklet notes “over half of the recipients of funding are survivors of domestic violence, trafficking or sexual assault.”

Money goes to GIFT, which gives middle school girls tools they need to set and achieve education and career goals and “raise aspirations and have equal voice.” Also supported are SOU Summer Academy (grades five through eight), Crater Foundation Scholarship (scholarships for every graduate of Crater High School), Ballet Folklorico, SMART/ACCESS, Kids Spree (shopping for fall school clothes at the mall), NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and Rebecca Bender Initiative (anti-sex trafficking).

Tickets can be purchased through May 16 at Judy’s Florist in Central Point and Grants Pass, Southern Oregon Nursery on Highway 99 in Medford, and the Blue Door Garden Store in Jacksonville, or buy tickets online through May 17 at www.soroptimistinnorthvalley.com/garden-tour. Tickets will also be for sale on tour day at RoxyAnn Winery in Medford and the garden at 2675 David Lane, Medford.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

A garden shed styled after a rustic outhouse is one of many details at a garden on Dark Hollow Road that is part of Saturday’s Garden for Good tour. Photo by Denise Baratta
Grape vines border a vegetable garden and orchard on Dark Hollow Road. Photo by Denise Baratta