The Lewis garden in Templeton: 'Heaven on Earth'

Jeff and Cindy Lewis’ North County property in Spanish Lakes features grapevines, native plants, natural lakes and a waterfall

conniepillsbury22@gmail.comDecember 14, 2012 

  • Tips from Jeff and Cynthia Lewis

    The California Rare Fruit Growers is an excellent resource for amateur fruit growers. Monthly meetings are held at Cal Poly on pruning, grafting and many other subjects. For information: www.crfg-central.org

    For California native plants, visit the Las Pilitas Nursery in Santa Margarita: www.laspilitas.com

    To bring red color to the garden from trees, consider the water-loving red stem dogwood tree, the smoke tree and the more drought-tolerant western redbud.

    Lewis’ fruit tree selections for North County include Dixon Cling and Elberta Freestone peach, EZ Pick Tropic Gold apricot, Snow Queen nectarine, Bartlett and Bosc pear, Santa Rosa plum and Flavor King pluot.

Cindy Arey Lewis, a marine biologist turned medical school admittance adviser, was raised in San Luis Obispo, and after her husband, electrical engineer Jeff Lewis, retired from his career designing unmanned airplanes in San Diego, they decided to return to the Central Coast.

Desiring a property with over an acre, they explored the coastal areas from Arroyo Grande to Cambria for two years. The last place they looked was in what she considered the “boonies,” over the Grade, in North County. To their surprise, they fell in love with a 1.6-acre lot in Spanish Lakes in Templeton, and purchased it the day they first saw it in July 2004.

The Spanish Lakes property was originally part of the 17,700-acre Rancho Santa Ysabel Rancho 1844 land grant to Francisco Arce before California became part of the United States in 1848.

Purchased by the West Coast Land Company in 1886, it was divided into large parcels; a sales brochure then described it as “Heaven on earth, anything will grow, and plentiful water.”

The property passed through several owners, including the Kropps, who built three water-replenishment lakes; the Reichels, who hosted Boy Scout camps featuring canoeing; and finally to a group of investors led by Douglas Filipponi called the Los Amigos Development Corp. in 1998.

With just 51 home sites ranging from one to three acres scattered around the 155 acres of protected open space, the current setting validates that original 1886 sales pitch.

The Lewises like the view of wildlife on the natural spring-fed lakes, and the fact that water for the homes comes from two wells on the property.

After building their custom home, designed to include working offices for both Jeff and Cindy, and guest rooms for their grown daughters, they put their active minds to work in developing the grounds.

Cindy, who has a doctorate in marine biology, planted 25 cabernet and 50 zinfandel vines, using her microbiology skills to be her own viticulturalist.

Jeff wanted a fruit orchard, a culinary herb garden, and low water, mostly native plants for the large sloping front yard. He developed the final plan with Cal Poly horticultural student Rebecca Brown, who used the landscape design as her senior project. Desiring to do most of the work himself, Lewis was assisted by Cal Poly students in digging planting holes in the heavy clay/rock soil.

Once the basic planting of the permanent shrubs and trees was accomplished, Jeff turned his attention to his vision of a large waterfall for the natural hill in the backyard area.

After several sketches and ideas, he chose a design from Finley Family Nursery in Templeton, which featured a split in the falls, creating a small island for planting. He and Cindy selected rocks, four truckloads full, from Kritz Landscape Yard in Paso Robles, and developed steps to the top using blocks from AirVol in San Luis Obispo.

The blocks were also used to create an attractive raised garden instead of a lawn near the back patio for summer and winter vegetables.

As most North County rural gardeners know, the biggest challenge to success comes from deer, birds and gophers.

Cindy has a sophisticated netting and fencing system for her grapevines, while Jeff installed motion-detection sprinklers and circular fences around his trees for deer protection. All of the trees are planted with gopher baskets, but the challenge continues as the gophers climb over the fig tree fence and into the basket from the top!

When asked his most successful plant choice, Lewis responded that the native California salvia, Bee’s bliss, has proven to be the best performer, with Ken Taylor fremontia, buddleia butterfly bush, emerald carpet manzanita, rosemary, and rockrose near the top of the list.

With an engineer’s precision, he keeps a thorough digital spreadsheet recording plant names, date planted, height at maturity, status and numbered yard area in which each plant is located. As he surveyed his gardens and works-in-progress, he said, “I don’t know how I had time to do anything else!”

See more photos of the Lewis garden »

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