The Kraemer garden in SLO: Family, flowers and color

Tulips bring charm to this cottage garden with continental flair

Special to The TribuneApril 30, 2014 

Roses, spring bulbs and flowering fruit trees burst forth in an exuberant show of spring color in Bonnie and Ron Kraemer’s spacious frontyard on a corner lot in San Luis Obispo.

Feathery parrot tulips sporting exotic color combos remind us why, in the 17th Century, they sold for the equivalent of a year’s income for a tycoon.

Classic long-stemmed tulips in shades of yellow, purple and coral pop up between the bladelike leaves of bearded iris.

And when the irises bloom, they dominate. Cream, yellow, blue and a rare black iris add their large showy blooms and make a colorful foundation for the flowering fruit trees planted throughout the garden.

Roses add cottage charm. The butter yellow Julia Child rose is still small but will soon compete for attention with the gaily striped red and white Fourth of July rose and the giant blossoms of the soft pink Love rose, whose old fashioned fragrance reminds us what roses should smell like.

Many of the bulbs were gifts, and the cut flowers are frequently shared. One favorite place for the flowers is a celebration that honors the Spanish-speaking students who have learned English at the school where Bonnie works.

The large plum tree that dominates the corner yard is grafted with two varieties, Greengage and Santa Rosa.

The local Rare Fruit Growers shared scions with the Kraemers and many others at their winter exchange so these fruits could flourish. The Kraemers have also successfully shared scions from their tree and fruit with all their neighbors.

Many homes have a long, narrow expanse the length of the house — and the Kraemers’ home was no exception.

On the street side the couple continued to expanded their fruit tree selection with plantings of dwarf apple, apricot, and cherry as well as avocado and Meyer lemon. Fragrant star jasmine is used to cover the sloping bank in this area.

A fence nine feet from the house along that same expanse creates privacy in a narrow side yard off the dining area that is nine feet by 70 feet.

“Ron is so good,” Bonnie said, “I just said what I wanted and he went right to work making it happen.” Clever variations in what’s underfoot shorten a visitor’s perception of the patio’s length.

“We wanted more hardscape features that are unique and help reduce watering,” Ron said.

The family effort involved the kids choosing things like bird baths and making heart-shaped paving stones. It was their idea that concrete dominoes and a yin and yang be included; as a result, a large section of the patio comes in the form of a yin and yang symbol bisected by Mexican river rock. White iceberg roses provide a peaceful background. Domino-shaped stepping stones disguise a complex drainage system.

Early in the day sun floods the area. “We love to have breakfast out here,” Bonnie said.

Morning diners enjoy two varieties of Chinese lanterns, abutilon in dark red and another in orange with red veining. Both add height and energy to the garden.

A pink azalea tree, Kangaroo paws (anigozanthos), butterfly milkweed (asclepias), canna lilies and red and pink Martha Washington geraniums bring another colorful level.

So much color draws hummingbirds and butterflies so the garden also acts as a refuge for winged visitors.

The family orchard continues in the back yard with another Santa Rosa plum and a mandarin orange.

More citrus can be found in pots along with tropical hibiscus. Ron’s tomato plants take over one side of the house in the summer and are the secret to his gourmet pasta sauce.

The combined efforts of all the family members make for a garden that delights the palate as well as the eye.


If you’re interested in adding to your collection or are curious about what is available locally, don't miss the eighth annual Cactus and Succulent Show & Sale from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 24 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 25 at the Ludwick Center, 864 Santa Rosa St., in San Luis Obispo.

Experts will be on hand to answer questions, and rare plants and handmade pottery will be for sale. Admission is free. For more information, go to

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