When Jon and Kathleen Wells of Paso Robles decided to re-landscape their small downtown front yard, they had two goals in mind: to replace the lawn with water-saving and deer-resistant plants and to create a welcoming patio where neighbors and friends could drop by and visit.
They refer to their quaint street as “Wine Industry Row” because so many of the homeowners work in the thriving area wine industry. Jon and Kathleen enjoy their neighbors, and found themselves often standing in the front yard chatting and comparing wine notes.
The Wellses had heard about landscape designer Marc Behymer, who specializes in maximizing outdoor living space. Behymer, a Cal Poly horticulture and design graduate, drew up a plan incorporating a large inviting patio under an open pergola extending the entire width of the house. A low stacked stone wall would surround the patio, and function as both extra seating and a visual border between the patio and new plantings.
The first step was to completely remove the existing lawn and shrubs, as well as the original railing along a small front porch. Then, while Behymer installed new drip irrigation and planted, contractor Jerry Wilkinson built the pergola, and Steve Tapia added interesting stone textures with his concrete and masonry work. Ironworker Wade McKenzie crafted old vines on the pergola supports to add a winery theme.
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Behymer helped his clients stay on budget by applying for the Water Conservation Rebate program offered by the city of Paso Robles. The former lawn area now hosts santolina, blue oat and carex grasses, lavender and Santa Barbara daisies, all accentuated by moisture-retaining redwood shavings. Elfin thyme softens the flagstones of the new inviting walkway.
An important part of this story is how Jon and Kathleen Wells ended up on their small downtown lot in the heart of old Paso Robles.
They had always loved wine tasting in the area, and visited often while pursuing their demanding careers in Bakersfield. When it came time to make a big career upgrade to Austin, Texas, they rethought their priorities and decided to live somewhere they loved, stay near family, and find new careers. They headed for Paso Robles and found jobs in the wine industry. They called it “downgrading to happy.”
Kathleen Wells is the tasting room manager at Pear Valley Winery, and Jon has just moved from LeVigne Winery to Trader Joe’s. A graduate of California Culinary Academy, Jon has always been interested in food and wine. He has been the chef for several small winemakers’ dinners. In fact, he is a winemaker as well, with a small head trained vineyard in his backyard called Smiling Oaks Vineyard. His Zinfandel crop yields 30 bottles of estate bottled wine per year, “just enough to serve on our new patio,” he says with a smile.
“Now, with this new extension of our house out front, we love to sit in the evening with friends, taking in the view of the mature trees of Paso Robles or listening to the Mid-State Fair music,’’ they say. “From here, we can walk downtown to the Farmers Market or out to dinner and a movie.”
For a couple like Jon and Kathleen who love their neighborhood and enjoy their neighbors, this front yard transformation has opened up a whole new world of hospitality.