Twelve years ago, Ron and Yolanda Whisenand sat on the back porch of a newly constructed home for sale in Templeton and gazed past the bare lot to three large cottonwood trees and dozens of willows along the creek, all gently blowing in the May afternoon wind.
It was that soothing sound and sense of private space that caused them to immediately fall in love with the one-acre property that provided more “elbow room” than their small lot in Grover Beach.
Whisenand worked with landscape architect Debbie Black to fine-tune his plan for a private sanctuary where “garden rooms” would provide outdoor living spaces designed for eating, playing, sleeping, bird watching or just plain relaxing in both sun and shade.
“Why should we be limited to the inside of our house for our living environment?” he asked.
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Once the plan was finalized, Whisenand set out to do the landscaping himself, from irrigation to planting and construction.
“I have to give my dad the credit for my love of gardening and construction, as he was my inspiration,” he said. “He would work all day on a project and then into the evening with light from a camping lantern.”
Whisenand has a great appreciation of beauty, order and perfection.
He chose groundcovers, shrubs and trees for their foliage and bloom color as well as structure. Like an artist, he used contrasting colors and textures to create visual interest, such as blue-gray oat grass in front of red “Royal Cloak” barberry plants and light blue Russian sage next to “Golden” euony- mus. Structured plants such as ‘Howard McMinn’ Manzanita and prostrate juniper fill in the background for the light and airy selections of guara, catmint, Santa Barbara daisies and Japanese fountain grass.
A pool added five years ago turned the garden into the showpiece it is today. Whisenand wanted a rectangular pool with a spa at one end, located down several steps from the patio.
Mike English of Blue Heron Pools suggested placing the spa with a vanishing edge up on the patio, with the pool below. The gray valley stones lining the spa match the gray pool bottom, creating a serene view from the patio of one continuous body of water. Travertine walls around the spa and behind the pool unify the water elements, with brilliant red floribunda ‘Trumpeter’ roses lining the wall behind the pool.
Now retired after 30 years in environmental planning and community development in Eureka, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles, Whisenand has become a Master Gardener and oversees the Saturday Advice to Grow By monthly workshops as well as serving as one of the mentors for the new Master Gardeners class.
He is working on a phenology research project with Master Gardeners (the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, akin to the “Farmers’ Almanac”) to establish a relationship between bloom times and treating treatments for pests.
Viewing the garden as a continuing process, Whisenand has now planted a small orchard, featuring three apple trees with grafts for 21 different varieties, a nectarine, peach and plum, as well as a vegetable garden with lots of potatoes and tomatoes. Nearby are new petite syrah and zinfandel grapevines for potential home winemaking.
His next project will be a covered walkway replicating one he saw in Italy, where he and Yolanda bicycled through the Dolomites, the Italian Southern Alps.
After returning from a trip, the Whisenands agree that their backyard is the greatest place to come home to — their favorite place to hang out with friends and grandchildren.
Whisenand spends about eight hours each week maintaining his garden with pruning, replanting, weeding (which he says he loves), and mowing.
“I think gardening is mind-clearing, sort of a Zen-like activity, where you can spend hours working though your garden and leave the cares of the day behind,” he said.
TIPS FROM RON WHISENAND
For garden color mid-spring to mid-fall, floribunda roses of many sizes are a good choice. Whisenand found ‘Trumpeter’ ruffled red floribundas at a favorite nursery, Windmill Nursery in Buellton (http://www.windmillnursery.com), and Bay Laurel Nursery in Atascadero (http://www.baylaurelnursery.com)
For privacy screening along a property’s edge, use cotoneaster, photinia, Cecile Brunner and white or yellow Lady Banks climbing roses.
Pathways with gates and arbors, vines and low fences create inviting entryways to “surprise” garden rooms, each featuring its own microclimate and uses.
Sageleaf Rockrose (Cistus salviifolius ‘Prostratus’) is a low-spreading, drought-tolerant and fire-resistant evergreen shrub growing 2 feet high by 6 feet wide with white flowers in spring. It works well on a slope.