America in Bloom dignitaries visiting from the East Coast said they wouldn’t have time to visit Vince and Janet Marino’s Morro Bay garden while in town in September but they would drive by. Then “I heard the screech of brakes,” Janet Marino recalled. There was a car in her driveway with all four car doors open and people jumping out with cameras to capture the beauty.
“This is a fabulous garden!” judge Bruce Riggs exclaimed. A nurseryman from upstate New York, he marveled at the variety of exotic plants. As a result of that visit, the Marinos were among four local sites recognized by America in Bloom and the city of Morro Bay for “exceptional quality, beauty, and care of your property. Thanks for doing your part to make America a better place to live, one community at a time! With gratitude and admiration from your America in Bloom judges, Evelyn Alemanni and Bruce Riggs.”
The other sites honored were Coalesce Bookstore, Shine Cafe and the neighborhood park at the Cloisters. Mayor Jamie Irons stopped by the Marinos’ home the morning of the City Council meeting on Sept. 9 to encourage them to attend that evening. They said they felt honored indeed to receive national recognition.
The Marinos’ garden journey began by interviewing three different local landscapers to hear their vision for the property. Gabriel Frank, owner of Gardens by Gabriel, was ultimately asked to take on the project. He has an artist’s eye for what a plant will look like five and 25 years on.
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The garden’s large, sloping expanse is punctuated with Mediterranean fan and queen palms planted by the previous owner. The Marinos wanted to avoid terracing and keep a natural look. A winding gravel path leads up the west side of the garden, past pink blooming grevillea, echeverias, yuccas, kalanchoe orgyalis “Copper Spoons,” and grey felt-like kalanchoe beharensis ‘Fang,’ named for its toothy leaf edges. The real stars of the hillside are the many varieties of agave.
An authentic bocce ball court was installed by Vince Marino and son Josh. It has a traditional oyster shell surface and is accented on the sea view side by a profusion of bougainvillea in scarlet and pink and a sculpture by local artist Jim Jacobson.
Clever screening from a neighbor who overlooks the garden on the steep hill is handled by fast growing varieties of clumping bamboo, including the graceful Mexican weeping bamboo (otatea aztecorum). A huge blue gray agave, Mr. Ripple, is like the elephant in the room. It’s so large you almost don’t see it at the base of the bamboo.
A 10-foot-tall pink blooming protea shrub, its large blooms resembling feathers, is located near an extensive succulent nursery where Janet nurtures the pups, volunteers and cuttings from the garden so they can be sold by the local garden club at fundraisers.
A fairly new plant to their garden just looked pretty in the nursery at Miner’s Hardware. They didn’t know it was Mexican milkweed (asclepias tuberosa), a favorite of the monarch butterfly, until little green striped caterpillars started devouring the leaves. They now enjoy every stage of the monarch’s life cycle. “You can see the white dots in the wings of the butterfly in its transparent chrysalis just as it’s ready to emerge,” Janet Marino said. “Everyone would be enriched just seeing this marvel.” She developed a one-page instruction sheet about the monarch butterfly that includes a packet of milkweed seeds to hand out to children when the garden club hosts a booth at Morro Bay Farmers Market.
Vince and Janet Marino are also gardeners with a heart. Their garden is often selected for fundraising tours by local nonprofit groups and has provided scholarship money for local students. On Sept. 14, visitors from the Pacific Horticulture Society also toured while in the area for a program on “Changing Times, Changing Gardens.”
“The garden has taken us in directions we never expected,” Vince said. “In every garden you’re going to lose some plants, but it’s natural. It’s an opportunity to try something different.”
Janet added that they have learned to enjoy their garden so much more through the eyes of others.