After establishing his Nipomo-based tropical plant business, Pacific Sun Growers, in 1979, Ben Trogdon wanted to live near his workplace. The lot that he and his wife Robin purchased was part of a large eucalyptus grove. They lived in a trailer house on the property during the two years it took for them to clear an opening and build their house.
They designed their home with environmental consideration. A south-facing sun room brings solar heat into the open living-kitchen-dining area, and a woodburning stove keeps the home cozy in winter. Solar panels on the roof provide most of their electricity; a photovoltaic system, recently added, supplies energy for the couple’s electric pottery kiln.
Initially, a lawn surrounded the house. In the backyard, the grass was removed gradually and replaced by the Mexican blue palm, acacias, Catalina cherries, bottlebrush, timber bamboo and Ceanothus that now grow there.
Ten years ago, Ben added a rock-lined pond stocked with water plants and mosquito fish. The gentle sound of the circulating water is audible all along the expansive backyard deck. Plants around the pond include acacia, calandrinia, smoke tree, leucodendron, Mexican blue palm and a nonfruiting Abyssinian banana.
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The deck wraps around two sides of the house and extends outward to a huge wine barrel that was transformed into the couple’s potting studio. That’s where Ben created most of the earthy, succulent-filled containers that line the deck and its wide railings. Contrasting pleasingly with the succulent majority, some brightly colored commercial pots contain flowering begonias, geraniums, fuchsias, and ferns.
At the far end of the deck, a secluded, fenced-in area resembles a gigantic sandbox. It’s a play area for four Labrador retrievers. Previously, the dogs had damaged large garden areas in their enthusiastic efforts to unearth gophers. Encouraged to dig in this area, they are less inclined to dig where they will get into trouble.
Four years ago, most of the front lawn was removed to add a swimming pool, patio and a cabana, which is furnished with comfy chairs and a Murphy bed. Ben and Robin enjoy sleeping there on warm nights; it also serves as a guest room. It is surrounded by a tropical paradise, with Alocacias, fan-leaved palms, ferns, passion vines, pineapple, and a banana tree with a small fruiting cluster.
In contrast with the jungle-like growth beyond the pool, a row of large cacti line a bed between the patio’s edge and the house’s sun room. Just inside the floorlength windows, a row of potted cacti effectively blurs the distinction between indoors and outdoors. The combination forms a botanical screen for the sunroom windows
Outside the fenced house garden, young citrus, avocado and apple trees grow beyond two raised beds for vegetables and cutting flowers. Both beds are lined with screening, top and bottom, to exclude gophers. Tropical plants in two wine barrel halves add an exotic touch.
Ben’s current focus is on the driveway plantings, where succulents and Australian plants mingle, demonstrating the fascinating similarities and differences between drought-tolerant American and Australian plants. Each has evolved to thrive in similar growing conditions, though they are halfway around the world from each other.
Sharon Crawford is a freelance writer who lives in Los Osos.