A look at the Johnson garden in Morro Bay
Wintering birds are so welcome in this Morro Bay garden that at least nine different species feel at home here.
Garry and Nancy Johnson moved to Morro Bay in 1997. They had recently retired from the Sunnyvale area where Garry helped design satellite technology and Nancy, a Master Gardener, had been employed securing reliable childcare for Silicon Valley workers.
They hit the ground running by planting a row of coastal redwoods along the south fence line. The once thin saplings now reach more than 30 feet tall.
Today what was once a nearly vacant lot is now a colorful center of outdoor activity. A generously sized arbor built by Garry overflows with purple trumpet vine, variegated pandorea jasmine, and dark purple winter-blooming hardenbergia with its clusters of tiny blossoms.
The first thing visitors hear as they pass through the eugenia hedge is the sound of happy hens clucking away announcing their latest delivery. The four girls aren’t particularly productive in winter but no one seems to care.
The same is not true for the ill-fated apricot tree that Garry beheaded following a particularly poor production year. Apple, Asian pear, plum and peach trees are its productive replacements. Garry makes apple pies, apple sauce and apple streusel from the farm.
Their original garden was a vegetable garden, but vegetables in Morro Bay sand require more water and more labor. A lovely concrete patio covered the sandy expanse.
When a roofer came to fix their roof, he said, “The view’s great up here.”
They wanted to see the view too so they added a second story and deck, where they now enjoy unobstructed views of the bay and Morro Rock.
Tucked into a back corner off the garage is an extremely productive worm and compost bin. Just beneath a thick layer of shredded paper, thousands of hungry earthworms devour food scraps and pump out an abundance of worm castings and worm tea. Also known to gardeners as “black gold,” these byproducts are the engine for this productive garden. Garry will proudly show off his worm wrangling skills to anyone who will listen. They put the worms out by the rocks so when it gets hot and dry they can stay cool and comfortable, he said.
“I believe in conservation,” Garry said. Nothing goes down the garbage disposal. All vegetative material goes to the worms and everything else to the chickens. The couple recycles and is very careful with their environment. Water is particularly treasured with rainwater off the roof stored in barrels for later use.
A new garden area was established a year and a half ago. It is a memory garden dedicated to Sam, their late daughter, who asked for a white garden with daisies, lilies and tulips. It will be overflowing with love this spring.
Nancy does a lot of floral design. One of Garry’s contributions was to build her a potting bench for her design work. An adjacent potting shed holds a coterie of tools, vessels and assorted gardening doodads. Many of her floral projects are inspired by her volunteer activities, such as the Morro Bay Art Center. Some of the ferns and flowers are specifically grown for arranging.
Several New Zealand tea trees (leptospermum scoparium) dot the property. They are tall and open, which speaks to their age.
At the back of the lot along the fence line little would grow so Nancy uses potted plants to add color to that area. The entire location was enhanced tremendously and brightened when an asphalt driveway the length of the house was removed and replaced with a textured concrete driveway in tones of pink. Today the driveway is lined with paperwhite narcissus, but when they finish blooming it will be time for the dahlias to flaunt their exotic blossoms. They are also great cutting flowers.
The front yard features an artfully pruned fir tree that sprouts up above the hedge and creates an interesting silhouette. A trio of white birch trees is admired by Izzy, the watch cat, who may just be admiring the bird’s nest nestled near the top of the canopy.
Sculptures of woodland creatures such as bunnies, bears, birds and garden gnomes bring a smile.
Lantana and rockrose, both reliable bloomers, do some of the heavy lifting. Nancy searches for drought-tolerant solutions that aren’t all succulents.
The couple is excited about their next project — building a shed made from recycled materials, such as old windows and doors.
Izzy isn’t permitted to have cat visitors because the garden is a bird sanctuary. However, he doesn’t seem to mind because Garry’s lap is Izzy’s sanctuary.
This garden may be viewed on Sunday, April 30, from noon to 5 p.m., when the Morro Bay Branch of the American Association of University Women holds its annual Garden Tour from noon to 5 p.m. Six gardens will be on the self-guiding tour in Morro Bay, Los Osos and Cayucos.