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A disaster gives way to a dream garden in Cayucos

Take a tour of Valerie Powell's Cayucos garden

Valerie Powell's Cayucos property was carefully reworked to provide proper drainage for her yard. Her garden is part of the 31st annual Morro Bay Branch AAUW Garden Tour happening April 30, 2017.
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Valerie Powell's Cayucos property was carefully reworked to provide proper drainage for her yard. Her garden is part of the 31st annual Morro Bay Branch AAUW Garden Tour happening April 30, 2017.

It was a dark and stormy night seven years ago when Valerie Powell went downstairs near midnight and found mud and water sluicing into the basement. As she started bailing, she discovered why the price of her Cayucos home had seemed so reasonable when she and her husband bought it.

Talk about a money pit! “After the foundation was stabilized, the entire property was such a mess it looked like World War III here,” Powell said. One bright spot was a family of peacocks that moved in.

She had a lot of hardscape, retaining wall construction and permitting to do before putting any plants in. So she rolled up her sleeves and dived in.

Five years later…

When all the terracing, retaining walls and french drains were complete, there was little money left for plants, but she had effectively designed the hardscape so her late husband could maneuver around the upper and lower level gardens in his wheelchair. Five landscapers had told her this was impossible, so she hired Mark Ayers of Los Osos to take on the job. He had done several other jobs for her, and Power said they worked well together.

Friends and neighbors contributed a broad assortment of plants, and she bought small six-packs of annuals and perennials, which have filled in nicely and brought color to every level of her garden.

The steep corner lot with an easement is actually three lots, which allows several areas to be enjoyed. The lower entrance features two nearly everblooming Grevillea “Peaches and Cream.” An attractive red barked Arbutus “Marina” adds height and sculptural interest to the front garden. Hummingbirds love its bell-shaped flowers, and songbirds enjoy the resulting fruit.

Large boulders unearthed during construction serve as garden accents and do double duty as a retaining wall. A fern garden beneath the deck softens the entrance, while an ancient Indian mortar and pestle is nestled in a comfortable bed of white bacopa groundcover by the door.

There are driveways on both levels of the home. The upper driveway leads to a sun-kissed patio featuring a multi-tiered fountain. A large pink melaleuca fills the top corner, while grevillea, chondropetalum (cape rush), New Zealand flax and lavender soften the retaining walls and boulders. A low wrought-iron fence separates the property from the easement above.

Leucodendron laureolum (yellow tulip) and calendrinia spectabilis (rock purslane) with its bright purple blooms line the other side of the patio, shielding it from the small studio apartment behind the house. Pygmy date palms add a tropical note.

Lawns in both the front and back yards are not overly large. A Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolius) with multiple trunks welcomes birds to the back lawn.

This year’s drought-ending historical rains are testament to the well-designed multiple french drain systems built by Ayers.

Bright pots awaiting spring bring color to the deck. Comfortable seating enhances the spectacular ocean view. The owner looks out to sea.

“Everything I’ve done has been way better than my dreams,” Powell said.

Morro Bay Branch AAUW Garden Tour

This garden may be toured 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 to raise money for scholarships. Six gardens will be on the self-guiding tour in Morro Bay, Los Osos and Cayucos.

Tickets are $10 and are available at all Farm Supply stores, Coalesce Bookstore in Morro Bay and Volumes of Pleasure in Los Osos.