Home & Garden

Looking for gardening tips? This North County tour offers plenty of inspiration.

A border of yellow calylophus and artichokes leads to the colorful bed of mixed perennials at the Pillsbury home in Atascadero.
A border of yellow calylophus and artichokes leads to the colorful bed of mixed perennials at the Pillsbury home in Atascadero.

A spring garden tour benefiting the Adult Day Center in Paso Robles features five distinct gardens — each showcasing different ways to create a functional outdoor living area.

One property demonstrates how to create usable dining and view patios in a steep hillside setting.

A landscape on a flat lot demonstrates how to provide children’s play areas while maintaining a beautiful garden scene.

At another family home, a large side yard with a view was transformed into an inviting outdoor dining room shaded by a vine-covered arbor.

At still another, what started as an undeveloped two-acre downhill plot of clay has developed into an organic park and garden of fountains, trees and a sustainable natural habitat for both humans and animals.

That home in the Atascadero hills, owned by Fred and Susan Miller, presented quite the landscaping challenge.

Covered with a canopy of oaks, open to the wildlife that roams the hill, and with very little flat space, the Millers knew traditional landscaping was out of the question. They chose to blend in with their surroundings, becoming a National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Wildlife Habitat, providing the four basic habitat elements of food, water, cover and places to raise young.

These criteria meant that the Millers would not fence their yard, they would provide water, and any plants would have to be deer-tolerant.

Starting at the top of their sloping property, the Millers created a natural, rock-lined streambed with a series of waterfalls babbling along the way. Flagstone pathways wind their way up the hill, over the stream on an arched bridge to viewing decks with spectacular vistas.

In a small, fenced area near the house, the Millers grow vegetables in raised beds and enjoy evening meals outdoors on warm evenings with the sound of another waterfall flowing into a large koi pond.

In contrast to the Miller garden is one that I created with my husband, Norman, on a large flat lot in Atascadero.

If you love color, you’ll enjoy the bright orange and yellow display of the Judy Garland rose garden and a wide variety of blooming perennials and vines. Walkways — which also serve as kids’ bike racetracks — provide access around the large lawn to view the perennial beds.

What we find most enchanting in May, however, is our iris garden that stretches 100 feet along the back of the property. We bought ‘Tall Bearded’ iris rhizomes many years ago from Scott’s Iris Gardens in Atascadero, where Jack and Bonne Scott hybridized their own varieties of iris.

Although the Scotts are now retired, their magnificent creations still bloom throughout the country, and have been separated and expanded in gardens like ours. The prize-winning ‘Poly Gone’ and ‘All in Stitches’ are among those that will be at their peak in early May.

Our garden, which mimics our Mission-inspired home, features a custom-built replica of the wishing well at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, along with a romantic walk-through grape arbor, a hacienda patio, a bell tower and mounds of flowers in planters along an inviting lap pool.

All of the homeowners on the spring garden tour are showcasing their gardens in order to support the Adult Day Center of Paso Robles, which is operated by the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County.

Founded in 2004, the center is the area’s only nonprofit, full-time day facility for older adults. It provides socially stimulating and therapeutic activities for older adults experiencing cognitive difficulties and memory loss.

Connie Pillsbury is a former garden writer for The Tribune.

Spring Garden Tour: If you go

11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, May 7

$20 per person

Buy tickets at gardentour.capslo.org.

You will be mailed a map of the tour after purchasing your tickets and may start the tour at any of the featured gardens in Atascadero or Paso Robles. Wristbands will be issued at your first tour stop.

Proceeds benefit the Adult Day Center in Paso Robles, a program of Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County.