Tour Jim and Deborah Whitson’s ocean-view garden in Los Osos
When visitors pass through Jim and Deborah Whitson’s garden gate in Los Osos, they are overwhelmed. Such unexpected beauty can make a person feel as though they’ve stepped into the pages of Garden Design Magazine.
Textures abound as you step down the railroad tie stairs — smooth concrete, rough aggregate, granite-topped benches, patches of lawn, beds of hardy ground covers and upright sprays of elephant food (portulacaria afra). There’s no way to absorb it all at once.
Handsome un-thirsty ground covers include variegated ceanothus, manzanita, rosemary and clumps of aeonium succulents. A variety of clean, well-behaved Australian shrubs and trees add year-round texture, color and interest.
A joyful metal sculpture by Jeff Thies of Thiessen Design in San Luis Obispo reaches for the sky amid a ring of blue senecio mandraliscae (blue chalk fingers). This focal point is one of several large custom sculptures scattered throughout the property.
It is obvious that both Jim and Deborah Whitson are artistic and apply their talents in the garden. Jim Whitson enjoys working with wood as well as concrete; his custom-made pergola is no dainty effort. This substantial structure presides over the large, multitiered backyard.
Deborah Whitson is a thoughtful gardener. Her open air potting shed offers a view back to the garden, and she has used it to pot more than 500 tiny succulents for visitors to take home on Garden Tour day. Favorite garden sayings hang on the walls of the shed: “The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth, one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.”
The low resonating tone of a brass gong fills the garden and the spirit of anyone within earshot. The sculptural arch holding the gong was made with local reclaimed wood by Jim Whitson. A second Whitson sculpture from reclaimed wooden spools appears to float on a sea of green. This is such a clever, artistic use of what might have ended up in a landfill.
Stamped concrete paths curve among aeoniums “kiwi” and “sunburst” and cotyledon while sculptural hose guards protect them from garden hoses. A turquoise birdbath is complemented by a leucodendron with orange accents. Brightly colored, whimsical glass sculptures enhance plants throughout the garden.
Looking back toward the pergola, an open slatted wooden garden bench is flanked by two large glazed pots in a terra cotta shade each sporting several cacti, commonly known as Mexican fence posts.
Native oak and manzanita are a welcome backdrop to the garden, with views of Morro Rock and the Pacific just beyond. Compost and worms are essential in Los Osos where inert dirt is the norm. The impressive compost area is simple. Concrete blocks topped by reclaimed shower doors, which keep raccoons and other critters out and hungry worms in, make short work of composting and create the black gold so necessary to the Whitsons’ gardening effort. Meander through the manzanita forest preserve before coming to a special treat.
One of the Whitsons’ sculptures had a very organic beginning. A large manzanita died, leaving its tall limbs stretching upward as a permanent symbol of the wilderness beyond. Close by a sign reads: “Please don’t feed the bear.” You can pat him for luck, though.
When Paula Zima’s bear sculpture was vandalized at the north entrance to Los Osos, he was auctioned as a fundraiser to buy a replacement. The Whitsons entered the winning bid and a crane moved him into a wooded thicket, with his nose buried in the shrubbery. Naked ladies (amaryllis belladonna) grow close by.
Several varieties of proteas are scattered throughout the garden. The entrance features a remarkable leucodendron “jester,” with its splashy pink/red/yellow and green-striped foliage playing off the vibrant coral blooms of an impressively large leucospermum (pincushion bush). Near the manzanita sculpture, the large lavender blooms of Pride of Madeira (echium fastuosum) contrast with a Cal Poly variety of pincushion with an unusual combination of blooms ranging from yellow to red.
Sydney, the labradoodle, meanders past Cosmo, a painted bear, a contented pig bench and a helmet fashioned into a critter before ambling down the steps into the back garden. Whimsy, art and natural beauty are equal parts of this stunning display, but Sydney just longs to chase rabbits that aren’t welcome here. Butterflies are, though, and a milkweed plot is planted especially for the monarchs.
The Whitson garden is one of five on the Morro Bay Branch American Association of University Women Garden Tour, which will be held from noon to 5 p.m. April 30. All this, and a cookie, too, for just $10. How can you miss?
Tips for proteas
▪ They need fast-draining soil.
▪ Do not use phosphorus fertilizer on them.
▪ They like full sun exposure best.
▪ Colors include yellow, orange, red and pink.
▪ Bloom time ranges from November to May depending on variety.
▪ Long-lasting floral arrangements are a breeze.
Garden tour: If you go
Jim and Deborah Whitson’s spectacular garden in Los Osos is one of five gardens featured on this year’s Morro Bay Branch AAUW Garden Tour, which will be held from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 30. Now in its 31st year, the self-guiding tour shows gardens in Morro Bay, Los Osos and Cayucos.
The tour supports local students through Tech Trek Science and Math Camp, Morro Bay High School scholarships and essay contest, Cuesta College nursing scholarship and educational foundation scholarships.