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How this Atascadero woman created a fruit-filled garden that’s colorful and easy to care for

Violet bottle brush attracts bees in Cathy Van Orman’s Atascadero garden.
Violet bottle brush attracts bees in Cathy Van Orman’s Atascadero garden. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Cathy Van Orman is a very busy lady.

The week I visited her garden she was getting ready to fly to Hawaii for yet another garden-related event. If she isn’t jet setting off somewhere, she is traveling to one of her many garden club functions.

Cathy is the past president of the Paso Robles Multi Flora Club and current district director of the Central Coast Garden Club. The latter organization represents more than seven garden clubs in the Montana de Oro District, which includes Cayucos, Lompoc, Los Osos and San Luis Obispo.

Cathy, who’s in her late 70s, wasn’t always a gardener.

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Cathy Van Orman’s Atascadero home boasts a spacious backyard. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

When she moved to Atascadero in 2004, she wanted a large, low-maintenance garden with year-round color and fruit trees. (She preserves more than 70 pints of jam each year.) Never really having the space or knowledge to garden at that scale before, Cathy recruited professional help.

Carol Gilman of Atascadero’s Bay Laurel Nursery drew up plans for the backyard and helped with plant names and placement.

As Cathy worked on her garden, she wanted to learn more. She became involved in garden clubs in 2008.

As you walk out to the backyard, there is a large garden shed decorated with vining wisteria that houses all of Cathy’s tools and a potting bench for future plantings.

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California poppies reach for the sun in Cathy Van Orman’s Atascadero garden. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Artichokes growing behind the shed lead to raised beds with tomato plants, chives and thyme. Pear, pluot, plum, cherry, peach and almond trees finish the edible portion of the garden.

Pink crape myrtle and African sumac add color, greenery and height to section off this portion of the garden. Rhaphiolepsis (Pink Dancer) surrounds an Atlas cedar at the back of the property.

Plum verbena and juniper (Blue Chip) grow under a purple-leaf plum tree (Krauter Vesuvius), leading you to a hammock under a shady arbor covered with table grapes. Noble privets grow along the fence line behind the arbor to give it privacy.

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A Japanese pear tree blossoms in Cathy Van Orman’s Atascadero garden. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Pavers lead from the arbor and meander among purple iris, daisies and more verbena towards the house, separating into two paths along the lawn. A fountain trickles nearby.

Apple, pineapple guava, pomegranate and smoke trees, plus an olive tree, are welcome surprises as you wander in the garden. Cathy added a spruce tree from a past Christmas celebration, as well as a bay leaf bush that she can use to spice her cooking.

Shrubs including dwarf red flax, boxwood, lime smokebush and two kinds of juniper (Blue Chip and Tabletop Blue) help divide areas into interesting hidden gardens.

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Roses flower on the edges of Cathy Van Orman’s Atascadero garden. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Groundcovers vinca minor and mother of thyme fill in any bare spaces among the pavers and shrubs. Bright orange California poppies have volunteered around the yard, with ruby-red bottle brush and hibiscus adding additional color.

On her back porch, Cathy has a large container garden featuring a Meyer lemon tree, a lime tree, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, mint, parsley, chard and spinach.

Cathy has a gardener help with the pruning and lawn care, but still does most of the plant care herself. Even with her busy schedule, her garden is beautiful and colorful.

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A fountain adds sound and whimsy to Cathy Van Orman’s Atascadero garden. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Tips from the gardener

  • Start with good soil.

  • Consider your water use. Choose low-water, drought-tolerant plants.

  • Manage height levels. Keep shrubs at a height that works for you for easy care.

  • When leaves start falling, start pruning. You don’t need to wait for winter.

  • Try tomatoes. They’re easy to grow in raised beds or containers and need minimal care.

Tami Reece lives in Paso Robles and has been gardening and preserving its bounty for 30 years. Email her if you know of a unique, beautiful garden, garden show or celebration at rosepetalranch96@gmail.com. Please allow a minimum of six weeks from the event.