Fred and Carol Athey built their house in Atascadero back in 1978 on one of E.G. Lewis’s original orchards. An apricot tree from the original orchard, planted in the early 1900s, still grows in the front yard.
The main focus of the property that drew the Athenys to build here is the amazing view from their backyard.
A pergola on the back deck faces east. Through the massive oak trees you can see across the valley as the sun rises from the mountains each morning.
Fred Athey says he does not have a style but grows what he likes, mostly edible plants and dwarf fruit trees.
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Most of his garden is in the front yard with a few potted tomatoes, rosemary plants and a gorgeous Christmas cactus on the back deck.
His front yard is terraced. Walkways were built using broken concrete that Fred and his dad hauled from Atascadero State Hospital when it was remodeled in the 1980s. Pebbles were then brought in to be used as a mulch.
All of Fred’s plants are protected by chicken wire cages to fend off deer and rabbits.
He planted belladonna lilies, also known as naked lady lilies, along the roadway, which offers a stunning display in late summer.
Toyon bushes, crepe myrtle, daffodils and old man cactus add variety among the edible vegetation, as does a volunteer yucca. A small wishing well with goldfish is part of the hardscape.
One of Fred’s prize trees is an original Johnny Appleseed tree, which Fred propagated in 2000 from seed that he purchased from Urbana University in Ohio. He has eight other apple varieties, including Jonathan, columnar and crab apples.
Also in his landscape are peach, plum, orange and lemon trees, as well as artichokes and sunflowers. Large blackberries grow at the side of the house.
But the star of Fred’s garden is his vineyard. He has several rows of syrah grapes and has become a master home vintner.
Testing the sugar content before harvest, he ferments and bottles his own wine, at times mixing with other grapes for different varieties. Fred won a silver award from the California State Fair in 1999; he’s also won two silver awards from the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles.
Fred even built a climate-controlled room to store his fermentation tanks and storage area.
Fred and Carol’s garden is an exemplary case in point of what you can do with a small terraced front yard that others may have thought unusable. They’ve turned into a thriving edible landscape and an award-winning vineyard.
5 tips from a gardener
Plant dwarf trees. That makes pruning and harvesting manageable.
Use a large amount of mulch. It retain moisture and keep down weeds.
Use low-water plants in your landscape where water is inaccessible.
Use drip irrigation instead of overhead watering. You’ll conserve water and get less weeds.
Do not water at the base of trees. Use drip irrigation at the outer edge of the tree canopy.