On a hill within walking distance of the old village of Arroyo Grande, Rick and Merrilee Donald have created a colorful and playful garden around their 700-square-foot 1947 cottage.
Purchased 12 years ago as a rental, the house and yard were typical and generic, with lawns and ivy. But all of that changed when the Donalds decided to make it their home last October after it became vacant.
At that time, they were soaking up southwest culture in their 3,800- square-foot dream home in Sandia, N.M. Merrilee, a weaver and fiber artist, enjoyed the rich textile heritage of the area, while Rick, a retired landscape gardener, created a southwest garden on their acreage.
The Donalds’ retirement had evolved from selling their family home on a half-acre in Nipomo to resettling in New Mexico on three acres at 6,500 feet elevation. But the arrival of their first grandson, Bodie, in Grover Beach changed their minds and hearts about where they really wanted to live.
In Arroyo Grande, their small house full of colorful quilts, a weaving loom and artwork extends into the yard, where flowers, unique sculptures, wire art and whimsical pieces become part of the home, creating visual variety and smiles for the visitor.
Brightly colored Iceland poppies line the walkway and the new cottage fence, while roses, herbs, succulents, true geraniums and African daisies fill the newly mulched flower-beds. A metal art three-piece southwestern band livens up one corner and keeps the dog out of the garden beds.
The original fence had become overgrown with ivy, which wound its way up to the roof and crept into vents and windows. Rick removed the ivy, installed a new roof and replaced the windows, bringing in more light and opening up the views of the mesa and hills to the west.
“After mowing lawns for 35 years, the first thing I do in a house is remove the lawn: It saves water and provides space for planting roses,” Rick says.
Rick has been interested in roses since high school, when he worked as a salesman in a nursery. He concentrates on the color of roses, while Merilee’s interest is the scents. They order unusual roses from catalogues and go “nursery prowling” for a weekend outing. Their favorites include Nipomo Nursery, Island View Nursery and Seaside Gardens in Carpinteria, La Sumida in Goleta and Ron’s Nursery in Grover Beach.
As for maintenance and care of roses, Rick recommends high-pressure water for aphids and mildew, if you catch it early enough. If mildew persists, he advises using a systemic product. He keeps 1 to 2 inches of mulch around the base of the roses, and fertilizes every four to six weeks. On Jan. 1, rain or shine, Rick prunes his roses.
Merrilee likes to put succulents “wherever there’s a spot in the garden.” Her succulent cuttings come from friends in the Good Thymes Gardeners club. The club will be hosting an ‘Open Greenhouse’ event in Arroyo Grande on April 17, in which the Donalds will participate.
The Donalds say they are “always outside, planting something.”
This week’s project includes the preparation and planting of a vegetable garden on terraced beds behind the house. Merrilee, half Italian, always has a “spaghetti garden” with tomatoes and basil. For Bodie, their grandson, they are planting 100-pound pumpkins and sunflowers.
As they say with a smile, “We’d rather be in a small house with a sunny garden near our family than far away in a big house. ... After all, what really matters?”