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Gardens of absolute delight

Susan Silva-Treadwell's garden in Grover Beach. photo Jayson Mellom 4-23-10
Susan Silva-Treadwell's garden in Grover Beach. photo Jayson Mellom 4-23-10 The Tribune

Planning for their retirement, Lee Treadwell and Susan Silva-Treadwell acquired two houses in Grover Beach, where two of their five sons had settled. When they retired, they moved from Tulare into one of those houses while renovating the second, which became their home in 2006.

The lot was steeply sloped, and almost barren. Terracing made the entire property usable. Now, retaining walls support planting beds that edge a lawn at the top level. A flagstone patio is level with the back door.

Planting beds flank the concrete steps that lead to the front door. At street-side, terraced beds are filled with iris and other flowering plants, including succulents, which provide winter color and food for wildlife.

The patch of grass was planted as a play area for their young grandchildren. However, the grassy area has decreased as the surrounding planting beds have widened because the grandchildren now find gardening more interesting than lawn games. Planting and harvesting their favorite vegetables and fruits is much more fun, they say.

The boysenberries that grow on a trellised, south-facing fence are everybody’s favorite fruit. They were transplanted as cuttings from their former home in Tulare, though Susan worried that they might not survive in the coastal climate.

To Susan’s gratification, the boysenberries have thrived, producing abundant berries and cuttings to give away every year. This year, Susan donated cuttings for the new sustainable demonstration garden that the Master Gardeners are planting in San Luis Obispo.

Susan became a Master Gardener in 2007, and is currently president of her local unit. She says she’s glad that her term will end soon; the former teacher much prefers gardening to administrative duties.

Susan’s garden demonstrates her absolute delight in gardening. There are visual treats everywhere, and the soil is so permeable that she can harvest potatoes bare-handed. Most beds contain a lively mix of vegetables and flowers. Susan explains that bright flowers attract pollinators, drawing them to find and pollinate the food plants.

One bed in the garden contains only flowers — it’s a literal “flower bed” planted within an antique metal bed frame. On the patio nearby, a seating arrangement of mismatched wooden chairs has been unified with bright paint and cushions. Susan believes in re-using and recycling, and their garden is furnished with thrift shop finds and street-side discards.

Collected containers are displayed on rustic and ingenious shelving. One whimsical unit was assembled from a discarded door and windows. Its shelves hold ceramic frogs with wide mouths, originally intended for kitchen scouring pads. Each frog has a fleshy sedum cutting as its tongue.

Susan’s motto is “if it holds soil, put a plant in it”. She rarely drills drainage holes in her “found” containers, preferring to water them frugally, just once a month. She has gained a reputation as a plant doctor. Friends bring dying plants to her, and she simply moves them to various locations until they recover.

Sharon Crawford is a freelance writer who lives in Los Osos.

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