Home & Garden

Restoring a classic

Linda Gray garden in San Luis Obispo. Front yard of main house.
David Middlecamp
Linda Gray garden in San Luis Obispo. Front yard of main house. David Middlecamp 4-23-2010 The Tribune

Desiring to live near her three children and four grandchildren, Linda Gray decided in 2004 to inhabit a house she owned in San Luis Obispo’s Mill Street Historic District.The house had been a rental property since 1993, known to Cal Poly students as the “Pink Party House.” The property also has two small rental cottages at the back of the lot.

Linda’s first priority was to completely renovate the well-used house, from a new roof to foundation work. While updating plumbing and appliances indoors, she took care to maintain the house’s charming historic character, reusing instead of replacing the kitchen cabinets, for example.

Once the house was livable, she turned to the neglected garden, aided by designer Katy Young of Growing Gardens, and Gaye McNeil. The front lawn was removed, replaced by ground cover and roses. Between the entrance walk and the driveway, a dry riverbed was created, planted with three red birch trees, native plants and iris. Linda welcomes California poppies and the other self-seeders there.

In the back yard, a deteriorating enclosure wall and concrete sidewalks were removed. After french drains were installed, a tall wooden fence was erected. Simple trellises of hog wire attached to both sides of the fence support both vegetable and floral vines.

The broken concrete was stacked to create raised beds for vegetables in the sunny area farthest from the house. An inconspicuous plastic container holds compost, ripening into garden soil. In addition to weeds and vegetable scraps, Linda composts shredded paper and coffee grounds.

A rose-covered arbor and plantings, accented by Linda’s hand-painted birdhouses, separate the vegetable garden from a flagstone patio that was laid by Young. A barbeque and an umbrella-shaded picnic table are just a few steps down from the back porch. Solar lights glow after dark. An adjacent garden shed from Costco keeps tools and potting materials handy.

As dedicated as she is to her garden, it’s not Linda’s only passion. She also devotes hours working in a large room on the top floor of her house. Her computer desk sits before a window that overlooks the street below.

But most of the space is occupied by a large central worktable that is covered with craft materials. On one side, a sewing machine is surrounded by fabric pieces, sorted into stacks, destined to become quilts.

Across the table, assorted papers and miscellaneous decorative items will be assembled into unique greeting cards that she sells to help finance her quilt making materials.

Linda’s quilts won’t be sold — she makes them to cheer up hospitalized cancer patients because she understands what they are going through. A two-time cancer survivor herself, Linda has a conviction that her life was saved so that she could give hope to others. The quilts are her way to do that.

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