Home & Garden

Homegrown gardeners

Terry Connor is a rarity in this mobile society.

He’s lived in one neighborhood for most of his life. Terry and his wife Stephanie live directly across the street from his childhood home near Cal Poly. He moved away after graduating from the university, but returned in 1978 to help organize San Luis Obispo’s pioneering waste management system, SORT (Separation of Office and Residential Trash).

By then, he and Stephanie had children. With both parents working, it was convenient for their sons to go to their grandmother’s house after school. Now it’s equally convenient to be available for her.

Despite limited leisure time and poor soil (clay over serpentine rock), the Connors have transformed their 75-foot-by-125-foot lot into a charming garden. Beneath a neighbor’s massive live oak tree that shades a large portion of the backyard, they built a raised bed of concrete blocks and laid a patio of recycled bricks.

Azaleas and asparagus ferns grow directly in the raised bed, but most of the plants are in containers that can be moved easily. Hanging pots of Christmas cactus and Easter cactus are suspended from the oak’s sturdy branches, and containers of succulents with trailing foliage grace the tall wood fence.

In the sunny area, a generous U-shaped deck was built of Trex, when that composite material was new to the market. It has performed as advertised for durability and easy care. Built like a stage, two steps up from ground level, the deck incorporates a built-in spa, a hanging swing, a rocking chair, and a table and chairs near the off-deck barbecue.

A low wood fence was built along one side yard 20 years ago, in part, as a dog run. However, one dog persistently jumped out, so a metal trellis was added. A trumpet vine, planted at one end to soften its appearance, now covers the entire 40-foot-long trellis.

On the opposite side yard, the houses are separated by a narrow planting strip and the neighbors’ driveway. Stephanie calls it their “good neighbor garden,” as they both can enjoy Stephanie’s large container plants there, and Stephanie has easy access to help her neighbor with garden tasks.

The neighbor’s carport wall serves as a backdrop for special container plants and garden accents. One orchid — Stephanie calls it the “Jim Nabors orchid” — was acquired 40 years ago after the actor moved to Hawaii. She doesn’t remember how long she’s had the large staghorn ferns that hang nearby.

Stephanie realized long ago that propagating plants is an economical way to expand her succulent collection and have plants to give away. She enjoys propagation so much that she sometimes accumulates too many plants. Last May, Stephanie and a gardening friend held a yard sale of plants. She says “preparing for it was a lot of work, but it was fun, and so successful that we might do it again — sometime.”