Home & Garden

The Williams garden: A little piece of country in Atascadero

Coral bells are a perfect match for the red shutters of the house.
Coral bells are a perfect match for the red shutters of the house. The Tribune

After spending 20 years in the Pacific Northwest, Californians Joanie Williams and her husband wanted to return to the North County and build a little home in the country.

Joanie needed room for their horses while still being near town for her real estate work. In 2003 they found an unusual 4-acre pie-shaped lot in Atascadero with oak trees, a sloping drainage area and a view of passing trains. It was perfect.

They immediately planted a dozen trees, constructed a shop/guest cottage from plans found on the Internet and finalized the house design. With previous home-building experience, they began work on their traditional country home with a covered porch in 2004, contracting and doing much of the labor themselves. Williams built an attractive round rail fence around the entire lot, and for the first few years before landscaping, their horses roamed free on the property.

Front yard landscaping finally started in January 2008. Their friend, Master Gardener Ed Gutzmann, helped them choose plants suitable for North County that would coordinate with their house style and colors. “Being from the Northwest, we didn’t know what grew here. Ed went with us to a wholesale nursery and we filled the whole pickup truck with plants,” Joanie Williams said.

Gutzmann placed the plants in their selected locations, and for the next few weeks, the Williams planted them. It was quite a project, as their soil was mostly rock-hard shale.

They planted Japanese maples, flowering plum trees and barberry for red tones, which matched the shutters on the farmhouse and shop. Drought tolerant lavenders, sage, fescue and society garlic brought gray tones to the palette, which blended with the horizontal siding of the house.

To keep water usage to a minimum, the Williams planted a small lawn between the curving driveway and the house, just enough to capture the sense of a lawn without a big water bill to maintain it. Walkways along the lawn were lined with an abundance of cheery Coral bells, reminiscent of a former time.

The result of the carefully selected foliage colors creates a sense of order and stability between landscape and buildings. When driving by the property, the viewer knows that someone loves this yard and tends it meticulously. The Williams do all of their own yard work first thing in the morning and are constantly adding new plants and trees they find at Bay Laurel Nursery and Home Depot.

Their next project will be the backyard between the house and the little barn, which houses “Smooch,” the quarter horse, “Honey,” the old pony, and “Peanut,” the little donkey. They get exercise running in the sloping gully, which has several old oaks providing shade.

“This is a perfect place for us, our little place in the country. We’re only three minutes from 101 and five minutes from the riverbed for riding,’’ said Joanie Williams. “We love to sit on the front porch and watch the trains go by. When we hear the train whistle, it feels like we’ve gone back in time.”

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune