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Garden oasis at Casa Pau Hana Olive Farm in Paso Robles

In the Gladdis garden, a shade pergola and brickwork by Robin Gladdis provides a conversational seating area.
In the Gladdis garden, a shade pergola and brickwork by Robin Gladdis provides a conversational seating area. The Tribune

Combine 10 acres in Paso Robles with the creative minds and hardworking hands of Nick and Robin Gladdis, and the result is a garden oasis at their Casa Pau Hana Olive Farm.

Nick and Robin, consummate ‘do-it-yourselfers,’ purchased the flat, empty property in 1997 after relocating from Maui, where they had lived for 13 years. They began planting olive trees while the shop and home were being constructed under their hands-on daily supervision. “We found the design in Sunset Magazine and altered it to suit California’s climate and our needs,” Nick says.

Robin, an oncology nurse at the time, did all of the interior tile work and outside stonework herself.

“Being a cancer nurse, the tile and stone projects provided me with a creative alternative to an emotionally demanding career,” she states. She used extra concrete to make freeform stepping-stones, into which she pressed various leaves to form organic patterns.

She also planted “everything green” in the two-acre landscaped gardens around the home, in keeping with their shared life motto, “You can do it!”

The first tree Robin planted on the bare grassland was a willow, which now shades a playful seating area near their hillside fruit orchard.

Dozens of trees now define several different garden areas, each designed for their sun orientation and use. For example, the partially shady courtyard, site of a son’s wedding, is home to an ivy covered arbor, Japanese maples, jasmine, azaleas and gardenias, while a wide sunny lawn area for their granddaughter is bordered by ‘Purple Robe’ locust, Italian cypress, sycamores, crepe myrtle, and flowering plums.

Nick, recently retired from Radiology Associates of San Luis Obispo, was insistent on two garden additions, a bocce ball court with wisteria covered trellises at each end, and an outdoor wood-fired pizza oven. “Passionate about pizza,” he says, he spent eight months building the oven in the courtyard. He grows special pizza tomatoes, San Marzano style, along with many other vegetables and herbs in large raised beds near the kitchen door, and even drives to South San Francisco to buy his Caputo Tipo (00) Italian flour for his Neapolitan pizza.

Friends and houseguests not only enjoy the bocce ball and pizza, but they can view the gardens and olive ranch from more than 14 different seating areas throughout the property. Robin says, “We planned for many of these spots, as we knew that as we grew older here, we would appreciate them.”

In order to make their property as sustainable and self-sufficient as possible, they installed photovoltaic panels, which produce 75 percent of their power needs.

Their 1,900 olive trees on seven acres use drip irrigation from the well, and they personally trim the trees and use a chipper to create mulch for moisture preservation and weed control. Doing all of their own labor, the Gladdises harvest the olives, take them to a local presser, then bottle it, cap it, and label it. For them, producing something with their own hands is satisfying -- and fun!

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