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Yard Sail: A little garden by the sea

Carrie Davison's charming beach garden is divided into public and private sections by a picket fence with welcoming entry gates in the center.
Carrie Davison's charming beach garden is divided into public and private sections by a picket fence with welcoming entry gates in the center. The Tribune

Eleven years ago, Carrie Davison knew two things: She knew she wanted to relocate to the Central Coast from Southern California to pursue her teaching career, and she knew she wanted to buy a house on one of the wide older streets leading to the ocean in Shell Beach.

She found the house first, and rented it out while she waited for the job. She was fortunate to eventually be hired as a teacher for the blind for San Luis Obispo County schools.

It was a good thing that it was Davison who purchased the classic fixer-upper, a former boathouse-turned-beach cottage, as it needed someone young and energetic with an eye for design to bring it to life. The original owners, who had a home on one lot, built the boathouse on a second lot next door. With tall ceilings, it was just big enough for their sailboat during the early years. In the 1970s the family converted it to a simple summer cottage. Davison purchased it from the 90-year-old original owners.

The flat-fronted boathouse didn’t look much like the Craftsman-style bungalow that she had been longing for. She showed local architect Greg Soto her collection of magazine “idea” photos, and he figured out a way to add 12 feet and a porch onto the front of the 22-footwide structure in order to create the look of a California bungalow.

With the addition complete, Davison went to work on the front yard, which consisted of one pine tree and grass. She had learned to love gardening from both of her grandmothers, and she was eager to express her interest and delight in color and texture in a free-spirited and whimsical garden.

Her first task was to remove the tough kikuyu grass that is prevalent in the area. “I removed it by hand, one bed at a time,” she said.

She recycled the used brick from an old porch to create a patio surrounded by planting beds. Then she started planting, using the trial-and-error method, buying plants she liked, anywhere she found them. “I tended to buy one plant, see if it thrived, and then bought three more,” she said.

With no backyard, she realized the deep front yard would need to serve as both private and public areas. She accomplished this by adding a white picket fence to separate the two spaces, with double swinging gates under a central rose arbor to welcome visitors to the private patio. She lined the white fence with gardenias on the inside and a variety of taller shrubs and flax on the street side. There was still plenty of room for a public garden between the fence and the street.

“The gardens just sort of evolved, section by section,” she said.

She combined plant selections with rocks and interesting finds from antique stores and garage sales to form focal points of high visual interest. The colorful vignettes create a sense of energy and surprise throughout the garden.

Davison found an old small boat for $50 that be came the centerpiece of her street-side garden. Overflowing with a multitude of tightly packed blooming plants, she named the timeworn skiff Yard Sail. This whimsical name symbolizes the unifying theme that the unusual garden art, along with the house, were all formerly “something else.”

The comfortable private patio garden is now alive with color, texture and sound. Pots of succulents accent the perennial plants, several wind chimes react to the ocean breeze and two blue Coolaroo sailshaped overhead triangles provide shade.

“This is a wonderful place to sit and relax after a day of teaching,’’ she said. “I’m so glad I came here — nice atmosphere, nice climate and nice neighbors!”

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