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Low-water Atascadero garden on two levels offers year-round color

Stroll through the Tuohey-Mote garden in Atascadero

The Tuohey-Mote garden in Atascadero is an acre of drought-tolerant design on two levels that offers a variety of color throughout the year.
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The Tuohey-Mote garden in Atascadero is an acre of drought-tolerant design on two levels that offers a variety of color throughout the year.

In 2000, Dave and Maria Tuohey-Mote moved to Atascadero to their unique home on a hill. Whereas most homes face the street, their home faced their neighbors, separated by their driveway and a field full of weeds.

The previous owners used the field for livestock but the Tuohey-Motes felt they had a unique opportunity to build a beautiful low-water garden.

In 2003 they consulted Melanie Blakenship from Nature’s Touch in Templeton and she advised mulch was the first step. With eight truckloads of mulch for the first year, many more loads were to follow.

Once the garden was mulched, the whole ecology of the garden changed. Dave Tuohey-Mote installed stairs and a winding figure-eight path that runs from the top of the garden to the bottom. Some of his many plant choices include yarrow, bush lupine, pink amaryllis, lavender, many varieties of salvias and his pride and joy, Wolly Blue Curl.

Tuohey-Mote said Melanie Blakenship was very helpful in suggesting plant choices but he also now looks elsewhere for more variety in his garden. When he is hiking or traveling he will notice low-water plants and try to obtain those plants to add diversity.

The trees in this garden are not just used for privacy along the fence line. They are used to add interest, texture and color. A beautiful golden Flannel Tree separating his property from his neighbor’s was in bloom during a recent visit and radiated a gold brilliance.

Several other trees including pine, oak, and elm were already on the property and sprout new seedlings — helping with landscaping. Tuohey-Mote will then dig up and place these trees throughout the garden to a more attractive location. Some of his plants that seem to self-propagate quite regularly are Lambs Ear, Euphorbia and California Poppies, which he will also relocate if needed.

Another jewel in this garden is an offshoot from a Century Plant from Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles that was given to Tuohey-Mote 10 years ago.

The garden is planted so color is staggered from January through November. Bare Naked Ladies, a variety of Amaryllis, adds color as well as lilacs, pink and white rock roses and California Fuchsias.

Deer fencing is used around the outside of the garden as well as continual gopher control. The only drip system is along the outside fence, and rain water is collected during the winter to help any newly planted summer landscape and also to supplement the three-tiered waterfall on their patio. The patio adjacent to their house had a major remodel in 2012 when a limb from a massive oak tree growing along their driveway fell in the backyard.

The Tuohey-Motes again saw this as an opportunity and removed the old, rotting wooden deck and put in a two-level stone patio, a waterfall and barbecue area. A torii gate was built from the old decking and is now the entrance to a relaxing, serene area. During the summer months the waterfall is covered with a patio sail to help with evaporation and does not run during the hottest hours of the day.

In the tiered wall alongside the waterfall, low water plants add color during the year.

With patio lights hanging from the trees and the soft sound of the waterfall, summer is the best time to enjoy the Tuohey-Motes’ new backyard barbecue area. Tuohey-Mote has taken great care in the placement of his plants to create a natural garden, with the winding path establishing secluded areas with surprises of color and an occasional pig statue “rooting” in the mulch.

Tami Reece is a 30-year gardener and food preserver living in Paso Robles. Email her if you know of a unique and beautiful garden at rosepetalranch96@gmail.com.