The whimsy of Melissa Brown's cat-and-mouse mailbox belies the gorgeous, lush and sophisticated sloping backyard garden she's created along the banks of Ashland Creek. It's hard to imagine that the beginnings of this rural oasis was a flag lot, an old cottage with an assortment of lilacs, alders and cottonwood trees and a steep back lot which dropped down to the creek.
"I bought the property in 1999 when I still lived in California, and started work on building both the house and garden in 2001," Melissa recalls. At first she didn't have a vision of what she wanted, having only designed one other garden. "I did a lot of reading and research about garden design, weather zones and various plants before I got started with my planting and just took it step by step," she adds.
Excavations for the house and garden unearthed 55 truckloads of boulders (see sidebar). Next, a path was sculpted from the house down to the creek, after which the soil was amended for planting and an irrigation system was installed.
"I started planting in the winter so I could see what the garden would look like at the bleakest time of year, and tried to create interest with the foliage colors and plant textures available during the winter season," Melissa explains. From there, she moved through each season and added plants as they became available, either at local nurseries or through catalogues, ultimately adding more than 100 trees, bushes, and flowering perennials. She only uses annual flowers in pots and planters.
Melissa says shewanted to include plants that would attract butterflies, bees and birds to her garden, adding that the property is on a deer corridor so everything but the rose garden is open to them. "I figure that they were here first, so through trial and error, I've found some plants that we can share," Melissa says with a smile, adding that she enjoys seeing these lovely creatures clattering about on her deck, peering into the windows, and napping under the trees.
In addition to the great variety of plants and trees, Melissa has created several garden theme "rooms" at different points, lending even more texture to the garden. The rose garden is off to one side of the house, with a shade garden, a fire pit garden, a hammock garden down by the creek, a pine garden, and an Alice garden (designed with some Alice in Wonderland statuary pieces). Then there's what Melissa calls her brazen hussy garden. "I've grouped all the orange, red, and purple flowers, shrubs and trees there, including a persimmon, an orange canna, and an orange-red holly tree," Melissa says.
Visible from inside the house and situated in the pine garden is a dramatic bronze fountain with nymphs, fish, and waves that Melissa found in Salt Lake City. Other garden ornaments include a custom designed iron trellis, a covered bird-feeding station in the rose garden, and stepping plates in the Alice garden, all designed by local metal artist Cheryl Garcia (who also created Melissa's cat-and-mouse mail box).
"After doing some research about this property, I discovered that it had once belonged to Native Americans, so I wanted to respect that heritage and honor this site as I designed the garden and house," Melissa says, adding that she considers herself only the most recent caretaker of the property. "And I knew I would have a wonderful garden, but just didn't know when I started working on it that the garden would become what it is today."