Always enchanting, Italio Garden in Medford

Always enchanting, Italio Garden in Medford

Baldassare Mineo's two-acre Medford garden never ceases to change and evolve. From the imposing "Mt. Halda" overlooking the sunlit koi wading pond, to shade filled front and side gardens where spring breezes are not only a current of plant movement, but introduce a cascade of antique-pink seed pods from the towering maples. Something is always happening in this garden.

This gardener drops Latin plant names into casual conversation with ease, since he's been involved in horticulture for decades. He still has a greenhouse full of interesting plants, but instead of rows and rows of 4-inch pots, now he's potting up arrangements that strike a personal chord. Rather than doting on the seedlings and starts that went into the nursery's catalog, Baldassare has more time to tend "Italio Garden" a name honoring his heritage.

With so many years of collecting, his garden is chock full of rare plants, some difficult to cultivate perennials and of course, plants that thrive in our Southern Oregon climate. Over the last few years, he's been refining the beds, arranging plants, varying bloom times, leaf size and texture.

The most recent hardscape addition to the garden is a wading pond. It's an addition to a pre-existing pond under "Mt. Halda," the 12-foot rock edifice that is home to plants from mountainous regions all over the world. Baldassare expanded the existing pond, with an area suitable for wading.

"It's a wonderful garden feature, and can be cleaned to variable degrees," says Baldassare. He prefers a natural pond look, with algae covered rocks which provides a food source for young fry. "Their mouths aren't big enough to eat fish food," he says. If you want to wade in without the goo, today's water cleaners are safe for plants and fish, though this involves more intensive work for the gardener.

He uses nothing but a decoy heron to deter visits by other big fishing birds, and it's "very effective," when moved every two weeks. Another deterrent is a heat-activated "water scarecrow." The heat sensor means it is still effective at night, when prowling mammals like raccoons come fishing. It works less well when temperatures reach 90 degrees and above, says Baldassare. His fish do have a few caves to hide in when they become nervous or during the cold weather months.

At the edge of the pond, a small amphitheater invites visitors in for a closer look at the dozen or so koi. When you have seen enough of the fish and the dancing waters of the cascade, miniature rock garden plants in the carefully constructed crevices at the pond's edge deserve a closer look. The next project will be an earthen platform near the pond, so visitors can sit on the benches and get a much clearer view of the water below the surface.

Guests to this garden have much more to see: a softly mounded rock garden with successive blooms sits just east of the pond. During the interview, it was full of California poppies, hardy geranium and an unusual miniature yarrow in full bloom. Packing every ounce of the umph of its bigger cousin, golden yarrow, this 10-inch plant sported large flowers on its flat blooms.

The shaded area under the big maples is perfect for ongoing auditions with ferns. "So many of them are heat and drought tolerant," says Baldassare. Another pond sits in front of the house, where the gnarled surface of the cork-barked elm (Ulmus parvifolia 'Seiju') commands attention. It also insists on a good pruning three times a year to keep in shape. "It's therapeutic pruning," says Baldassare. Therapy for the pruner, that is, but quite necessary to keep the bonsai in form.

Container gardens have inspired Baldassare's gardening curiosity and his garden and greenhouse are full of beautiful textured troughs with interesting plant combinations. One particularly long lasting combo was red oxalis with gold baby's tears. In the greenhouse, he was experimenting with an endearing miniature hosta, 'Rock Princess' and an equally charming miniature Martha Washington geranium, 'Angel Eyes.'

You don't have to take our word for the beauty of this garden—the welcome mat is out. "I want to expose the garden to as many people as are interested in this plant collection," says Baldassare. He especially hopes to see friends from his days as owner of Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery. Call to schedule a visit and get directions: 772-8787. Groups and garden clubs are welcome.

Baldassare considers himself lucky to be doing what he loves; visitors will find that luck is easily spread.

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