Invited into most gardens, you pretty much know what you will see: walkways, beds of flowers or vegetables, trees, shrubs, a water feature or two, maybe a statue. There are many possible variations, but they're likely to look similar to something you have seen before.
Preconceptions go out the window when visiting Bonnie Selvitella's Jacksonville garden, a fantasy world of repurposed items. Boots? No, no, those are planters. Ladders for climbing? No, ladders for holding planters. A satellite-television dish? No, that's an umbrella of white wisteria.
Look close, and that fence is made of old beds. That's not an old sink; it's a fountain. Rustic wooden doors to nowhere? Why not?
Calling her property Wheelbarrow Lane for the 50 old wheelbarrows lining the drive and a path, Selvitella has been fashioning her private vision for 12 years. Out front is her pride and joy: a 15-foot, 1957 Shasta recreational trailer, restored and refurbished with all 1950s accessories and painted barn-red to match her cottage. A collection of antique Coleman camping equipment is added in the summer.
"All that stuff is from my family in the '50s," Selvitella says, explaining how good it felt to take the old boxes of memories and find a use for them again. The trailer, which serves as a guesthouse for her one-bedroom cottage, was particularly popular with her grandchildren when they were young.
Selvitella recently purchased the body of an old Mini Cooper, and her new project will be to paint it and hook it up to look like it is pulling the trailer.
"It's a little toy, really," Selvitella says of the trailer. "People come sit in there and have tea, and no one wants to leave because it is so comfortable."
Selvitella knew little about gardening when she started. The half-acre yard had only two trees then. The wide swaths of California poppies that bloom every spring are volunteers, but she planted the lavenders, as well as the wisteria, a lot of white, climbing roses, irises, butterfly bushes, herbs and honeysuckle.
She fills in with annuals every year, but mostly she just lets the plants do what they want. She overwinters her succulents every year in a shed that she and her daughter built from old windows and doors. When a subdivision of two- and three-story houses went in behind her place, she planted Leland cypresses to block the view.
Her property butts up against the old Rogue River Valley Railway line that connected Jacksonville to Medford from 1891 to 1925. Now it is a hiking trail, which means her backyard is visible to all who walk the trail.
"You can see into this yard from every direction," Selvitella says, "so it has to look good from all directions."
Making it look good is a never-ending project. There is a difference between a yard full of junk and a garden designed to please the eye with a conglomeration of old and repurposed artifacts. The garden contains more than 175 birdhouses, as well as a number of hanging wood, metal or ceramic birds in the yard.
Seating areas feature old wood or metal lawn chairs painted various colors. Selvitella also takes old pieces of machinery and metal to fashion yard sculptures from them. Though she started doing this just for fun, she was astonished that one she donated to a Britt Festivals auction sold for more than $200. She now sells some of her creations to people who visit her garden.
"It's the fun of the find that makes this fun, really," Selvitella says. "I don't really make any money. But it is all about people having fun and finding stuff people would normally throw away and finding another use for it.
"I'm at the stage now where I just want to enjoy it, but it is still ever-changing because I find something I think is interesting or different and bring it home, and look at it, and look at it until I decide what to make from it."
Retro? Whimsical? Yes, but mostly just fun.