Claire and Royce Duncan walk through their garden Thursday in Ashland. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore

Paradise Gardens

After building their sleek, steel-frame house — hands-on, with their own labor — Ashlanders Claire and Royce Duncan did the same to their 2-acre yard, filling it out with colorful ground covers, flowers, plants, trees and vegetables, then grooming an acre of poison oak and blackberries into a spacious park with mature trees, park benches and a creek running through it.

"What a vision you've brought to this. It's amazing, just incredible you two did this yourselves, using all your own work and love," says an appreciative Wendy Purslow of the American Association of University Women of Ashland, which will make it the crown jewel on the group's spring garden tour, scheduled for 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, June 10.

The low-slung, understated and elegant home is nestled by a front patio of hydrangea, wood sorrel, herbs, other flowers and vegetables, including beans, peppers and tomatoes, all surrounded by steel railings and climbers welded by Royce, a retired architect. He also fashioned the steel of which the house is made — and both of them did all the gardening and landscaping.

"It's a constant experiment," says Claire, "and it showed us the difference between having and doing. Ours is about doing, then having it is the byproduct of doing it."

On a walking tour of her enchanting glen, an acre downhill from the house, she points out how the creek was eroded to four feet deep, though only three feet wide, so they filled in much of it with rock, then shaped a gentle course for Paradise Creek, which flows eventually into Bear Creek.

Under the blackberries, the couple found a dry pond, lined it with Bentonite clay and let the creek fill it, increasing the glen's value as a natural habitat and place of peace.

A bed of "seep sand" borders parts of the creek and, being wet all the time, is used to germinate seeds they gather in Lithia Park, enabling them to grow Japanese Maple, dogwood and other trees.

Claire performs "plant rescue" the way others do animal rescue, saving many species of plants from a tear-down on Siskiyou Boulevard, including iris, day lilies, peonies and Japanese anemone. A row of new office buildings now stand on the rescue site, but the plants live on.

Rounding out the yard plantings are colorful rows of tasty kale and lettuce — light green and purple — amid foxglove, hostas, fig trees and holly.

In the paradisiacal forest park are many of the same plantings, decorating mulch-made walking paths amid old fir, maple and ponderosa pine. Many old bushes and brambles had to be torn out of the forest (as well as an old pickup and bedsprings), and not wanting to release more carbon into the atmosphere, they simply pushed old branches into the hillsides in two meandering and charming-looking fences. It's a tribute to Andy Goldsworthy, the nature artist, she notes.

Plantings in the dappled forest include boxwood, horsetail, eastern redbud, variegated vinca, false Solomon seal, western bleeding heart and iris. Most are deer-resistant.

"We try to use easily available plants in common ways," says Claire, rather than exotic plants from mail-order catalogs. The native plants include starflower, sedge and western sword fern.

The Duncan spot is "magical," says tour chairwoman Mimi Pippel, and will feature strolling madrigals by the dozen-member More Fools Than Wise, wearing medieval English costumes, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

The tour is all within Ashland, not neighboring rural areas, as in past years. It will feature small and large gardens, some self-made, some done by contractors, and it all is intended to "give people things they can imagine in their own gardens when they go home," she says.

Other gardens on the tour feature:

  • A vintage home with beautiful proportions in the garden and house, an arched trellis that frames the front entrance, flower beds rimmed with river rock, planters of cowboy boots and a stream.
  • A 10-year-old garden in the hills with a Mediterranean feel that overcomes poor, rocky soil and offer colors through the year.
  • A garden on a large lot with many large trees and low sunlight. Deer are welcome in the front yard, but humans only in the rear yard, where three seasons of cut flowers bloom.
  • A former llama pasture made into a natural look that is wild and not meticulous. It features a fish pond, greenhouse for seed starts and use of rockwork to steer the creek from the garden.
  • A garden in the Railroad District that's a "public garden," wrapped around a corner where you can stop and admire it, with pathways, arbors, and a pool with shady lounging area. The plants are historically compatible with the district.

At the Railroad District garden, participants can partake of pastries and liquid refreshments while enjoying more music.

The self-guided tour costs $15. Tickets are available at Paddington Station, Ashland Grange Co-op, South Medford Grange Co-op or online at Children under 10 tour for free. Proceeds go for equity for females via education, philanthropy and research.

The tour occurs the same weekend as the 5th annual Art for the Garden; Art for the Home show and sale, scheduled for Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at 421 Prim and 447 Pape streets. A fourth of proceeds will go to the Children's Cancer Network.

For details, see or call Pippel at 541-708-0025.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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