large oaks shade the lawn and provide the right light for their many rhododendrons. - Photo by Steve Johnson

Restoring The Garden Of A Medford Icon

Ten years ago, towering hedges hid the home Harry Holmes (of Harry and David) built in the hills of east Medford. When new owners Jay Beckstead and Paula Stenberg moved into the historic home, the landscaping consisted of privacy plantings run amok.

"Laurels and photinia covered the perimeter, like Sleeping Beauty's castle," says Jay. In some places the shrubs reached 40 feet high and were often 30 to 40 feet deep. "A few scrawny rhodies were crawling out from underneath the laurels," he says.

Taking down the overgrowth was one of the first tasks of this gardening team, who together transformed the landscape of one of old Medford's finest early homes from a few nondescript planting strips and foundation plants into an oasis of perennials under magnificent native oaks.

The couple started gardening immediately after they moved in, widening the planting beds in the front yard. Removing the existing foundation plants, they created a welcoming garden that blooms most of the year. The season begins with daffodils and tulips, followed by foxglove, bleeding heart and columbine. Roses, day lilies, gladiola, gayfeather (Liatris spicata), rudbeckia and a Japanese peony bloom in summer.

The spring beauty was enhanced a few years later when Jay planted an array of trees as Paula's Mother's Day gift. He chose varieties which create a sequential display: flowering cherries, flowering plums and a crabapple. "There's always the trade-off between having one glorious display, and spreading it out. We've generally opted for spreading it out," he says.

Paula and Jay both grew up in gardening families, but they didn't think about their gardening potential when they met in San Francisco. Their avocation began after they moved to Portland, where they began following family tradition. Jay's mother was the forebear who loved flowers best. A hibiscus she gifted them delivers pink blossoms "the size of plates," says Paula, approximating a 6-inch span with her hands. Planting an iris, ("we have lots") always reminds Paula of her own mom, she says.

"Jay's the visionary. I'm the mulch queen," Paula claims. A collection of garden books provides his inspiration and helps determine plant selection and layout. Both work in the garden about 10 hours a week, though Jay does the heavy lifting. He removed the jungle of hedges, sending yards of material to Biomass in White City and using his Acura and a chain to pull out deep roots.

Now the perimeter of the property is a "philosopher's walk," a meandering path with rhododendron, and Japanese maple, ferns and hostas tucked into the rocks. "Flowers aren't our only interest. We love leaf shape too," says Paula.

Appearing out of nowhere, the couple's cat leads the way as they stroll the walk "to see how things are growing."

With a grand view of the Siskiyou Mountains rimming the south of the valley, the patio deserved more attention. Four years ago they erected a pergola, which frames the view inside the home and creates an appealing invitation to sit outside. Jay is training a variety of clematis up its substantial pillars. Just below the cement patio is one of the valley's oldest pools, surrounded by a white iron fence and a stucco wall. Mostly used when the couple's two children are around, the formal character of the setting is enhanced by the plantings around the fence. Jay took out underperforming roses, widened the planting beds and planted oleander, crape myrtle, phlox and canna. The whole area received a facelift when the grey cement was painted a rich terra-cotta.

The home has the illusion of being out in the country, but "we have no deer problem," says Jay. "We're deep enough into the city that we don't see them."

Gardeners are never finished, and the newest section of the garden is almost the first seen when arriving at the home. A struggling lawn shaded by oaks has been replaced with dogwoods, hosta, Japanese maple and hydrangea. Drip irrigation will water the new plantings, leaving the native oaks with drier soil, which they prefer.

The property is full of unique garden areas: a white garden off the perimeter, roses on the opposite side of the wide lawn. Still, there's plenty of room for new plants, says Paula. This team has pre-planned retirement activities — pulling weeds and maintaining the garden, says Paula, laughing.

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