Facing a magnificent view of Roxy Ann, it's hard to imagine the most interesting sight might be the garden in the foreground.
While that's true at Barbara Smith's east Medford home, she might just laugh at that statement and share a memory from her own childhood.
"When we went to visit my mother's family we always looked at the gardens. What you had on the inside of the house didn't matter," she says, laughing. "I remember those gardens."
She honors that memory in her own garden by planting many of the same plants as her gardening ancestors did: pulmanaria, hardy primroses, campanula and hellebores among them. Some of them are from the "mother" plant of her relatives. Her garden is also full of plants from friends, given as starts or gifts. "I remember people by the plants more than if they give me another gift," she says. "I associate the flowers with the people."
Barbara's garden has both memory and symmetry. Crape myrtle trees flank the driveway and the rock wall that rises with the land from sidewalk to front yard is terraced, with two levels. It's hard not to love a good stone wall, and Barbara's falls into that category. Sedums poke out from its crevice and creeping phlox, bright lavender in its spring raiment, cascades over its sides. In summer, rudbeckia, Shasta daisies, and wild strawberry groundcover help maintain the interest.
Barbara loves color and has flowers blooming all season. Bulbs tend to disappear in her clay soil, so early spring features sturdy pulmanaria, a variety she's carried with her from her mother's garden. "We used to call it 'Boy and Girl' flower because it blooms pink and blue," she says. These blooms emerge from the same flower stalk, rendering it remarkable in its season.
Good soil is the bones of the garden, especially in this climate. "It's not easy to garden here," Barbara says ruefully. She's comparing it to her last home in Portland, which has a more forgiving climate and, in many places, richer soil. That's where her love affair with roses began. "I love all flowers but I got involved in the Rose Society in Portland. It just grows on you."
Gardens are unified by repetition of plants, and roses are the theme of this garden. Floribundas line the front and side yard, and the driveway. Rugosa roses are so happy planted along the terrace that their seedlings have become an annoying platoon of volunteers. Most other roses are more reticent about reproduction, which, due to variable genes, would never produce the same plant. Rather than the more common grafted rose, Barbara favors varieties grown on their own roots. "They are so tough," she remarks, "and they're much easier to plant."
Her favorite rose is the hybrid tea 'Just Joey,' a mellow apricot with some fragrance. She raves about "wonderful, just wonderful" 'Sally Holmes,' which has clusters of pointed apricot buds that open to single flowers with a hint of pink. She's also planted deep red 'Olympiad' and fragrant 'Dainty Bess' because they grew in family gardens. Another old rose is 'Cecile Brunner,' a vigorous grower with prolific, fragrant blooms of pale pink.
In the back, a long deep pond holds goldfish and koi. The narrow backyard hasn't deterred heron, so she's had string woven over the surface of the pond. The cascade presents a cooling sound, but the area is best in morning. Its western aspect had made the patio difficult to enjoy in the afternoon, so Barbara installed a set of vinyl shades.
A 20 foot shore pine just in front of wooden fencing provides privacy; wisteria, roses, lewisia, clematis, water iris and potted plants provide color; escallonia, dwarf nandina, ferns, and Japanese maples provide year-round interest.
Surrounded by flowers, Barbara's ready for the coming summer, as she's just installed a new irrigation system. Her former system was spotty, leaving some plants struggling in the heat. Roses take this particularly hard, with crisping along the edges of the blooms. With her love affair with roses, this serenity is justified.
One can imagine Roxy Ann admiring Barbara's garden just as much as Barbara enjoys her view of Medford's presiding landform. A mutual admiration that seems only natural.