Flowers Meet Food

Flowers Meet Food

When Uma and Dennis Freese bought their home in Talent six years ago, they faced the challenges of their cul-de-sac setting with steadfast purpose "… and a playful, curious approach to gardening.

The result is an Asian/Mediterranean fusion, where lavender and peonies bloom together, chard and bok choy share garden beds and an Italianate fountain is watched by a meditating Buddha statue.

Their eclectic approach is partly the product of dual goals. Dennis aims to produce as much food as possible. Uma adores tending flowers. The resulting garden is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the table.

"After 26 years of marriage, we seem to manage one faux argument per year," says Dennis. "That always has to do with how much space will be devoted to flowers and how much to food production."

The journey into this suburban Shangri-La begins along the driveway with a narrow planting strip with Jupiter's beard, lavender, feverfew and a clump of stately iris.

Through an entryway arbor, a small patio area is intensively planted. A double fountain hosts water plants, and large planters overflow with dark petunias and exotic datura. A wooden Buddha near the front door greets visitors. The area is intimate, thanks to the solid wood fence fronted with bamboo, installed when they moved in.

"We really like that we don't have any front garden to maintain," says Uma. "We didn't want any lawn here."

In the backyard, the vegetables are treated as artfully as the ornamentals.

Privacy fencing emphasizes the borrowed views. A deck with comfortable seating offers front-row seats to ever-changing Grizzly Peak and the equally capricious Southern Oregon sky.

"I've never gotten tired of that view," says Dennis, a musician who considers gardening another art form. "It changes every season, every day."

Adjacent to the deck, the vegetable-and-flower garden is readily available from a sliding door off the kitchen. Six raised beds are closely planted with greens, garlic, onions, spinach, beets, lettuce and peas.

Dennis plants corn close together in a small bed. "I've had really good luck growing it, he says. This year he's trying Jackpot Sweet, a bicolor variety.

Certain areas are dedicated to flowers, including perennials such as peonies and tulips. The same interplanting occurs in the border beds that run along the fences and behind the house. Apple trees share space with roses. Chard abuts California poppies.

"My garden is a total hodgepodge," says Uma. She admits to falling in love with a plant variety and then pursuing its varieties: dahlias, penstemons, alliums, euphorbias and peonies all are current or former passion plants.

"More and more, I love the plants that make it no matter what," says Uma. To that end, she's developed a "love affair" with wallflowers.

"They start in April and bloom all summer and into the fall."

Dennis loves Swiss chard for the same reason.

"This is the perfect climate for it. It produces all winter and reseeds itself, too," he says. "All I have to do is transplant it."

Many of the nine apple trees were purchased at the Jackson County Master Gardener Spring Fair, but the varieties are unknown, says Dennis.

Fig trees and two Santa Rosa weeping plums also provide fruit. Of the latter, Dennis claims, "They have the sweetest plums you've ever eaten in your life. After eating you have to change your shirt."

The plums and a large ceramic planter honor the burial spot of one of the couple's dogs, Lupe, a Chihuahua that was a great companion to Dennis's mother in her last years.

Along the garden's west side, a tiny chicken coop with attached dog kennel and fenced grassy area houses young pullets that soon will be producing eggs. Connie and Bonnie, two Buff Orpingtons, and Taffy, a Gold Sexlink, appear to enjoy their digs. An ingenious feeder keeps the hens' food clean and the food supply current. Pine shavings on the floor of the kennel and the coop are removed every few weeks with a Shop-Vac.

"It's got to be easy," says Dennis.

A meditation garden between the shed and southern fence features a 42-inch Buddha statue set on a rock mound and shaded by clumping bamboo. Forget-me-nots, hosta and a golden heuchera stand out above the vibrant creeping Jenny ground cover. A wine barrel of flowering sage guards the entrance as effectively as any Foo Dog.

Another planting area in the rear of the yard sports a young grapevine climbing a narrow pergola. An umbrella shades the seating of the terra cotta patio.

On the opposite side of the house, a small walk lined with golden raspberries and four apple trees leads to Dennis' music studio.

Their garden reflects a commitment to family harmony and aesthetics.

"She appreciates the photos that I take of her flowers, and I appreciate the fresh bouquets that regularly grace the tables throughout the house," says Dennis. "Of course, we both appreciate picking and eating food fresh from the garden. All in all, it has greatly enriched our life together."

Both are rather recent gardeners, having begun about 10 years ago with a house in Ashland that had been extensively landscaped. This house in Talent is their first foray into food-and-flower gardening.

"It has certainly been an interesting process learning to be a backyard gardener, one that has brought Uma and I much closer to the natural world and its cycles — and to each other, as well."

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