At their El Dorado Hills home, Steve and Shelly Lange created a backyard paradise under the shade of massive oaks. Made for entertaining, it was their own "Gilligan's Island" getaway with palm-covered bar and a tropical motif.
Then, nature crashed their party place.
After heavy rains, a windstorm in January 2010 tore a 40-foot live oak from its roots.
"The live oak doesn't lose its leaves," said Steve Lange, noting that deciduous valley oaks withstood the violent weather. "All the weight of the water on the leaves makes them vulnerable. Our neighbor lost four trees including two live oaks."
"It was a humongous, gigantic oak," recalled Shelly Lange. "It covered the whole sky. It fell on my birthday and just smashed everything."
Gone were the terraced deck, the arbor and part of the house's roof. A flowering peach and fountains fell victim. So did the tiki bar. Also gone was much of the shade that the oak provided.
"Suddenly, we had all this sun," Shelly said. "We used to never see the sky. Once that tree fell, the garden felt like a desert."
And where the oak once stood, there was a gaping hole next to the koi pond.
So, the Langes both do-it-yourselfers got back to work and remade paradise. And they're sharing it for a cause.
The Langes' oasis is one stop during the Assistance League of Sierra Foothills' annual Gardens of the Hills tour. Set for May 4 and 5, the event supports the league's local programs such as Operation School Bell (which provides school clothes and coats for needy children), assault survivor kits and senior activities.
Late April and early May are prime time for such charity events in Northern California. Organizations try to hit the peak of bloom in local gardens.
They also want to beat the heat that kicks up around Memorial Day.
Coming soon are popular tours scattered from Sacramento's Curtis Park to Jackson. Some will attract thousands of patrons. All have become major fundraisers for local programs ranging from senior meals to college scholarships.
These events also celebrate spring in all its local beauty.
The Gardens of the Hills tour presents a wide spectrum of garden styles.
Self-guided, the tour includes presentations by well-known landscape designers Michael Glassman and Bob Lagan at Pottery World. Also featured are hands-on demonstrations on how to create miniature gardens at Green Acres Nursery in Folsom and a visit to the Four Seasons Community Garden in El Dorado Hills to see how flowers and edibles mix.
The Langes' hilltop house is among the four private homes on the tour. In its previous form, the Langes' garden had been featured in such publications as Better Homes and Gardens and The Bee as well as on local television. "Good Day Sacramento" broadcast one full morning from their tiki bar.
Filled with the sound of water, the Langes' new oasis exceeds its predecessor. The hole left by the oak became a "people pond."
"It's actually a plunge pool," Shelly said. "It's not very deep less than 5 feet but it's very relaxing. It's great to jump in and cool off."
Built by Nimbus Pools, the pond gave the garden a focal point. The Langes took it from there.
"They've made it feel like a resort," said Crista Dixon, one of the Assistance League's tour organizers. "I love the use of mirrors. It's such a feel-good environment."
Waterfalls trickle down the back of the hill over a man-made "rock" formation into the transplanted koi pond. Other fountains keep the sound of water moving. A recycling system keeps the cost down; the Langes' total water bill averages less than $40 a month.
Overall, the steeply sloped garden has eight water features, including a castoff hutch turned into a trickle-down fountain with a stream of water cascading from drawer to drawer.
To replace the missing shade and deck, Steve Lange rebuilt the top terrace and arbor, angled into the garden. He suspended canvas market umbrellas from a 400-year-old valley oak that hovers over the rebuilt tiki bar.
Lange, a retired fire captain, did all the carpentry himself.
"We like to have people over, and this gives us more room," he said of the new deck. "I was going to have to rebuild the old deck anyway. It was getting old."
Shelly Lange replanted the garden with flowers, including many that attract hummingbirds. She also set up six feeders.
"We get up to 40 hummers at one time," Steve said. "They're fun to watch."
Besides sky, the missing tree also exposed "an ugly fence," Shelly said.
Her solution: 17 mirrors.
"That's my favorite part," she said of the makeover. "They face north, so there's no glare. They just reflect all the beauty of the garden. I love that view."
UPCOMING HOME AND GARDEN TOURS
ASSISTANCE LEAGUE GARDENS OF THE HILLS TOUR
Where: Start at Pottery World, 1006 White Rock Road, El Dorado Hills
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. May 4, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. May 5
Cost: $20 advance
Highlights: Tour inspiring gardens in El Dorado Hills, including the Langes' tropical garden. Enjoy special presentations by designers Michael Glassman and Bob Langan at Pottery World, champagne tasting at Cielo Estate Winery and miniature gardens at Green Acres. Supports programs of Assistance League of Sierra Foothills
GARDENS GONE NATIVE TOUR
Where: 25 homes in Yolo and Sacramento counties
When: 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. today
Highlights: Hosted by the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, this self-guided tour spotlights native plants in home landscapes.
HISTORIC JACKSON HOME TOUR
Where: Start at 159 Main St., Jackson
When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. today
Highlights: Presented by the American Association of University Women, Amador Branch, this tour "Rediscovers Jackson" with four homes and two historic sites.
CURTIS PARK HOME TOUR
Where: Start at Sierra 2 Community Center, 2791 24th St., Sacramento
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. next Saturday
Cost: $20 in advance, $25 day of tour
Information: www.sierra2.org, (916) 452-3005
Highlights: Hosted by the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association, this huge event features restored homes in the historic Curtis Park neighborhood.
KITCHENS IN THE VINEYARDS
Where: Start at the Napa Valley Welcome Center, 600 Main St., Napa
When: 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. next Saturday
Information: http://www.musicinthevineyards.org (707) 258-5559
Highlights: Supporting music programs, this unusual tour showcases kitchens in action in five Napa Valley homes with wine country chefs and food tastings.
PENCE GALLERY GARDEN TOUR
Where: Start at Pence Gallery, 212 D St., Davis
When: Noon-5 p.m. May 5
Cost: $25 in advance, $28 day of tour
Information: www.pencegallery.org, (530) 758-3370
Highlights: See artists at work in garden settings during this benefit tour supporting the gallery's education program.
Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.