Tucked behind horse pastures and heritage oaks along the banks of the Cosumnes River is a little slice of tropical splendor.
Peacocks stroll leisurely under towering banana plants, heavy with fruit. Turkeys play hide-and-seek among the willows along the riverside. Hummingbirds tussle for position as they gather nectar from an endless banquet of exotic flowers.
In a pond, bass shade themselves under the pads of blooming water lilies and lotus with iridescent petals the color of pearls. The only sounds are bird songs and the occasional splash from a happy fish.
A nearby grove of 50-foot-tall timber bamboo some with trunks almost 12 inches across blocks out the summer sun, forming a green oasis of cool. A family of deer beds down each evening in its considerable shade.
Thats my office, said Richard Becker, pointing to a small clearing with a chair and table under the bamboo canopy. Ive got electricity and everything I need. I come out here in the morning with my coffee.
Except for the ancient oaks, Becker planted everything in his personal Eden. That includes 66 varieties of bananas and many other tropical plants that rarely survive one winter in Sacramento.
I call this Tropical Wilton, he said with a smile. Ive got eight microclimates. I keep experimenting with what can grow where.
A visiting college botanist recently marveled at the diversity in Beckers garden.
He said theyd have to rewrite the Sunset Western Garden Book, Becker said. This stuff isnt supposed to grow here.
Hummingbirds gravitate to a giant red banana flower, easily 3 feet long. Nearby, honeybees buzz around a rare Chinese yellow banana with fruit the size of walnuts.
I have so many bananas, I forget all the names, he said. They feel the frost in the winter, but I just cut them back with a machete; they grow right back.
Many other fruit trees along with bountiful berries and wild grapes feed hundreds of birds that make their home in this private jungle.
My neighbors think Im crazy, Becker said. But look at their fruit trees; theyre all in cages. They dont want to share anything with nature. Im giving back.
Becker became intrigued by tropical plants while traveling.
Ive always loved rainforests, he said. Ive been to Indonesia, Borneo, Peru, Bolivia, Belize all over the world.
He returns to Wilton with more ideas for his garden.
Im always trying something different, he said.
Even other rare-plant growers are confounded by Beckers amazing banana grove and other exotica.
You wont believe it until you see it then, you still wont believe it, said friend Eric Trygg, president of the Sacramento Bromeliad and Carnivorous Plant Society.
That club annually holds its fall picnic at Beckers place. His large greenhouse is packed with colorful bromeliads. Spanish moss and pineapples both bromeliads thrive in his private jungle. He also grows many cobra lilies and other carnivorous plants.
Talk about a paradise, Trygg said. When you drive up to his place, it looks very unassuming (from the road). But inside, its amazing.
Becker didnt start out to plant a paradise. The retired Sacramento machinist moved with his family to Wilton 33 years ago to have a place for horses and cattle.
The horses and cattle were a headache, he recalled. This is a lot more relaxing.
Instead of farm animals, wildlife now enjoys the run of Beckers 16-1/2 acres.
This is their sanctuary, he said. Besides the deer, theres beaver, otters, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, you name it. Theres so much development (in the area), they had nowhere else to go.
In summer, the Cosumnes River adjacent to his property is all but bone dry. The wild animals gravitate to Beckers ponds or bogs.
They need a safe place, so I made them a watering hole, he said. They can get drinking water here year-round.
Occasionally, Becker invites people to share his tropics (no dogs are allowed). He mows acres of lawn that provide a parklike setting for his tropical trees. The undulating turf also covers an area often flooded by the river.
It takes me six hours to mow, he said. I do most of the work here myself. The ground used to be totally flat, but the river deposits all this fine sand every time it floods. This is the way nature wants it, so this is the way it stays.
Four months ago, Becker had open heart surgery to correct a leaky valve. Reinvigorated, he gets out in his sprawling garden every day.
I love just the peace, and I get in touch with nature, he said of the garden. Theres wonderful solitude. And its not work if you love it.
Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.
Call The Bees Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. On Twitter: @debarrington.