For decades, Huei Young has nurtured her little corner of north Davis. At the end of a cul-de-sac, Young crafted a private oasis that feels a world away.
A blend of Asian styles, Young’s garden is an ode to her father, an accomplished Taiwanese painter, as well as a celebration of nature. Most of all, it captures Young’s positive energy and spreads it around.
Chinese calligraphy decorates the garden gates and fences, wishing passers-by good fortune. Graceful junipers bend and twist into bonsai-like shapes. Planted on the city parkway next to a bike path outside her fence, coastal redwoods provide welcome shade.
Young’s garden already has received some local notoriety. It has been featured on “Good Day Sacramento” and HGTV.
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“My garden has been seen by hundreds of people, a lot every year,” she said. “I open it every year to raise money for charity. Right now, I’m raising money for glasses for kids and seniors who can’t afford them. It’s my ‘garden vision’ project.”
Huei – pronounced “way” – means “lily,” she explained. That’s another sign Young was born to be a gardener, she added with a laugh.
“When I was in my country, my father took me to see gardens all the time,” Young said. “Taiwan is a very small island with a lot of people. They learned how to create gardens in small spaces. When I came here in 1969, I bring that (idea) with me.”
Classic depictions of mountains and forest, delicate watercolor paintings by her father, J.S. Liu, decorate her home. They form another connection to her past and her love of nature.
“My father inspired me to make this garden, but he died before he ever had a chance to see it,” Young said. “He still is watching over me; I can feel it. That means a lot to me.”
Through many years of practice and study, Young is an expert in feng shui, living in harmony with nature. Her design emphasizes that connection with the elements. Stone paves the patio and provides a place to sit. Wood and earth tones soften hard edges. Lanterns and wind chimes catch the Delta breeze.
Large windows bring the outdoors inside her Asian-inspired home that she shares with her husband, Frank Young. Sitting in the dining room or bedroom feels like a seat in the garden shade.
“I bring the garden inside,” she said. “The garden flows into the house and vice versa. Everything is very soothing.”
Feeling the energy of her garden, Young has spent half her life going with that positive flow.
“I’ve been working on this garden for 30 years,” she said. “Thirty years is a lot of work. It didn’t seem like work as I did it – well, sometimes it did. But in the morning, it’s really, really pretty.”
Dozens of Chinese red lanterns lead visitors on a circuitous path filled with surprises.
“I have Chinese lanterns overhead and Chinese lantern flowers underneath,” she said, bending down to cradle a delicate flower in her hand. “It makes me smile.”
Snuggled among the flowers and foliage, statues of goddesses and friendly Buddhas pop up in corners. Three waterfalls bubble a constant soundtrack of cascading water. Framed by Japanese maples and nandina, a red bridge crosses over a mirror-like koi pond.
Recirculated through pumps, water flows like positive energy in Young’s retreat. Yet her garden is decidedly drought-tolerant. That makes it even more inviting.
“My water bill is tiny, tiny; unbelievably cheap,” Young said. “I was drought-tolerant before people thought about it.”
Although saving water was not what originally prompted her landscape, Young’s garden has become an excellent example of how to create a lush and flower-filled garden with no lawn.
“The drought-tolerant plants – the succulents – are probably my favorite now,” she said. “The main thing, I want to save water. I hand-water everything once a week, only when it needs it.”
When she started this project in 1980, her landscape looked much like its Davis neighbors. A skinny side yard was nothing but gravel and concrete. The small backyard was half patio, half turf, with a lonely fruit tree standing in the middle of the grass. The front yard consisted of a sad half oval of lawn in front of a raised planter.
“It was a house, just like everybody else’s house,” she said. “When I started, I never knew I was a gardener, but I realized I had the ability to combine color and design. I didn’t learn from any book. I just used my instincts.”
That design sense paid off in a one-of-a-kind garden.
“You can’t look at it from just one way,” she said. “At different angles, you see different things. That’s why it’s so beautiful.”