We are a community built on waterways. That sense of place not only inspires major public gardens, such as the new Anderson Healing Garden at Mercy General Hospital, but our own backyards.
That river-friendly theme can be seen, from very different perspectives, next Saturday during two garden tours. One offers a rare glimpse into a beautiful private garden along Carmichael Creek. Another explores the possibilities of living within our water limitations while being kind to our waterways.
Pauline and Irv Faria have nurtured their 1-acre woodland sanctuary in Carmichael for more than 50 years. Nicknamed “Pauline’s Garden” after the woman who does the work, their oasis was featured last November in The Bee.
“We still continue to receive requests for garden visits,” Irv Faria said. “The public response has been appreciated and motivating.”
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Each spring, the Farias open Pauline’s Garden for one day to the public. Visitors can wander among scores of graceful Japanese maples and blooming azaleas in the shade of massive heritage oaks.
“I don’t know why, but the garden has never looked better in spring,” Faria said. “It was probably that heat spell we had, followed by a lot of rain. The azaleas are magnificent right now. The dogwoods are all out. The foxgloves are 4 feet high. Everything else is just blooming out of this world.”
Don’t be surprised if a bevy of quail scurries out from under a rhododendron or a wild turkey salutes with a loud gobble from an oak perch. This garden is a Certified National Wildlife Habitat, and the Farias welcome many animals and birds to share. Deer are regular visitors, too.
“Through the garden, we have attempted to satisfy our need to stay in touch and exist in harmony with wild nature,” said Faria, a retired university professor, when we toured the garden. “It has been our fortune to have a garden sanctuary set apart from the everyday world. It’s our private world we enjoy sharing with others.”
If you visit, wear sensible walking shoes; the property is steeply sloped along the creek sides. Eight terraces offer places to sit and view wildlife, or just relax amid the fragrant flowers. Whimsical wind sculptures and bronze statuary decorate the winding paths.
The sound of water provides a steady and relaxing soundtrack. Among the many water features are large frog ponds, a hillside waterfall and cascading fountains.
Water keeps flowing in the creek, too. “It’s fed by two other creeks,” Faria noted. “It’s mainly runoff, but it just hasn’t stopped.”
The Farias usually open Pauline’s Garden later in spring, Irv noted. “But everything is coming out (into bloom) so much, we were afraid to wait any longer.”
So far, the garden has survived the drought very well, he added. “We’ve cut back a lot in our water use, but it’s holding up really well. We have so much shade; that helps.”
So does mulch. “I brought in a truckload of shredded cedar bark and spread it all over,” Faria said. “That’s helped tremendously.”
‘Greener Gardens’ tour
Saving water while helping waterways is the focus of the Elk Grove Greener Gardens expo and garden tour, also next Saturday. This all-day event includes hands-on demonstrations, vendors, industry experts, plants sales and more at a do-it-yourself expo in Elk Grove’s Miwok Park. Master gardeners will staff a plant clinic and solve garden mysteries; bring your questions (and examples of pests or problem foliage in a sealed plastic bag).
“The free expo is designed to teach the public how to incorporate sustainable and river-friendly principles into their own landscapes,” explained organizer Soleil Tranquilli. “Our free garden tour showcases several local residential landscapes featuring lawn conversions, drought-tolerant landscaping, river-friendly landscapes and water-conserving landscape designs. Two special ‘all-star’ gardens will be revisited this year. (Labeled) plant names help you identify favorites for your own garden.”
Also on the tour are three public gardens: Elk Grove Rain Garden Plaza, the River-Friendly Inspiration Garden and the Elk Grove Community Garden.
See a virtual tour of gardens featured on previous tours online at www.ElkGroveGreenerGardens.org. Via the website, you also can register in advance for this year’s tour and get the map to homes.
The current drought will prompt many people to see these attractive examples of water-wise, mostly lawnless landscapes. But even in rainy years, this low-water philosophy offers dividends, Tranquilli noted.
“Landscape watering accounts for over 50 percent of residential water use, largely spent on watering lawns,” she said. “According to the American Water Association, converting a 2,500-square-foot lawn to low-water-use plantings saves 372 gallons of water per day during the growing season. In just one year, a homeowner who converts their traditional landscaping can save 44,640 gallons of water.
“Water conservation is just one piece of the ‘Greener Gardens’ mission,” she added. “By encouraging river-friendly landscapes, we aim to conserve water, protect our local waterways from flooding and contamination from the overuse of pesticides and fertilizers, and contribute to recharging groundwater.”
It all links back to those rivers and creeks, those waterway ties that bind us together.
“Even when a local stream cannot be seen visually, all areas are watersheds and thus connected,” Tranquilli said. “We know that personal landscaping choices do affect local waterways. Showing this connection is the first step to making positive changes.”
•Events calendar: More garden tours, events