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Whimsy grows in Arden Park

A tea garden is part of the display of Mary Ann Maberry’s garden, which is among seven to be featured in today’s Arden Park Garden Tour.
A tea garden is part of the display of Mary Ann Maberry’s garden, which is among seven to be featured in today’s Arden Park Garden Tour. rbyer@sacbee.com

Mary Ann Maberry gardens with a sense of humor.

At her longtime Arden Park home, she grows plants that make her smile and nurtures them with a healthy sense of whimsy.

“This is my joy,” said Maberry, surrounded by 10-foot-tall dahlias and chocolate brown cosmos. “This is my antidepressant, my therapy. When I need a lift, I just start digging.”

Her lively and colorful garden now brings joy to others, too. With its wild and wacky mix of eye-popping flowers and homemade garden art, this fun-loving landscape will be a featured stop on the sixth annual Arden Park Garden Tour, set to run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19.

“Her garden is very whimsical, a menagerie of all sorts of things to see,” said Sue Tighe, one of the Arden Park Garden Club members organizing the seven-home tour. “It’s full of these little secret areas. You think you’ve seen everything, then there’s more.”

“I think of it as ‘structured chaos,’ ” said Maberry of her flower-packed oasis.

When Mary Ann and Jack Maberry moved into their home 43 years ago, the garden was practically a blank canvas.

“It was nothing but rototilled dirt and two fruit trees,” she said. “The trees died the first year – I was overwatering!”

She learned early that less water can mean more flowers, especially with perennials. During the drought, she has cut her irrigation by half. Yet, overall her garden is as flower-filled as always.

“That’s what I plant, almost all perennials,” Maberry said. “They come up year after year. The annuals are ones that re-seed themselves. And I love what the bees love.”

Her favorites tend to be the most unusual such as the lemon-yellow helianthus, a bouquet sunflower that blooms in big, fragrant clouds; knee-high, cantaloupe-hued coneflowers; and amaranth dripping with strange, red, twisting blooms.

“I like the stuff that makes you go: ‘What’s that?’ ” she said with a laugh.

Still, the garden succeeds in soothing the visitor’s soul.

“This garden has a lot of peaceful spots,” said Corine Liseno, the garden club’s president. “It’s very restful.”

Maberry, a former editor and professional photographer, took up gardening seriously after retiring from The Sacramento Bee 25 years ago. The backyard landscape wraps around a large pond and waterfall, next to a photo studio she and her husband built.

“I needed a place to take photos,” explained Maberry. “I was tired of taking kids over to the (city) park for an outdoor portrait. So, we built our own setting. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of kids’ photos have been taken next to that pond.”

Maberry gradually filled in blank sections of her garden with texture, blocked together by color.

“Originally, I grew roses,” she said. “I planted 130 bushes.”

Many of those bushes remain, but they blend into her colorful chaos. Climbing roses, such as Sally Holmes, arc over arbors and line the wood fence, which also serves as an outdoor gallery for her whimsical art pieces.

Throughout the landscape are examples of Maberry’s homemade garden art. Amid the roses and daisies stands a mannequin decked out for a summer garden party. Fantasy frogs and butterflies entice real wildlife to visit.

Tucked in among the vines and shrubs is a shady arbor, decorated with salvaged lace curtains and glass-plate suncatchers.

“I love to scavenge,” she said. “I find stuff – at garage sales, thrift stores, trash. You can do wonders with spray paint and glue.”

Pomegranate, apple, cherry and other fruit trees dot the backyard, which also includes a large, raised-bed vegetable garden. A giant mulberry provides welcome but challenging shade.

Soon after starting her gardening binge, Maberry ran out of room and sunny spots in her backyard. So, she dug up the front lawn.

“That was 1998 and nobody was doing anything like this,” she said. “I think it was the first lawn to be torn out in Arden Park.”

Maberry replaced the grass with perennials and shrubs in a winding arrangement. Studding the path are more brightly colored bits of whimsy mixed among the flowers.

“I wanted to create a way to stroll through my garden, so that was the idea,” she said. “And isn’t this a lot more fun than a boring green square of lawn?”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Arden Park Garden Tour

Where: Start at 885 La Sierra Drive, Sacramento

When: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19

Admission: $15

Details: ardenparkgardenclub.com