Think about a garden with a patchwork of colors and whimsical form, working in harmony with the natural environment. Ponder an eclectic use of textures and geometric shapes, all coming together to complete a botanical "quilt."
Concepts like these keep Sandra Beebe busy during the warmer months, when she's not at work inside her house making ornate fabric quilts. This longtime Boisean draws from her vast quilting experience to create an eclectic garden space that accentuates her East End Victorian-era home just off Warm Springs Avenue.
"Gardening, like quilting, is about dividing it up into color and function. In your yard, you're essentially working with patterns," Beebe explains, pointing at a cluster of ready-to-burst delphiniums, skirted by a locally hewn sandstone-block border that leads to a small pond.
She has created an environment around her house that is both floral and edible, based on a belief that home gardens should produce food as well as ornamental plants. Her property is an amalgam of flowering fruit trees, mature rose bushes, perennial flowers, berry brambles, raised vegetable beds and scattered-about culinary herbs.
"I'm a haphazard gardener. I do what I feel like," Beebe says.
"I'm open to anything. I just planted some hops next to my garage. I like the way they creep up like 'Jack and the Beanstalk.'"
Her yard, which boasts a colorful array of native and non-native plants, has a country feel to it, especially for being so close to Downtown Boise.
"I told my daughter that I wanted five acres in the city. Well, I came close," she says with a chuckle, surveying her almost one-acre property near the Boise River.
In 2006, Beebe purchased the two-story Queen Anne-style house (built in 1898) after living in the same neighborhood and admiring the place for many years. But not long after moving into her new digs, she realized the landscaping needed a serious overhaul.
"The yard was an unfriendly, uninviting place. I tore down a big, ugly fence that was blocking the flow from the front yard to the back, and there was an oak tree I had to remove to make some light for my vegetable garden," Beebe recalls.
"But the yard had good bones, you know, a good structure to work with."
In order to get her yard in balance, Beebe hired her close friend Nancy Day of Cottage Gardeners (cottagegardeners.com), a Boise company that specializes in landscaping and garden design, to join the evolving project.
"I helped her more with plant selection and maintenance than I did with the actual design of her garden," Day says.
"Sandra is an artist. Because of her quilting background, she understands the importance of color, and she's an excellent gardener."
There is a reason why Beebe and Day carry on like old friends: The two used to run in the same circles back in their younger days when they were growing up in Southwest Portland, a much wetter climate than the high desert of Boise.
Day often works on projects that involve mature landscaping, typically found in the yards of older houses. She told Beebe what she tells her other clients when they buy a home that's been around for decades.
"People have to think about how to use the existing plants, or if they want to use them at all. This can sometimes be a challenge, " Day says.
In Beebe's case, it was all about her and Day coming up with a master plan, one that included supplementing what was already growing there.
"Some things came with the house, and I wanted to work those into my landscaping ideas," Beebe says.
She also had creative input from family members, like her daughter and son-in-law, Heidi Beebe and Doug Skidmore, who are both architects. They designed and built the garden space - four sections of raised vegetable beds, with a spiral of grass - in the front yard. This is the spot in Beebe's yard with the heaviest output of food production, even though there are edible plants everywhere around her house.
"I grow more zucchini than most people would even want to, because my daughter makes these delicious stuffed squash blossoms with them," she says.
Beebe also grows strawberries, green beans, basil, radishes, carrots, tomatillo-like ground cherries and a variety of heirloom tomatoes, to name a few, some of which get canned in the late summer.
Her yard is not without its natural enemies, though. Beebe's dog, a friendly yellow Lab named Ruby, if left unattended, is capable of mass destruction.
"She likes to dig and chew on stuff, and occasionally she jumps in the pond," Beebe says, looking down at a trench that Ruby recently scooped out in one of the raised beds.
Outsmarting the deer is an ongoing game for homeowners near the Boise River as well.
"Everyone around here has no tulips because the deer eat the buds before they can bloom," Beebe states.
A few years back, Beebe commissioned local iron artists to fabricate a front gate and fence, a rustic creation that looks like giant blades of grass, but that doesn't always keep hungry deer from dining in her yard.
"They eventually got in and ate some flowers," she says.
Beebe admits there aren't as many unknowns in quilting as there are in gardening. When it comes to the garden, though, she believes in just going with the natural flow of the seasons, considering each year presents its own set of problems, and seeing how things pan out.
"I do try to keep a notebook for garden journaling, but I don't always get my ideas down on paper," Beebe says.
"But my garden usually turns out pretty good."