East End homeowner uses color and form in creative ways in her garden

SPECIAL TO THE IDAHO STATESMANMay 18, 2013 

  • Garden Tour 2013

    WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 23 (rain or shine)

    TICKETS/MAPS: $20 for Idaho Botanical Garden members and $25 for general public, available at the Idaho Botanical Garden (2355 Old Penitentiary Road, Boise), online at www.idahobotanicalgarden.org or on the day of the tour at any of the featured homes. The brochures with maps and driving directions also are available at local nurseries.

    MORE INFORMATION: 343-8649 or www.idahobotanicalgarden.org.

    KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: All the homes on this year's tour are within about a two-mile radius of each other, in Boise's East End, just off Warm Springs Avenue and in the Foothills near Table Rock. Organizers suggest tour visitors carpool. Strollers are not allowed in the gardens. If you don't purchase a ticket in advance, you must pay for the tour on the day of the event at any of the featured homes. Garden stores will have tour maps but don't sell tickets.

    ABOUT THE TOUR: The tour, in its 27th year, benefits various programs at the Idaho Botanical Garden. There are six homes on the 2013 tour, as well as a side trip to the Bureau of Land Management's Firewise Garden adjacent to the Idaho Botanical Garden. This year, Seattle garden expert Ciscoe Morris will be joining the tour and pre-tour gala event. Morris, a celebrated book author and television personality, is known for his wacky demeanor and aptitude in the garden.

    "We chose (Morris) because he is such a knowledgeable guy, and he's funny. A lot of people in this region know who he is," says Renee White, director of events and marketing for the Idaho Botanical Garden.

    PRE-TOUR GARDEN GALA: On Saturday, June 22, join Ciscoe Morris and others for a gala event (from 6 to 9 p.m.) at the private garden of Skip and Esther Oppenheimer's Warm Springs estate. Here, you can mingle with garden aficionados while enjoying an al fresco dinner and classical piano music by Del Parkinson.

    Tickets for the Pre-Tour Garden Gala are $100 and can be purchased by calling 343-8649 or online at www.idahobotanicalgarden.org.

    Here's a look at this year's featured gardens (for addresses, see the tour map).

    SANDRA BEEBE, GARDEN NO. 1

    SHAWNA PHILLIPS, GARDEN NO. 2: Phillips uses water in creative ways to irrigate her small yard, which has a profusion of desert-friendly plants.

    JACK & PAM LEMLEY, GARDEN NO. 3: This yard in the Foothills is a testament to building beautiful gardens on a steep hillside, with multilevel seating areas that boast spectacular views.

    BILL FRASER, GARDEN NO. 4: A small waterfall adds to the tranquility of the secluded garden space at this historic Warm Springs house.

    LESA STARK & BILL FITZGERALD, GARDEN NO. 5: This eclectic garden proves that you can have a beautiful yard without high maintenance.

    JANA BATEMAN, GARDEN NO. 6: A natural creek runs through this tranquil yard, giving the garden a peaceful, country feeling, accentuated by splashes of color and rustic sensibilities.

    BLM FIREWISE GARDEN: Get some creative ideas here for building a wildfire-safe garden zone around your house. Expect to see more than 300 species of native and non-native plants scattered around this desert garden.

  • Sandra's garden tips

    Here are some additional tips from Sandra Beebe about what to do if you buy an older house with mature landscaping.

    GIVE IT A YEAR: Wait an entire year before you do anything drastic. Let the existing garden go through the seasons and see what every plant does, then make the big decisions about what to remove and what to keep.

    CHECK BEFORE YOU PLANT: If you are going to plant flowers, trees and other plants soon after moving in, make sure you understand what spots are sunny and what spots are shady in your new yard - to give the plants that are specific to those conditions the best chance to thrive.

    STAGGER YOUR COLOR: It's important to plant a variety of flowers that will bloom at various times throughout the gardening season. That way, your garden will always be colorful. Don't forget to plant lots of fragrant flowers and bushes, too.

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."

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