Christine and Jeff Thomas’ garden — in an older, hidden corner of the Boise Bench with a dizzying view of the city below — shows off Christine’s eclectic eye and her sense of color and design. Any visitor will see her artful mix of living things and hardscape: stone Buddhas set among the greenery; a folk art metal goat nestled in the deep shade beside white-edged hostas and bleeding hearts; a curvaceous dress form on a hanger, made entirely of moss and succulents.
In another part of the garden, a gnarled lilac grows with one branch painted chartreuse, and zinnias peek out of a water trough.
Christine, a musician, has set stones etched with song lyrics among soon-to-sprawl ice plants. She’s carefully arranged a collection of heart-shaped rocks near a climbing rose the color of a matador’s cape. The garden consists of a series of spaces, shady corners and covered patios linked by winding pathways.
The garden, which Christine has tended since she and Jeff bought the house in 1992, was among several featured on the Idaho Botanical Garden’s Private Gardens Tour 2017 on Sunday, June 11.
This year’s self-guided tour took place on the Boise Bench and olffered a mix of styles: old-growth trees and traditional designs along with more modern ideas like low-water plantings that are becoming ever more popular in the Treasure Valley, said Nell Lindquist, garden tour, greenhouse and nursery coordinator at the Idaho Botanical Garden.
Complementary blooms and fond memories
The Thomases are only the second owners of their gray “Craftsman-hacienda-style” house built in 1910. When they moved in, their lot — which has arguably one of the best views in Boise — was mostly empty, save for the large, established trees, including a notable bald cypress with massive limbs running parallel to the ground. Filtered light shines through its feathery green needles.
“People come here just to see this tree,” said Christine Thomas. “They stand by it and touch it. They keep their hand on it.”
Filling the rest of the garden with color has been a “work in progress,” she said.
The Thomases are from the East Coast. Both have Italian roots. Their older, garden-savvy relatives — Jeff’s mother and Christine’s grandfather — helped them with their early garden planning and planting, she said.
“We were so overwhelmed. We didn’t know about gardening at all.”
She notes traces of those relatives throughout the garden, like the lilies of the valley they brought from the East and transplanted in Boise. Or the clematis Thomas planted in her father’s memory that blooms vibrant purple.
She believes in experimentation when gardening. That might mean digging a plant up and moving it if it isn’t doing well. It might mean finding ways to help new plants survive a tough winter or a hot, dry Idaho summer. It might mean mixing favorites like succulents with old-fashioned classics such as peonies, delphiniums, hydrangeas — and interspersing everything with found objects, giving them “new life,” said Thomas.
“I just like to put things together that I think will complement each other,” she said.
Beyond the garden, Thomas is a Renaissance woman of many talents. She sings, dances and writes songs with four local bands: Sherpa, Steve Fulton Music, the David Andrews Band and Grateful, a Grateful Dead cover band. And garden tour attendees will get a treat thanks to the local music world. She’s enlisted different musician friends to play acoustic sets every hour during the tour. The lineup includes Fulton, Bernie Reilly and Sean Hatton, Kelly Lynae and Justin Ness, Jake Ransom, Brandon Pritchett, Paul Dragone — and a couple of tunes from Thomas herself, winding up the day with a “rockin’ set” from her band Sherpa.
“We’re inviting people to come, bring a blanket and hang out on the lawn, listening to music,” she said
A giant sycamore will provide the shade. Wildflour Bakery is donating cookies.
Thomas owns Bonita, a “hair studio and creative space” on Latah, and is also a visual artist. Her mosaics dot her garden. She is also a teacher and “Art Shack director” for Camp Rainbow Gold, which serves kids with cancer. Later this summer, she’ll cram her black and sea-green trailer with art supplies and drive it to camp. She’s hoping to integrate gardening into art projects there, using leaves to make prints, or using them as stencils.
Thomas acknowledges that while there’s a place for formal gardens — and some will be included in this year’s tour — her home is not one of them.
“I like to say my gardening style is to do what makes you happy. When you come out and see your flowers and it brings you joy, to me, that’s gardening,” she said.
“I don’t know the names of my plants, but I know that I love them.”
Private Gardens Tour 2017 on June 11
The self-guided tour is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, June 11.
Tickets are $25 general admission and $20 garden members in advance, and $35 general admission and $30 garden members on the day of the tour.
Tickets are available online until 2 p.m. on June 9 (the Friday before the Sunday tour). Visit idahobotanicalgarden.org for more information.
Tickets are also available by phone (208-343-8649) or in person at the Idaho Botanical Garden box office at 2355 Old Penitentiary Road in Boise.
Buying tickets on the day of the tour: A map of the participating gardens is posted on the IBG website. Tour attendees can buy a ticket ($35 general/$30 IBG members) and start their tour at any of the gardens.
A celebration of owner-created gardens
The Idaho Botanical Garden chooses a different neighborhood to feature on the tour each year, said Nell Lindquist, garden tour, greenhouse and nursery coordinator.
“It’s great to focus on one geographic location and dive deep,” she said.
Now in its 31st year, the tour is a fundraiser for the Idaho Botanical Garden and its Lunaria Grant program, which supports local garden-related community projects. The 2017 grant recipients are the Orton Botanical Garden in Twin Falls, North Junior High, the Homedale Farmers Market and exhibits at the Boise WaterShed, the city’s environmental education complex.
Most of the gardens on the 2017 tour are within walking distance of one another. The diversity of the Bench itself offers a variety of gardens.
“In a couple of cases, there are gardens where people have focused on garden art as much as plants. Others have used salvaged items in a thoughtful manner along with growing amazing plants. In other cases, gardeners are true ‘plants people,’ ” said Lindquist. “They are collectors, but in the best sense of the word.”
This year’s gardens, said Lindquist, will feature “plants you can find in local greenhouses, but that you might not go looking for.”
More than one of this year’s gardeners have incorporated vegetable gardens into their flower gardens.
“That’s a new way of thinking,” said Lindquist.
In addition, the gardens on this year’s tour are tended by the gardeners themselves.
“They may have an arborist visit. In a couple of cases, people inherited established gardens and tweaked them, but for the most part, these are owner-created gardens. All of the owners are hands-on,” said Lindquist.
Do you know of a beautiful local garden?
Next year, the tour will focus on Warm Springs Avenue and East Boise. The boundaries of that tour may stretch farther east than usual, into newer neighborhoods. Lindquist keeps a notebook of gardens to visit and is welcoming suggestions and submissions to help design the 2018 tour. Call the Idaho Botanical Garden at 208-343-8649.