Editor’s note: The 2013 Educational Garden Tour, which showcases the work of local master gardeners, takes place this Saturday, June 22. Tickets can be purchased online in advance, and check in is at Redwood High School, 1968 Old County Rd. in Redwood City where you’ll receive a map of the five homes on the tour, including gardens in Menlo Park and Atherton. Menlo Park-based photographer Frances Freyberg stopped in for a pre-tour visit at Nancy Grove’s suburban farm in Atherton. Nancy tells her story below.
This was the home of my childhood. I returned with my husband Bill in 2005, a year after my mother moved to an assisted living facility. We lived in the house the way it was (a 1950’s era low-slung, dark California rancher, with lots of lawn) until 2007. Then over the next four years, the house was extensively remodeled, as was, subsequently, the yard. This summer is the third summer since the re-landscaping.
There was always an orchard. I remember when I was 11, white almonds flowered along the back fence. Neither they, nor the cherries I loved growing up, do well here now because of the shrinking number of chill hours in Bay Area winters.
My parents always grew a few tomatoes, and I grew up learning how to can peaches and tomatoes. The orchard was my special place, and when school got rough or I was feeling low, I would retire to the orchard and sit in my “thinking spot.”
We have always warred with the squirrels. My dad built many large chicken wire panels, framed with redwood. When a fruit tree was ripening, he, and subsequently we, would strap four or five sides together with a panel on top, held together with Bungie cords, to exclude the squirrels. It worked, but it was unsightly and made picking very unpleasant!
My parents had many sustainable practices before anyone paid much attention. We always had some kind of compost area, and I can remember painstakingly burying apple and peach peels out in the orchard, because, after all, “we might as well be returning that good food to the land rather than sending it down the drain!”
Bill and I have tried to honor their commitment to good stewardship:
• Our home is passively energy-efficient, with airflow, window placement, and insulation reducing utility use.
• We are net generators of electricity, with our 14kW solar photovoltaic system. We also heat pool and in-house hot water with solar thermal panels.
• We are on a well for all landscape irrigation. This became complicated when we learned that the well water is not only full of silt but also extremely hard, full of calcium carbonate, which proceeded to rapidly plug up our new drip irrigation. The high salt content was also causing “salt burn” on many new plantings — you can still see the characteristic “salt burn” at the leaf tips of some bushes and small trees on the property. The solution, installed this spring, was a reverse osmosis unit (really a small desalination plant!) which provides purified well water. One drawback to this technology is that it is energy-intensive; we think (we hope!) we have enough excess solar power to cover it.
• We compost, including most of our plant material, grass clippings, etc.
• The mulch in back is shredded oak chips from the last oak pruning.
• The lawn was replaced by a variety of perennials, many drought-tolerant. The turf in the back yard is a no-mow fescue, developed by a UC researcher, which creates a meadow appearance, when it hasn’t just been reseeded, and uses half the water of regular grass.
• We grow essentially all of the produce we eat.
We are so lucky to live in this great spot for a second generation. My parents “sustained” and nurtured this place for 50 years. The legacy they have passed on is not only real estate but a mindset — live your life with mindfulness toward the generations to come!
Photos by Frances Freyberg