Patches of Paradise

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When Steve Beckman bought a fixer-upper in suburban Ojai four years ago, his neighbors were aghast when he killed the front lawn and ripped out five sycamore trees.

Then they watched in astonishment as he began crafting his yard into a garden paradise. Now a waterfall cascades over boulders into a stream. From a footbridge, goldfish can be seen in a pond below. Scads of plants are in bloom--everything from California poppies to tall, spiky Australian kangaroo paws.

“I know a mother who drives two blocks out of her way to school just to see what’s new here,” Beckman said, surveying the constantly evolving project.


Beckman’s property is one of six stops on the Ojai Garden Tour, “Wonders of Spring,” Saturday. This is the fifth year for the self-guided tour, which includes the Ojai Valley Garden Club’s flower show at the Ojai Valley Woman’s Club, 441 E. Ojai Ave.

A fund-raiser for the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, the garden tour costs $15 if tickets are purchased in advance, or $20 on Saturday. Tickets are $10 for people over 65, and free for 12 and under. Maps with locations may be picked up Saturday at the chamber office, 150 W. Ojai Ave. Along with the tour, participants will get a potted plant from Matilija Gardens Nursery and restaurant discounts.

If you’re like many homeowners, the urge to garden hits you about this time every year. You study the yard, back and front. You haunt the nurseries. But what to do?

That’s the beauty of touring other people’s gardening ventures. You can snag some ideas for your own patch of paradise. Along the way, you can also pick their brains for gardening tips.

Beckman, a landscaper by trade and organizer of the tour, is full of ideas. But his corner lot’s transformation wasn’t meticulously planned before he dug up the first tree. That’s his best advice to those who want to give their yards a make-over but don’t know where to start: “Split it into parts, and do one at a time. Don’t get overwhelmed. The whole thing is to have fun with it.”

The properties on the tour feature something unique, and range from Beckman’s typical suburban-size frontyard to secluded spreads. One has an 8,000-gallon koi pond; another has more than 300 rosebushes.


“If you’re not wearing sunglasses, you’ll see spots because of the colors,” Beckman said.

Three of the properties border each other along a rushing, boulder-strewn creek in the foothills. Because the canyon is up a narrow road, a bus will shuttle visitors there, but the other sites are accessible by car.

Bill and Bernice Flynn started building their creek-side home 20 years ago, depending on their three children for much of the labor.

“There was nothing here but sheer rock,” Bernice Flynn said. “There was no level ground. We went through four chain saws” to remove the chaparral.

Over the years, the Flynns have planted several garden spots on the property, including one nestled against the house called “Bernice’s Secret Garden.”

The property still has a wild, natural look--two boulders actually protrude into the Flynn home. Neighbors Ken and Anne Boydston also retained the natural look--a giant boulder rises 25 to 30 feet inside their house.

Outside, they laid brick pathways and planted everything from giant cactus to the pride of Madeira, with its spiky cone-like clusters of striking bluish-purple flowers.


“Most everything I have came from cuttings and divisions from other yards,” said Anne Boydston, who does much of the work herself. Somehow it all seems to fit in with the natural setting and the constant backdrop of water rushing down the creek.

On the other side of the creek sits Shawny and Chad Vick’s home, but the separations between the three properties are subtle because they’ve all tried to blend smoothly with the other. Besides that, they’re all friends.

The Vicks have always had an expanse of lawn bordered with ceanothus in the backyard, but the stretch along the creek had been left in a wilder state--until February 1997.

That’s when Shawny Vick dug in and hasn’t let up. She’s tried to put in mostly drought-tolerant plants, including Australian grevillea and sage. With some outside help, she installed stone walls and walkways and is in the final stages of building a rock-lined stream leading to a small pool.

“I love it,” she said, taking a break from yardwork. “I always had acrylic nails and makeup. I never looked like this.”


Ojai Garden Tour, “Wonders of Spring,” Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets and maps available at Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, 150 W. Ojai Ave., Ojai. For information, call (805) 646-8126.