MOVING FROM A “POSTAGE-STAMP YARD” IN CORONADO to 2.5 acres in Fallbrook brought Janet Colvard closer to nature and the country quiet she craved. But after years of weekend puttering in the garden, the Fallbrook Hospital nurse executive knew she needed help if the landscape was to grow beyond a patch of lawn, a few roses and some palm trees.
“Little by little” is how she describes the garden’s remarkable evolution during the past five years via an ongoing partnership with Oceanside landscape designer Ruth E. Wolfe. Working in phases on a modest budget, Ruth is fulfilling Janet’s desire for easy-care garden rooms that enclose her home and guesthouse with all-season beauty and privacy.
While the sophisticated plant palette is strictly Southern California (waterwise succulents, bulbs, Mediterranean-climate shrubs and trees), the garden style is what Ruth calls “formal with a twist.” Inspired by visits to Europe and Janet’s collection of colorful Italian ceramics, Ruth incorporated classical elements like topiaries, urns and an allée, always mindful that “Fallbrook isn’t France.”
A “secret garden” with a mix of orderly classicism, heady scents and seasonal sprouting of bulbs viewable from the kitchen windows “calls Janet out to the garden,” Ruth says. A flagstone path along a bed of sages, lavenders and roses on standards leads her between urn-topped columns to a bench secluded by spires of ‘Swane’s Golden’ Italian cypress. Janet especially enjoys this retreat at night. “I sit out there and look at the stars,” she says.
On the other side of the house, a classic allée transforms a utilitarian side yard into a dappled destination. Eleven slender lilac melaleucas (Melaleuca decussata) line an undulating path skirted with silvery mounds of ‘Pink Sugar’ arctotis, pink alstroemeria, tangerine geums and sunset-hued daylilies. Outside a master bedroom window, a fountain entertains Janet and her two indoor Himalayan cats with its music and steady parade of splashing birds.
Another water feature burbles near the front door, flanked by a tapestry of foundation plants chosen “to satisfy Janet’s craving for year-round color,” Ruth explains. In the mix are flowering crape myrtles, camellias, sages and ‘Safari Sunset’ leucadendron, as well as hundreds of bulbs ranging from ground-hugging oxalis to bold sea squill (Urginea maritima) with twisted flower stalks that soar 5 feet or more.
Around back, a “wall” of glaucous Senecio amaniensis and cascading ‘Baby Blanket’ roses encloses the long patio without blocking views downslope, where Janet has an orchard of citrus, stone fruits and persimmons. Nearby is a new “Peter Rabbit” potager with raised beds for vegetables and berries edged with a rustic brush fence of manzanita branches gleaned from a canyon on the property.
Outside the kitchen are a tiered, keystone herb garden and new outdoor kitchen and fireplace where Janet enjoys welcome shade and the company of family and friends. Another shaded spot — beneath an arbor where a wisteria gambols — offers views past circling hawks to distant snowcapped San Gorgonio Mountain.
“I love being in the garden now. I could move out there,” Janet says. “That connection with nature keeps me in balance.”
Gardens: By Mary James • Photography by Bob Wigand