Town Crier Correspondent
I'm a Pisces - March 14 - born in the Year of the Dragon, and I've always loved fishponds and swimming," said Rewa Hulden-Hodges.
In Hulden-Hodges' small garden near downtown Los Altos, there's a remarkable amount of water, not to mention scores of pelicans and hundreds of interesting plants. It's a garden like many people remember from their childhoods, an entire universe of different planting areas, a sundial, fountains, birdbaths, cactus and succulents with abalone shells, comfortable upholstered chairs, generous overhead shade - there's even a new-millennium hot tub from which to view a nearby mini-fountain.
Hulden-Hodges' first gardening memories go back to the early 1920s in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where, as a schoolgirl, she helped her uncle grow vegetables. Then she was sent through a nearby tourist campground to sell the fresh produce to people passing through on sightseeing trips.
"Business really picked up after they opened Mount Rushmore," Hulden-Hodges recalled.
Hulden-Hodges also built gardens - all with fishponds, of course - on sand dunes in San Francisco's Sunset District, in San Carlos and off Summerhill Road in Los Altos Hills. Her downtown Los Altos garden began with a large double fishpond she designed soon after buying the property as an investment in 1959.
"This was the contractor's own home; he built three other houses, as well as this one in 1949," Hulden-Hodges said. "The garden was just grass and ivy when we bought it."
As a widow, Hulden-Hodges moved into the house in 1972. First, she filled the dry ponds with water and covered them with a wooden arbor, creating a restful and shady corner of tranquillity in the backyard. Then, she took out the lawn in front, planted trees, including a now-towering redwood, and clivia, nandina, Burmese honeysuckle and baby tears. An ancient native American grinding stone points the way to the front door.
Next, Hulden-Hodges laid out a rose garden along the driveway, installed another small fountain, and started creating numerous garden rooms, making a mosaic of planting beds throughout the back of the property, which measures about 50 feet by 100 feet in all.
With a rap of a small rock on a larger one beside the double pond, she called her many backyard goldfish for a snack. A miniature water wheel, a gift from her son, turns gently and adds to the watery ambience. Birds dart everywhere, sipping flowery nectars and feeding from the many stations Hulden-Hodges stocks with seed.
"Everybody just goes straight out here when they come to visit," she said. "We live out here in the summer."
From the shady front garden, visitors pass first through a west-facing side garden that has been planted with desert-loving ice plant and shelves of cacti and succulents. Pots of geraniums scramble in front of "old man" cactus, tall yucca and volcanic rock collected in Arizona.
"This is a real sun trap," Hulden-Hodges said.
Her good friend and fellow gardener Desmond Lillie has made a wooden sign for the gate into the back garden: "Love Grows Here."
Alstromenia in bright color, potato vines, impatiens, tiger lilies, azaleas, Japanese arched bridges, Japanese irises, fuschias and statues are just a few of the bright spots that attract attention. More retiring, but equally fascinating, are the sparrows, hummingbirds and orchids that shimmer in unexpected places.
"I like bright-colored flowers, not white ones," Hulden-Hodges said.
At the very back of the property, down a camellia-lined path, there is still another garden area, which she calls the "Back Forty." Here she grows winter chard, summer vegetables, irises, lavender, clematis, a Cecil Bruner rose, a fig tree, a 10-year-old white angel's trumpet and a "tomato tree" from Australia.
"When we sit in the back garden, we are in our own little world," Hulden-Hodges said.