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Dreams of lush garden become water-wise reality

Photos by Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Mark and Pam Goodman reimagined their garden as a whimsical, grass-free space that’s water-wise and welcoming to native birds and insects.

Several years ago, Pam Goodman suffered a serious leg injury and, after graduating to a wheelchair, spent the majority of her recovery parked in the window-wrapped corner of her Los Altos home’s living room.

“There wasn’t much to look at other than grass, a Japanese maple and a fountain,” she said of the garden.

And the lawn where she and her husband, Mark, were married was struggling because of the drought.

She began to dream about a lush, colorful garden, clipping photos of plants, making lists of favorites and devouring the Sunset Western Garden Book. (Her copy looks like a porcupine because of all the sticky notes.) The exercise was therapeutic.

After meeting with a couple of landscape designers, Pam had the good fortune of connecting with Rebecca Sweet, who lived nearby and agreed to take on the garden makeover. Sweet is author of the national best-selling book “Refresh Your Garden Design with Color, Texture and Form.”

Sweet suggested planting drought-resistant perennials with bright flowers and long bloom times, as well as replacing the lawn with low-water silver-blue Dymondia margaretae. The end result reduced the water bill by 40 percent.

“I wanted birds, bees and butterflies, and I got them all,” Pam said.

In addition, she wanted a garden that was beautiful, saved water and reflected her personal style.

Major makeover

The first step was to replace the lawn. The Goodmans stripped out the sod and dug down 18 inches to get rid of weeds and Bermuda grass roots – no easy undertaking because of the size of the front yard. Next, a fabric weed barrier was laid, followed by a mixture of compost and fresh soil for planting.

Low-growing silver carpet, sedum and European gray sedge were chosen to fill in the area. Then, to protect the ground cover from heavy foot traffic, a meandering path of sandstone pavers was installed, leading from the front gate around the yard to the back. Other drought-resistant plants were added to provide a variety of color, textures and heights.

Sweet incorporated a few roses in the garden design even though they aren’t water-wise because they reminded Pam of the gardens she had in her home state of Ohio. Her favorite is a Cecile Brunner given to her by her mother, whose Ohio daffodils bloom in Goodmans’ garden. The bulbs were dug up and brought here by Pam.

Bulbine, planted under the crape myrtles at the front gate, attracts hundreds of bees with its variegated orange and yellow spiked flowers. Birds fly in and out of the manzanita, and butterflies are attracted by the milkweed.

A huge bird of paradise plant has found the perfect home next to a patio koi pond. Mark calls the pond a sushi bar because of the egrets it attracts.

Succulents thrive in the backyard and in patio planters. Pam said she loves them because “they are fun and whimsical and require little care.”

Whimsy has a place in her garden, starting with a lifelike cat sculpture in the front yard eyeing a mouse on the porch.

In a corner of the ingress to the backyard, colorful paintings by Mark hang on the fence, inviting visitors to pause and take a seat in one of several venues in the garden.

Along the same path sits a Buddha, wearing a bead necklace belonging to Pam’s mother.

“It took three men to load him in the car, but then I couldn’t get him out,” Pam said.

There’s a small lawn in the backyard where grandchildren can play and a wisteria-covered arbor beneath which adults can dine.

There’s no problem picking veggies for dinner or fruit when in season. The Goodmans grow Gravenstein and Fuji apples, loquats, lemons, chard, kale, tomatoes, cucumbers and lots of herbs.

“I don’t like to pay for herbs,” said Pam, who was deciding where to plant a dwarf cherry tree.

Reminders of home

The front and back yards are visible from the living room of their 1947 home, which Pam describes as “so solid and ahead of its time.”

Windows on the side facing the front yard are floor-to-ceiling, tilted outward at a slight angle and separated by brick pillars. Opposite is a wall composed of divided-light windows and French doors.

The aforementioned bulbs weren’t the only things Pam brought with her from Ohio.

“When we moved into this home in 1993, the little library with its cherry wood walls, bookshelves and old brick fireplace seemed the perfect home for the Mission furniture I brought from Ohio,” she said.

Objets d’art include turn-of-the-century pottery – Rookwood, Fulper, Grueby, Weller.

“I love the glaze and shape – and I needed vases because I always had flowers in the house, especially when it was raining or snowing outside,” Pam said.

And with the arrival of spring, the Goodmans have their ever-changing landscape to enjoy.

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