Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - July 12, 2013

Growing their own

Landscaping tour showcases sustainable, edible gardens

by Rye Druzin

When Sharon Erickson moved back to her childhood home in 1993, the garden that she had grown up with was in disrepair. But over the last 20 years Erickson has rebuilt and expanded the garden until today, where it now occupies almost the entirety of her large backyard.

"My kids kept kidding me because the lawn kept getting smaller and the patio would get smaller and (the garden) just expanded," Erickson said. "I recently took out the rest of the lawn, it had gotten so small."

Erickson's garden will be among 10 in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton and Mountain View included in the seventh annual Edible Landscaping Tour on Saturday, July 20.

Back in 1958 Erickson's dad began converting a corner of the backyard into a vegetable garden. Years of digging the ground has turned what used to be hard adobe clay into a workable and healthy soil.

"I think (my dad) convinced us that we should build underground forts," Erickson said. "So all summer long we would dig big holes in the ground and we would crawl. And I swear those holes must have been 3, 4 feet deep. ... And then in the fall he would fill them up with the leaves from the trees. So over time we broke through the hard pan in the backyard."

Erickson's garden hosts a variety of plants that produce large amounts of fruit and vegetables all year long. The garden is on a drip system that allows her to spend a minimal amount of time maintaining the yard.

"I probably spend a minimum of half a day on the weekends, but I work in San Jose," Erickson said. "At a certain point your biggest chore becomes the harvesting and then dealing with all the produce. So you eat it, you harvest it, you give it to friends, you can it, you freeze it."

The garden features tomatoes, roses and beans among others, and also has a multitude of perennials. Erickson plants her lettuce close to the back door so that she can pick it fresh in the morning for her lunch salad, which she fills with other vegetables from the garden.

"It's so much better when you grow it in the backyard," Erickson said. "You can't buy tomatoes like you can grow in the backyard. They're not warm when you buy them; they're warm from the sun when you pick them."

Her garden also hosts 16 different fruit trees, from avocados to persimmon, apple to fig. Erickson keeps the trees small so that there is plenty of sun for her light-hungry vegetables. Three of the trees — a lemon tree out front and an orange and large walnut tree in the back — have all been on the property since 1958. Erickson reminisced about how when she and her brothers were younger they dreamed of one day building a tree house in the walnut tree. While those days are long past, the walnut tree provides the bulk of the shade over the remainder of the patio.

Like any fruit and vegetable garden, the main resource that Erickson needs is water. But her property and vegetables provide for most of her compost, while six chickens produce manure. Erickson tries to make up somewhat for the water used by her garden by having a front yard that is native and water-free. She's planted manzanitas, sage and a fruitless olive tree to make a simple and tasteful front.

While much has changed in her garden, the same can also be said of the area.

"(In 1958) these houses were all here, but they were smaller," she said. "It was a different kind of community in those days. And when you went to the drive-in, you went through the country, and when you went to the Monta Vista drive-in it was like miles of orchards. And now it's (totally developed). So it was a very different place."

One of the main goals of participating in the garden tour is to show other people in the area that they can have a beautiful, functional and edible garden as well. Common Ground, the organizer of the Edible Landscaping Tour, has been working since 1972 to bring sustainable and healthy practices to the surrounding area.

"We focus a lot of energy on that to make (the tour) really wonderful for all the tour goers in the community to really inspire people and show them the diversity of types of gardens they can put in," Patricia Becker, center manager at Common Ground, said. "Small gardens, large gardens, ones where you do it all yourself or ones that you have people come in and help you. There's a whole array of ways to do it."

This year's tour includes such features as bee hives, ducks and geese, rainwater catchments and, as to be expected, lots of vegetables.

Erickson sees much value in events such as the tour.

"I've always supported (Common Ground's) tour; our house has been on the tour a couple of times before, but it's such a good way to get ideas," Erickson said. "So you just go poke your nose into somebody else's backyard, or front yard, and you can see what they're doing."

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What: Seventh Annual Edible Landscaping Tour

When: Saturday, July 20, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Self-guided tour of 10 gardens begins at Common Ground, 559 College Ave., Palo Alto

Cost: $35

Info: www.commongroundinpaloalto.org/ediblelandscapingtour.htm

Editorial Intern Rye Druzin can be emailed at rdruzin@paweekly.com.

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