51.6 ° F
Full Weather
Sponsored By:

23rd Annual Garden Tour: Natural-Looking Landscapes

Sponsored by:

Again this week we will take a brief peek into two of the gardens featured on Sunday, October 14th, when University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners of Tuolumne County host their 23rd annual garden tour. This year’s theme, “Gardening with Purpose,” covers many gardening objectives from creative use of small spaces for meditation and outdoor dining to food production and utilizing what is on-site in your landscape plan. Today let’s look at two gardens that exemplify natural-looking landscapes.

Piper Garden: When the guest speaker for the North American Rock Garden Society saw “Claire’s Claim” in Columbia, he exclaimed, “This isn’t a rock garden, this is a garden of rocks!” Named for Ed Piper’s daughter, the three-acre parcel is a historic remnant of the Mother Lode Gold Rush. Hydraulically mined, top soil was washed away to a depth of 20 to 30 feet by the force of the water in the high-powered search for gold. In an inspired “when-life-gives-you-lemons” move, Ed Piper joined the Sierra Rock Garden Society and incorporated the exposed granite boulders into his landscaping. The owner’s vision is to develop the property as a historical landmark or park.

As one of the founders of California State University Monterey Bay’s Return of the Natives program, Ed Piper – a parks facilities designer by occupation with a degree in landscape architecture – is no stranger to planning projects. He has owned the Columbia property for thirteen years, moving to the property permanently six years ago. Ed has widened paths, created seating areas and extended water lines to create small waterfalls in the rocks. The perimeter of his property is naturalized, with more formal pocket gardens closer to the house.

A re-creation of a miner’s cabin, built as a playhouse, is easily accessible. The lumber for the cabin and many other garden projects was milled from trees that originally grew on-site.

Because Mr. Piper navigates his property in a motorized wheelchair, many of the paths are wheelchair accessible. If you are ambulatory, the site offers large areas for walking, so wear comfortable shoes.

Maffei Garden: The Maffei garden is located on five-plus acres at an elevation of just over 3000 feet. Paolo Maffei designed and built the house and, a year later, designed the pool that is the visual focus of the garden. The interior of the pool was tinted “Tahoe blue,” a dark color that is natural-looking and also helps increase the temperature of the water by about five degrees. The exfoliated granite surrounding the pool continues the natural theme. A naturalized pond is nearby.

Repurposing available materials is a theme in the Maffei garden. Material excavated from the pool site was used to create a berm that visually separates the garden from a neighboring house. Pathways were built using “urbanite” (broken concrete salvaged from other projects) and bark chips.

Facing the challenge of a western-facing slope with more-than-ample sunshine, the Maffei garden incorporates a watering system and native plants. The rainwater harvesting system collects roof run-off into six barrels. The contents of the barrels can be pumped into a 1300-gallon tank that sends water to the drip irrigation system.

This summer brought a surge in the gopher population, causing the demise of some native plants. However, natural regrowth is occurring. The Maffei garden will demonstrate the

evolution of a garden dealing with the challenges of our warming Mediterranean-climate foothills.

Tickets for the 23rd annual tour, which begins at 10 a.m. and continues until 3 p.m., are available in Columbia at Columbia Mercantile; in Sonora at Antiques, Etc., Sonora Lumber and the UCCE Office; in Standard at Nature’s Whole Food Depot; and at The Nest in Twain Harte. Tickets are also available from your favorite Master Gardener and on-line at

Come out and join us for an enjoyable day spent touring gardens in the Mother Lode.

Rebecca Miller-Cripps is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.