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A Mountain Transformation

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The gardens featured in this year’s UCCE Master Gardeners of Tuolumne County garden tour (June 24, 10:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.) all have very distinct personalities. This week’s preview showcases Tip and Carol Bowlsby’s unique hillside garden and illustrates how people can use their own personal vision to blend a wild, rocky hill into residential landscaping.

When the Bowlsbys found this piece of mountainous property, they wanted it for the expansive view. What they didn’t know was that it would take three full weeks just to clear the thick forest of towering manzanita that overran the hill. They left an ample amount of these lovely, native plants intact in order to keep the setting as close as possible to the original surrounding environment. By pruning the lower branches of the tallest manzanitas, they allowed the rest of the drought-resistant plants to add structure to the landscape. They used the pruned manzanita branches as exotic-looking railings along all the paths.

Through a custom-made wrought iron arbor lies a cheerful, lush yard enclosed by deer fencing. The focal point in the middle of the lawn is a Liquidambar tree that turns a vivid red in the fall. The Bowlsby’s have downsized their lawn as a water-saving measure. The flower beds contain a colorful expanse of ground cover, perennials, vines and trees. Pots-both hanging and scattered throughout the grounds-are filled with an interesting variety of plants.

Another wrought-iron arbor leading to the tiered rose garden is covered with purple and burgundy clematis. A gorgeous pane of stained glass, tinted with pink and etched with an intricate rose design, is inset into the arbor. The glass pane was part of a custom-made door from Carol’s previous home. It now sets off the entrance to the terraced rose garden. Thirty roses, planted from bare root stage, thrive in what was once dry, rocky, higher-elevation soil. Remember, roses like well-drained soil!

Just beyond an attractive tool shed, which has been enhanced with landscaping, is yet another wrought-iron arbor. This one leads into an enchanting shade garden that has become Tip and Carol’s favorite outdoor room. The central patio is surrounded by plants and trees of multiple shapes, textures, heights, and shades of color. The 28 Japanese maples are thriving and provide vivid fall color.

When Carol and Tip realized they were wasting water from the sink in the hidden potting area, they redirected the water to create a waterfall which flows into the pond. The sink has two drains, so that only clean water runs through the recirculating pump in the pond.

Their main source of soil amendment lies underneath the cages that hold their rabbits. The manure under the cages was dark, rich and writhing with fat worms, just begging to go to work in the garden.

The plantings at the Bowlsby garden are too numerous to list here, but you will receive a plant list corresponding to labeled plants when you tour the garden. Garden tour tickets, $10/each, can be purchased from Master Gardeners, local nurseries, and on-line at

Kathy Nunes is a Master Gardener who is enthusiastic about the five garden tour locations on this year’s garden tour.