For this city gardener, less is not more
By Lynn Gowdy
Imagine a serene, calm place where you can escape, sipping your morning tea while listening to the chirping birds or the faint spat of dew dripping off leaves while an occasional hummingbird buzzes by.
This is what Wayne Tauferner experiences in his 11,000-square-foot outdoor space in a little residential pocket behind Arden Fair.
Tauferner is a creative gardener with a wealth of knowledge and a knack for obtaining obscure and interesting plants. At the home that he shares with his partner, Mark Johnson, he has turned his outdoor surroundings into a series of spaces filled with color and charm.
In the backyard, a covered patio is a haven for succulents along with impatiens, asparagus ferns, English ivy and hibiscus. Begonias hang in baskets, and a large trumpet vine guards the patio’s northwest corner.
An area off that patio that Tauferner dubbed “the meadow” is mostly composed of baby’s tears and walking stones that he harvested from a roadside just above Auburn to guide visitors through the enchantment. “When winter rains come, flat stones fall down slopes onto the roadway in areas of Auburn, and the county scoops them off to the side,” Tauferner says. “I help them out by loading up a few and bringing them into my yard.”
The yard behind the meadow is filled with colorful plantings: mondo grass, hellebore, hydrangea, dwarf phlox, coreopsis and coral bells. “I’ve got lobelia here and there. They pop up all over the meadow,” he says. “I never know what color I’m going to get.” Tauferner points to a large daisy. “You always want Gloriosa and Goldstrom daisies in your yard. They have great color, are hardy and very easy to grow.” He interspersed them with oregano, another hardy plant.
A glass piece from an old dome light is mounted on the fence with a light bulb wired in its back. Tauferner hooked it to a strand of white lights wrapped into a nearby Japanese maple then up into another recycled light fixture. “When lit, they look like the moon and stars,” he says. This is one of his favorite evening spots when the fountain is on and wine is poured.
Tauferner and Johnson kept two slim potted Christmas trees from their previous dwelling. Using a curved wire arbor, Tauferner planted the trees on either side and trained them to grow up and over in the shape of an arch.
Passing through the arch, you enter a back garden area filled with vegetables. Tauferner has a gift for utilizing everything, including leftover herbs, which are dried and make their way into recycled spice bottles. “I use them in veggie mixes for barbecue, among other things,” he says. “I frequently make bread that includes several fresh picked herbs that get tossed into the dough. Still experimenting with that blend.”
Trees are a key element in Tauferner’s garden design. “Trees are the most important component in a yard,” he says. He has a multitude of fruit trees: satsuma mandarin, Asian and European pear, heirloom apple, Meyer lemon, ultra dwarf cherry, 3-in-1 plum and peach.
An early eyesore was a utility hole in the rear of the yard. Using his imagination and resourcefulness, Tauferner placed a planting bench made from discarded materials over the hole. He used an old wooden pallet from work, added legs and an upper back, then filled in the seat with leftover 9-by-9-inch tiles.
In front of the house is Tauferner’s newest addition: a vegetable garden. He ripped out the extensive grass lawn. “Grass is nice, but it’s pure work with no reward,” he says. “I’d much rather reduce grassy areas and grow more vegetables.”
Several lesser-known vegetable varieties thrive here, including dragon tongue bush beans, sweet pickle and ivory bell peppers, pineapple tomatillos and Japanese Trifele Yellow tomatoes. In the cucumber patch, he planted three non-bitter varieties: Diva, Garden Oasis and Summer Dance. “I won’t plant the Diva again,” he says. “It’s smaller with a less impressive a taste.”
Tauferner planted a colorful yet practical border around the vegetable garden. “Since the driveway is next to the garden, I planted mondo grass,” he says. “If you step on it getting out of the car, it doesn’t do any damage.” He interspersed the mondo grass with marigolds, pinwheel zinnias, blue salvia and fairy lilies for color and finished off each corner with a morning glory that grows up and along the fence.
A white picket fence gives the front garden a country feel. Part of the fence can be removed to make transporting large items easy. “It’s important to plan ahead and consider things like bringing a wheelbarrel in and out to make your life easier,” says Tauferner. “I started by hand-drawing a map of the area and deciding what I wanted to plant for spring and summer. I thought about a soaker hose and how it would reach everything. And aesthetics—it’s in the front, so I wanted it to look nice.”
This fall, he’ll map out his winter garden. Next spring, he’ll revisit the previous year’s map. “I rotate plants, moving items to different areas,” he says. “This is crucial to breaking any disease cycle.”
“I learn more by doing than I ever did in school. It’s an ongoing process, including combating pests organically.”
Tauferner began gardening as a child and got some of his knowledge from a degree in agriculture and soil science. But for Tauferner, who works in the floral department of a natural foods store, there is nothing like getting your hands dirty. “I’m always experimenting, trying new things,” he says. “I learn more by doing than I ever did in school. It’s an ongoing process, including combating pests organically.” He uses 80 percent organic materials. He gives extensive thought to the 20 percent that is not organic, choosing those items wisely. Tauferner moves ladybugs around to help with unwanted critters. Neem oil is a staple. He uses soapy water and Tanglefoot to handle ants.
He’s currently struggling with codling moths eating his pears. “It’s frustrating figuring out how to battle these,” he says. “They lay eggs on the outside, then burrow in.”
Still, the garden is an oasis. Says Tauferner: “It’s taken awhile, but spending the time is worth it. Each year, things grow and fill in a bit more. I’ve coined a perfect phrase for my garden now: controlled chaos. I love it.”