Charm and whimsy grow in specialty gardens
By DIANNE REBER HART / Sonoma Valley Correspondent
Things aren’t always what they seem – or even what they used to be.
The colorful flowers blooming in MaryJane Welch’s field on south Broadway aren’t flowers at all.
And across town in Golly McGinty’s yard on rural Gehricke Road, wispy asparagus ferns and spider plants are spilling over where water once splashed in a three-tier fountain.
Landscaping isn’t just for professional designers – those with a creative eye and even without a green thumb are finding unique ways to create fanciful gardens with repurposed items.
Welch, an artist and preschool administrator, tosses old vinyl record albums into the hot sunshine to warp before she crafts them into flowers hardier than any time-tested perennial. Yesterday’s “Thriller” is today’s acrylic poppy.
McGinty, a real estate agent, repurposes just about everything into yard art – from her broken water fountain to the old Wedgewood stove once used by her late grandparents Lud and Pauline Ghiggioli.
At Kristi Koeller Magnani’s home on Grove Street in El Verano, her lush and spacious back yard is a tribute to her heritage. Rusted items from the family chicken ranch of generations ago now artfully surround the swimming pool, volleyball court, pool house and multiple seating areas.
“I’m a real sentimental person and I just love the family’s old stuff,” says Magnani, 54, a retired telephone company service representative. “I love knowing that people who are not with us anymore that the things in their life are with us here.”
During the summer, deep lavender and blue morning glory flowers and vines nearly hide the wrought-iron headboard anchored above a planter box in Magnani’s yard. Once part of her late grandmother Thelma Pellandini’s childhood bed, it’s now a garden trellis. The curlicues of the vintage headboard become yard art when the morning glory dies for the season.
The headboard is just one of many repurposed items tucked into Magnani’s landscape.
A rusted old hand pump is now part of a filtering system for a small two-level pond housing tiny fish and a pair of turtles. A set of claw-foot bathtubs from her grandparents’ house was twice repurposed; first as watering troughs for the family horses then moved into the landscaping as soda and beer coolers for parties and get-togethers.
Like Magnani, McGinty, 51, knows the history of every item within her landscape. Feeding troughs, antiquated tools and a rusty scraper bucket are among many pieces given to her by family friend Ben Pedranzini from his family’s old chicken ranch on Broadway.
An old cast iron tea pot is now planted with hen and chicks, a succulent that’s thriving in the rusty container. Across the driveway on McGinty’s terraced one-acre site, an old-fashioned milk can rests near a wine barrel, both weathered by time and topped with plants.
“I always get, ‘What a beautiful yard. Your place is beautiful,’ ” McGinty says of guests’ response to her landscaping.
Even passersby can’t resist McGinty’s yard. A 1910 tractor by her driveway is especially popular with tourists heading to the nearby Ravenswood Winery. They stop for photos, often with their kids or their wine bottles posed on the old tractor.
“I just sit here (in the house) and I just laugh,” McGinty says. “I swear to god, it gets a picture taken at least once a day. It’s just a piece of junk drug up here on a flatbed trailer.”
Welch, 59, also draws in fans. Not only does she decorate her yard with flowers made from old albums and beverage cans, she also sells them online and at the Tuesday night farmers market in the Sonoma Plaza.
Bright and whimsical, the flowers guarantee a colorful garden even in the dreariest of winter months.
“My dream is to see them, especially my record flowers, out all over Sonoma,” says Welch.
She credits her son Adam with unwittingly giving her flower power. At 20-something, he hosted a party while housesitting for his parents and went to bed before cleaning up the beer cans, only for his parents to arrive home earlier than expected.
Welch was furious at both the mess and the waste of the aluminum cans when she sparked an idea to create something beautiful from the castoffs.
“An hour later I was making flowers,” she recalls. “It just delights me to turn trash into a treasure.”
Welch repurposes other items as well. A scalloped window box planted with both live blooms and her handcrafted aluminum-can flowers was once a window cornice.
Out in her vegetable garden, two raised beds have been transformed into conversation pieces. Welch attached old metal headboards and footboards to each of the raised wooden boxes, adding a bit of whimsy and a place for vines to grow.Welch, Magnani and McGinty see old things in new ways, adding interest to their outdoor spaces by redefining “junk.”
For more information about MaryJane Welch’s designs, visit MaryJanesArtFarm.com or stop by the Tuesday night farmers market in the Sonoma Plaza.
(Landscape photos by Dianne Reber Hart)