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Boise Gardeners Open Their Backyards To Hundreds Of Sightseers

Every year in cities like Houston, Texas and Venice, California, people tour through backyard gardens.  It’s like a Parade of Homes for garden lovers.  Something similar is happening this Sunday in Boise. For the last 26 years, otherwise private people open up their backyards, to hundreds of strangers for the Idaho Botanical Garden’s Garden Tour

Marlayna Elledge stands surrounded by lush tropical plants, exquisite pots, and huge mosaics of stone.   “I always envisioned having this beautiful yard.”

But her banking job got in the way.  Now that she’s retired, her full-time job is gardening. “I’ve always wanted to do this, I had two grandparents who were great gardeners and I always saw it somehow, someway that I would be able to do this.”

This is a garden that surrounds her home up in the foothills of Boise.  Steep pathways connect little vignettes, places to rest while looking down over a gorgeous city landscape.  Each area boasts a theme. “I like to put white and lime green and colors that are really bright in darker spaces because I think it makes them pop out.”

On Sunday, around one thousand people will tour the landscape around her home.  She’s not worried about a large crowd.  “I think this should be shared and people should see it and get ideas and inspiration and because of the way this property is located, if I didn’t open it, nobody would be able to see it.”

Seeing other people’s handiwork, and getting ideas are the two main goals behind the garden tour. 

“We’re trying to celebrate the hard work that people do.” Julia Rundberg is the Executive Director of the Idaho Botanical Garden. ”We hope that when you come through on that tour you’re able to find a kernel or two that you take home to enhance what you do or perhaps be introduced to a whole new approach to gardening.”

Nine gardens are on the self-guided tour.  Each one is different, part of a private world that normally only these homeowners get to see. “There’s a teeny bit of voyeurism in all of us it seems and so the chance to peek in somebody’s backyard and wonder what have they done in their gardens is something that’s attractive.”

If you peek into Theresa Madrid’s back yard, you’ll find a hidden oasis.  Five years ago when she retired from Hewlett Packard, she ripped out the grass and created a habitat that includes a pond, a waterfall, and a tiny stream. “So I’ve created a place, a place of peace, for me and for the wildlife and for anybody that comes to enjoy my garden.”

Sheltered by a tall fence, the back yard is a vibrant green space that requires little attention from Madrid.  That’s a good thing, since she spends most of her energy on her ornamental front yard food garden.

This garden began a few years ago when she read an article about other cultures viewing Americans as wasteful.  “Because we grow our lawns, we water our lawns, we fertilize our lawns, we mow our lawns and use all the energy to do that, and then, we throw it away.”

Because she lives on Boise’s historic Harrison Boulevard, she had to get permission from the historical district to kill off her grass, and start growing fruits and vegetables.  Now she eats almost everything she grows. “And especially when you live in the desert, if you’re gonna water something, it should have some purpose, I think.”

Madrid is ready to share her food gardening passion with others through the garden tour.  “Gardens can be sustainable and still look nice, gardens can be edible and still look nice.”

Madrid is already enjoying the fruits of her labor.  She’s been eating lettuce, kale, arugula and peas every night for dinner.  Now she will share her passion with the public, along with the eight other garden owners, on the 26th annual garden tour this Sunday. 


Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio

As Senior Producer of our live daily talk show Idaho Matters, I’m able to indulge my love of storytelling and share all kinds of information (I was probably a Town Crier in a past life!). My career has allowed me to learn something new everyday and to share that knowledge with all my friends on the radio.

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