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Some people, it seems, are born with a special knack for manipulating the color wheel, while others struggle to conquer it. For Mary Frost, a feeling for color developed quite naturally, tucked into her genetic code. Much of it, she acknowledges, came from her father, Henry Castro, a Sebastopol sign painter.

?He could mix paint to match any color,? says Mary. ?I used to spend a lot of time in his shop. But my mother is a weaver, and I learned from her, too, and I was a hand weaver myself for 18 years.? Along with this intrinsic talent for interweaving colors came a sense of design that has spilled over into her garden, a sparkling jewel in an urban Roseland neighborhood.

?It was all Bermuda grass when we moved here,? Mary says. ?It just chokes everything so I?m constantly pulling it out.? But even after tussling with it for 13 years, this persistent pest hasn?t deterred her from creating a series of color-filled garden rooms around the periwinkle-blue bungalow she shares with her husband, Jack Frost.

As much delight as Mary takes in her garden, its beginning was all about something else.

During a previous career as a massage therapist, she developed a garden room as a refuge where clients could conclude their treatments in a peaceful setting. They stretched out on the comfy cushion of an iron chaise, a family antique, and were lulled by the quiet flow of a nearby fountain.

From time to time, someone would exclaim, ?It feels like the garden is giving you a big hug.?

It?s no wonder why.

A stately fig tree underplanted with Geranium Biokovo provides protective shade over the chaise set on a low carpet of creeping green and white lamium.

Just visible through a lattice enclosure in the opposite corner, a metal mesh patio set and rustic candle-filled chandelier invite images of romantic dinners.

Rounded blooms of a mophead hydrangea in a melange of hues endure for months as a main feature in this garden space and repeat the warm colors of the fountain and surrounding paving. Spikes of liriope partnered with creeping germander (Teucrium cossonii) provide perennial purple hues.

From spring to late fall, velvety magenta and plum trumpets of annual painted tongue (Salpiglossis) added highlights, and there was seasonal color from Iceland poppies (Papaver), pansies (Viola), cuphea and million bells (Calibrachoa), and a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum).

Years ago when this charming garden and bungalow were only a dream, Mary sketched a vision of a house bedecked with a fountain. And, to her delight, within days of purchasing their home, Jack, a concrete contractor, had built the fountain.

?I call it my Secret Garden,? says Mary. ?It?s one of my favorite places. Jack does the heavy lifting, but whatever I can think up, he can fabricate for me ? ?Just give me a schematic,? he says. We?ve got a good thing going!?

The comfort zone in Mary?s Secret Garden took an unexpected turn when she faced doctor?s orders to quit her massage business and change her life to heal an injured arm. Facing the need to reinvent herself, she pondered long and hard, asking, ?What are my other passions?? She knew that her garden was at the top of the list.

She enrolled in SRJC and graduated with certificates in landscape management and human services, but it was her first course ? Ornamental Grasses, taught by horticulturist Bob Hornback ? that made all the difference.

?He ignited a passion for learning and I just had to go on,? Mary says. ?I ended up getting what I wanted on my own terms.?

Today, much of her garden and its design compose demonstration beds for clients in her business, The Gardening Tutor (www.thegardeningtutor.net). In consultations, she focuses on color consciousness, eliciting feelings associated with a client?s preferences, and then assists with selecting and combining plants, carrying the process from an idea stage to finished planted beds.

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