Mary Frost's garden is not large. It's a wedge of greenery and contrasting textures and colors, unfurling on that narrow cusp between the porch of her 1920s cottage and the street.
It's a mix of her careful selections, including a few mistakes, some heirlooms left from previous generations of gardeners and a little bit of what nature brought and allows to stay.
It's lovely, it's authentic and it sends an inspiring message to anyone who ever went on a home and garden tour just to ogle and dream.
Frost's little front yard garden and colorful bungalow, a bright article of faith and possibility amid Santa Rosa's proud but economically challenged Roseland area, is one of the featured stops on today's 20th Annual Garden Tour, put on by the Sonoma County Medical Association Alliance Foundation.
It is an endearing counterpoint to the headliner on the tour — the showstopping grounds of the newly restored McDonald Mansion, for generations Santa Rosa's most envied address. Tour-goers can enter a lavishly refurbished fantasy of old-world gentry at the mansion. When they reach Frost's cottage on the other side of the tracks, they won't be let down.
She has made the absolute most out of the space she has — yard space she also must share with her husband, Jack Frost, a concrete contractor who collects classic cars. Tour-goers will not only be able to visit Mary's gardens, but see his vintage trucks, decked out in zingy colors.
You'd think it would be a terrible clash, but the pair have made it work.
"The (tour) committee liked the fact that when we moved here we separated the property right away. From the garage back is his and from the garage forward is mine. The committee thought that was so funny they wanted me to put a sign on the fence — &‘his and hers' — with arrows," she says with a laugh.
Frost is a "gardening tutor," who works hands-on helping timid, time-constrained or overwhelmed homeowners come up with a maintenance plan or design that works for them and makes them happy. It's a job she invented after work-related injuries to her arms made it impossible for her to continue her occupation as a deep-tissue massage therapist.
She helps her clients choose their own plants, so "they feel a connection to the plant and want to take care of it."
But she began her own garden, which she uses as a demonstration area for clients, some 15 years before, when she and Jack bought the 900-square-foot fixer for $115,000, fulfilling what seemed like the unattainable dream of owning a home.
Their first task was to clean out the old — shrubs, hedges and Bermuda grass choking their 1/3-acre lot. Although she would later get her associate's degree in landscape management from Santa Rosa Junior College, at the time she was a neophyte, determined only to create a secret tranquility garden for massage clients in front of her little studio.
"I was just having fun throwing plants in and seeing what thrives," she remembers.
She has some regrets. Jack was zealous with his chainsaw on an ancient fig that was in the way of the fence. It eventually died and was replaced with a persimmon. And she wishes she had not removed an amazing but thorny Pyracantha on the other side of the house by her greenhouse.