Sage & Songbirds Gardens - 2015

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Five beautiful home gardens, filled with sensational succulents, natives and other drought-
tolerant botanical treats--and host to local birds & butterflies--will be featured on this year's tour, PLUS 2 bonus sites--a Hummingbird Haven Patio, AND, repeated by popular demand -- a raptor rehabilitation facililty. That's a total of 7 places to see with only one ticket purchase!

GARDEN TOUR DETAILS - May 1-3, 2015, 10 am - 4 pm. Ticket valid all 3 days.
Self-guided tour. Ticket includes map.
Go at your own pace, stay as long as you like in each garden.
Ticket provides admission to all 7 sites. One visit per site, per ticket.

TICKET PRICE: $20/person.

To order tickets, please click here.


Click on the garden you would like to read about for complete details and photos.

Garden #1 - Walk through a wine-producing vineyard...

Garden #2 - Saunter around the grounds of a sprawling, old adobe hacienda...

Garden #3 - Relax alongside a bubbling creek in a spacious outdoor living room...

Garden #4 - Stroll through a swimming pool transformed into succulent garden (and Monarch Way Station)...

Garden #5 - Chill-out in an artist's cozy casita with talking parrots...

Bonus Site - Hang-out with hundreds of hummers in Hummingbird Haven...

Bonus Site - Get up-close & personal with rarely-seen birds-of-prey...




Garden #1 - Walk through a wine-producing vineyard...

Jan&Dean bottletree vineyard
Jan & Dean Patterson

They never intended to make wine, but Jan and Dean Patterson now produce up to 1,000 bottles a year from their Alpine vineyard!

The vines were planted on about half of their 1.9 acre lot as a water-efficient alternative to a lawn, garden or weeds.

“We didn’t want a big garden to maintain, but the weeds would just take over the area,” Jan said. So they decided to plant a vineyard.

The result is not only a water-efficient use of space, but the creation of a romantic vision on the sloping hillside below the deck of their Spanish-Colonial style home--and ultimately, wine with which to enjoy and accompany the view.

Established grape plants need only a few drips of water weekly during their growing cycle, Dean says, although the first few years, they need about a gallon a day.

Most of Jan and Dean Patterson’s 400 grapevines are in their 7th year of growing. They have been producing wine for the past 3 years.

Dean, a biochemist, researched and studied soils and plants before deciding what to plant at their Alpine home.

“We didn’t want to grow what Alpine wouldn’t give us,” he said.

The upshot is a vineyard with plants from the Rhone Valley of Southern France-- 80 percent Syrah, coupled with Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Red Zinfandel (all reds), and one white grape, Viognier.

Jan said the white grapes bring a deeper color to the red.
“You’d think it would make it whiter!” she chuckled.

The original plan was simply to grow the grapes and sell them to other vintners.
“But then we started making wine,” Dean said.
Thus, that simple plan became a complex process.

Actual wine-making begins late August and involves daily measuring of sugar and acidity of grapes to determine the optimum day to pick them, a day of harvesting, cold soaking a few days, crushing, de-stemming, fermenting for up to a week, pressing, inoculating with yeast, adding a chemical to prevent spoilage and further fermentation, checking the Brix level in the “juice”, and putting it in barrels in the wine cellar for aging before the ultimate bottling.

Although the actual wine-making process centers around harvest time, Dean stresses the importance of good crop management, year-round, and especially during the months of May to August.

Problems such as powdery mildew, a bane of grape growers, can be controlled by proper pruning to allow adequate air flow, he said.

Dean considers himself to be a “farmer.”
“Farming is gardening, but for a living,” he said. This year he plans to sell 75% of his estimated 2-ton harvest.

In addition to a degree in biochemistry, this “farmer” has his MBA in marketing from Stanford, and is working on a doctorate degree in immigration economics. Jan, a private banker, is his perfect complement, with a dual degree in finance and Spanish.

She also enhances the vineyard with her vegetable and container gardens, and a passion for feeding the birds.
The couple welcomes visitors to Victoria Hill Vineyard, which is Garden #1 on the Sage & Songbirds Tour.

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Garden #2 - Saunter around the grounds of a sprawling, old adobe hacienda...

Penny&Darren courtyard horse
Penny & Darren Wiemer

It has been said that “the third time is a charm.” In this case, the third house is a definite “charmer”!
This sprawling adobe hacienda is the third home that Penny and Darren Wiemer have owned in Alpine.
It’s the second adobe home they’ve owned in this town.

But what is most unique to them is that they are the only couple in the 18-year history of the Alpine Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour to have owned TWO DIFFERENT homes that have each been featured during the event!

Like their first home here, this adobe hacienda and its grounds were in very bad repair when the Wiemers purchased it about 3 years ago.

“There was trash and stuff everywhere,” Penny said. It took a bobcat and backhoe to do the initial cleaning. Then they hired a tree crew to clear the thicket of weeds and chaparral so they could move through the property, she said.

What was revealed was an incredible display of magnificent boulders and Engelmann Oaks, with a breathtaking view of Palo Verde Lake in the near distance, Penny said.

She was pleased, but not surprised. Penny had already seen the potential in the home and garden, but had to convince the not-so-sure Darren that they should buy it.

“Darren didn’t want this place at all,” Penny said. “He didn’t see it the way I did, but at least he was open to it.”

Darren admits that he did not see the possibilities inherent in the property, as Penny had.
“She had a vision, and it did turn out well,” he laughed. “That’s kind of humbling.”

There is no doubt that he now shares Penny’s passion for the property, and he has, in fact, added his own touches throughout the 2.5 acre grounds.

Darren planted corn. But not just a couple of rows of corn. He planted 10 rows, each 50 feet long, and fenced the entire area to keep the squirrels out.

Thwarting squirrels was also a factor in his motivation for the “industrial-strength” raised veggie beds he created.

“Last year the squirrels ate all the blooms off our tomato plants and we didn’t get any fruit,” he said.
That won’t be the case this year! Penny found an idea for raised beds online and Darren ran with it.

Four by eight-foot boxes, created on a base of galvanized metal sheeting, with netted tops and wire bottoms has resulted in triumph over squirrels, gophers and birds. Boxes are equipped with irrigation systems on automatic timers, and veggies are waist-high to make harvesting is easier. Their harvest has been abundant.
Such is typical of the Wiemers’ division of labor... Penny conceives the ideas and Darren implements them. He builds, she plants and waters. It’s a great team.

Together they have reinstated the magnificence of this 3400 square foot adobe home and its gardens, where abundant Monarch butterflies flutter about, and the dappled shade of stately oak trees provide the perfect condition for Penny’s collection of annuals, perennials and succulents.

It was a blank canvas to start, as Penny and her crew cleared the weedy vegetation and began planting. Plants have thrived and today present the appearance of “having always been there,” in keeping with the restored adobe structure.

Visitors will enjoy the serenity and charm found here, at “Casa Mariposa,” where there is no longer any question in anyone’s mind as to whether or not this property “has potential.” It has been restored to its original glory--and beyond. It is Garden #2 on the Sage & Songbirds Tour.

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Garden #3 - Relax alongside a bubbling creek in a spacious outdoor living room

Diane&Gary living room creek
Diane & Gary Swarberg

When this couple decided they wanted a waterfall and pond in their yard, they started digging...literally... and the result was a beautiful, meandering creek and pond.

They also lugged and placed multiple loads of flagstone and river rock to create patios, a bird sanctuary, and with the help of their neighbor, landscaped their one-acre property.

Gary and Diane Swarberg are self-proclaimed “tough, do-it-yourselfers”.

Through their tenacity and the help of their neighbor, the Swarbergs transformed an area that was “dirt, rocks and some native shrubs,” into a lush habitat enjoyed by birds, butterflies, family, friends, and their numerous pets and foster dogs.

As with most gardens, it has been a gradual transition during their 22 years of owning the property.
“We used to have lots of lawn,” Diane said. “Now we just have a little to soften around the house--and for the dogs,” she said as one of her furry friends rolled in the grass nearby.

After removing about one-third of their lawn, their water bill dropped 20-30 percent, Gary said. The remaining lawn is equipped with water-efficient sprinklers, he said, to further conserve water.
Diane recalls that after building their home they were on a tight budget, and she often shopped for “deals” on plants.

She said she paid $1 for a one-gallon plant that was “supposed to be a bush” and laughed as she pointed to it -- a tree that now reaches about 45 feet tall.

This garden of vignettes has a surprise around every corner--and an abundance of places to sit and enjoy each area--some cozy, and others spacious.

A hub of this habitat is a large outdoor living room, complete with a stuccoed Rumford fireplace, and adjoining 16‘x25‘ seating area with padded lounge chairs and wired-in sound system.

The area was created recently, to reap maximum enjoyment from the adjacent waterfall and pond that the couple had created years ago.

That water feature, which gently winds over the landscape, culminating in a koi pond, recently received an overhaul.

The boulders that the Swarbergs had laboriously hand-dug out and implemented into the original creek, waterfall and pond were rearranged by a local waterscape professional to maximize sound and water movement, and eliminate mud.

It was just the needed touch to perfect the pond, they said.

Although their original koi were eaten by herons and raccoons, the water feature is a highlight of the garden, and is an attraction to a host of birds.

Among the winged visitors Diane has noted here are Phainopepla, Tricolored Blackbird, Black Phoebe, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Lazuli Bunting, Hooded Oriole, California Thrasher, towhees, grosbeak and titmice, along with several birds-of-prey including kestrels, hawks and owls.

Boulders also abound in this garden, and all are native.
“Every boulder you see was already here,” Gary said. “Where we found boulders, we implemented them into the landscape.”

Most of the planting design was done by Diane, with a few basic tips from professionals.
She was advised by her neighbor to create beds and paths in curves instead of squares, and to plant in groups of three.

“Basically, the garden has just ‘evolved,’ Diane said, noting that the newest addition to their yard is a pet cemetery for the pets that have shared the garden.

This National Wildlife Federation-certified “Backyard Habitat” includes butterfly bushes, bottlebrush, cotoneaster, Mexican sage and much more--an outright invite to hummingbirds, butterflies and songbirds.
The winged wildlife have accepted the Swarberg’s invitation to come in and stay awhile...and garden tourists will certainly want to do the same. Theirs is Garden #3 on the 2015 Sage & Songbirds Tour.

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Garden #4 - Stroll through a swimming pool transformed into succulent garden

wally&moaloe munchii hypertufa birdbath
Maureen & Wally Austin

When the dermatologist told this fair-skinned gardener to stay out of the sun, she took it a step further--she had the family swimming pool removed and filled in, and planted a succulent garden in its place.

Now, instead of adding water to replace evaporation and using electricity to run a pool pump, Wallace and Maureen Austin have decreased both their water and electric bills, and enjoy a colorful collection of extremely drought tolerant succulents.

Additionally, the chlorine and other chemicals used to maintain the pool water have been eliminated and organically-grown plants fill the space.

The area is one of the Austins favorite places to sit and enjoy the birds which come to the garden for a drink from the gently bubbling fountain that Wallace created from a ceramic urn.

“Moving water is the best way to attract birds to your garden,” he said.

A variety of birds flit through the garden to also dine on both nectar and seeds from the many aloes and other flowering succulents, Maureen said.

“I’m crazy about aloes,” she said. “They all have different bloom times, so there’s always aloes in bloom in the garden, year-round. And they come in so many different sizes--from trees to ground huggers.”

Entry to the pool had been a towering arch, covered with orange trumpet flowers, and when the pool was removed, so was the arch.

“We missed that vertical element, so we decided to add a new arch with mission doors,” Wallace said. “It’s completely compatible with the succulents.”

All of the concrete decking around the pool was salvaged and used to create short retaining walls and outline planting beds.

“The demolition company thought I was crazy when I asked them to leave me the broken cement pieces,” Maureen laughed. “I love the rustic walls we were able to create with the concrete pieces--and it was free!”

The succulent garden is only one small area in the Austin’s 1.25 acre property--and it is nearly all planted.
“She thinks if there’s open dirt, she has to plant it!” Wallace says about his wife.

Included in the gardens is an orchard and veggie garden to feed the family, and dozens of milkweed plants to feed the Monarch butterflies. Arbors of passion vine provide food for Gulf Fritillary butterflies, and yellow Sulphur butterflies flit around cassia trees and bushes, laying eggs on the leaves so their young will have what they need to grow.

Several recirculating water features, including a few built around natural boulder outcroppings, provide soothing sounds and entice birds and other wildlife to the overall garden.

“We love winged things!” Maureen said. “Our garden was created to invite them here, and to provide what they need so they don’t ever leave.”

The Austin garden is a Certified Monarch Way Station by the Monarch Watch Organization, and is recognized by the National Wildlife Federation as both a Certified Backyard Habitat and Certified Schoolyard Habitat.

It is also the headquarters of CHIRP for Garden Wildlife, Inc., the not-for-profit organization which hosts the annual Alpine Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour. It is Garden #4 on the tour.

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Garden #5 - Chill-out in an artist's cozy casita with talking parrots

Mike&Kathy gate butterfly bench

Kathy & Mike Monfort

In most gardens, art plays second fiddle to the plants. But not in THIS garden where artwork abounds on every path, waiting to be “discovered.”

When Mike Monfort retired 11 years ago, his wife Kathy suggested they transform their property into “an art project”.

Mike, who holds a master’s degree in art, seized the challenge, and took it a step further.
He created the garden to be “a visual experience...a trip in discovery,” he says.
“The whole point is not to ‘notice’, but to ‘discover’,” he said.

Mike knows that not everyone who tours his garden will “notice” everything in it the first time. In fact, he estimates that 80 percent of the people will see only 30 percent of the art in the garden.

“It’s all about discovery,” says Mike. “You have to just sit and look for a while. And just when you think you have seen everything, you will see something new!”

Many of the pieces in the Monfort garden are one-of-a-kind creations--purchased at their favorite haunt, Quartzite, Arizona’s gigantic winter swap meet, or unique “finds” from local swap meets that are revamped into pieces of art.

As would be expected, many of the items have been created by Mike or Kathy individually--or a combination of both of them.

Their joint creative chemistry yields intriguing results, such as Kathy’s idea to fill old picture frames with pictures of Elvis, which Mike implemented and hung throughout the garden.

One of their newest creations is a female scarecrow that is so realistic that she even scared their family dog! And yes, she keeps away the crows.

She wears a Victorian dress and hat from Kathy’s collection of vintage clothing, and Mike “did her makeup” by painting the styrofoam face.

A swap meet find is an old file cabinet that was converted into two different
planting vessels--the drawers were painted, planted and placed on a wooden stepladder for a vertical effect, while the cabinet itself was painted, laid on its back and planted with herbs for a horizontal touch.

A trio of French doors, destined for the dump due to decayed bottoms, now create an artful screen along the back property line.

Bottle trees abound here, ranging from metal art to an olive “whiskey tree” to a literal traffic-stopping dead cottonwood tree emblazoned with red, orange and blue reflectors, wiggling metal strips of corks and bottle tops, and of course, wine bottles. It is topped with a one-of-a-kind birdhouse. Mike said he has watched drivers actually stop their cars to check it out!

From a guitar-turned-birdhouse to authentic 1900s baby receiving bed-turned-plant stand there is no shortage of art to discover here! What’s more is that not only are the art pieces interesting to look at but most have an engaging story behind them.

After a sensory overload “discovery tour” in the Monfort garden, a relaxing seat in the cozy casita, built by Mike and Kathy, is a welcome respite. It is not without more to see, however, with handcrafted chandeliers, tables, a bar and more.

Visitors will have no doubt that Kathy’s suggestion of turning their garden into “an art project” has been accomplished in grand style. Theirs is garden #5 on the Sage & Songbirds Tour.

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Bonus Site - Hang-out with hundreds of hummers in Hummingbird Haven

Chris&Denise hummers sleeping hummingbird
Chris & Denise Myers

This Alpine woman is committed to caring for hundreds of wild hummingbirds a day, EVERY day of the year. And if she’s a little late with breakfast, Denise Myers hears about it!

“I get chewed out by a bunch of hummingbirds!” Denise says.

It all began 12 years ago with her son Rawley’s, seventh grade science project--and it forever changed her life.

The experiment was simple enough: “Do hummingbirds prefer red?”

Red parts of hummingbird feeders were covered with tape of different colors--yellow, orange, pink and purple. One was left in its natural red color. Feeders were hung in a group around the deck of their home.

Liquid food was measured, served, and scientifically recorded daily for 2-3 months.

And the result? Hummingbirds prefer yellow!

But there was a much more significant “result” to this project... Denise realized that their family had successfully attracted hummingbirds--a LOT of hummingbirds!

“I couldn’t let that go,” she said. So she took up where her son had left off when he finished his experiment and she began a daily feeding routine.

Denise said the first time she showed up late with their breakfast the birds threw a tantrum.
“There were birds everywhere--yelling, zooming around, scolding and buzzing me,” she said. “It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen!”

There she stood, with a feeder in each hand, while dozens of chaotic birds rallied for their breakfast, completely oblivious to her while she called for her husband, Chris, to witness the phenomenon.
That was how it began.

Over the years, feeders have been added as needed and in the summer months, when the hummingbird activity is most prevalent, she hangs up to 35 feeders around the deck of their home.

When the birds are not at the feeders, they “hang out” in the nearby trees and bushes.

“The shrubs come alive,” Denise said. “It looks like a cherry tree with all the iridescent neck colors.”
Sugar is purchased in 25 lb. bags -- about 7 bags each month, and 5 pitchers of filtered water are processed daily.

And of utmost importance, feeders are scrubbed every day, using both a baby bottle brush and toothbrush.
“Keeping feeders clean and free of mold is the absolute most important part,” Denise stresses.

The entire process takes her about 1.5 hours daily, and she has taken very few “vacation days” in 12 years. In her absence, her husband Chris assumes the duty.

Is it worth it?
“YES, it’s worth it!” she says, “or else I’m just crazy!”

The Myers’ “Hummingbird Haven” is a bonus site on the Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour.




Bonus Site - Get up-close & personal with rarely-seen birds-of-prey

Nancy&Owl owl face eagle
Nancy Conney & Resident Great-Horned Owl

Alpine is home to a unique raptor education and rehabilitation facility, housing over 20 non releasable birds-of-prey, including a variety of owls, hawks, falcons, eagles and more. Owners of this facility have graciously invited Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour attendees to visit each year since 2004, to meet these magnificent creatures up close and personal. It has become a favorite of garden-tour-goers. It is once again included in this year’s selected sites. A garden tour ticket will provide admission to the facility. Here is a brief history on the site, the organization, and its very unique founder.

Sometimes as we cruise through life, an unexpected “bump in the road” results in our life being instantly and significantly changed.

Nancy Conney, a retired accountant and recording studio manager, encountered her “bump in the road” one dark night 28 years ago, in the form of a barn owl laying in the middle of the road. Had she and her husband not stopped to rescue it, it would have been a literal “bump in the road” to them, or to the next passing car!

After stopping, her husband, John, took off his jacket to cover the owl so that he could remove it from the road. They put the owl in a cat carrier and took it, the next day, to a wildlife rescue group. As she was leaving, the volunteer who took the owl said to Nancy, “We always need volunteers!”

Nancy answered that volunteer call.
“It has consumed my life ever since,” she said.

After working with that volunteer group for 10 years, Nancy and a partner decided to launch their own raptor rehabilitation program, and thus “Sky Hunters” was born in 1996. It is a non-profit organization, dedicated to rescue, rehabilitation and release of birds of prey, as well as public education.

Nancy’s partner was tragically killed in an auto accident shortly after the organization’s inception. So Nancy, with the help of her husband, through the direction of a board of directors, and under license of both California Fish & Game and U.S. Federal Fish and Wildlife, cares for hundreds of raptors each year in their Alpine facility. Most are rehabilitated and released, but some cannot be released for various reasons, such as permanent injury, etc. These are maintained as educational birds. Among the more than 20 permanent residents are owls, eagles, falcons, kestrels, hawks and more.

Feeding her charges is both time-consuming and costly. The smaller birds get a mouse every day, at $1 each, and eagles are fed rats, at a cost of $5 each. She buys the rodents in bulk and keeps them in her freezer. The feeding process, which Nancy performs herself, takes about 2 hours each day.

Keeping the cages clean takes another 3 hours each week.

And although vet services are donated, medicines, when needed, cost another $100-$250/month.
The time and expense of care is not Nancy’s biggest challenge, however. Not getting attached to the birds is!
Among her educational birds, she admits to having a favorite--the Golden Eagle.

“He curls my toes,” she says. “He is magnificent!”

And although the Bald Eagle is “awesome,” Nancy says, she relates him to a “ditzy blonde.”

Upon further thought, she cites some of her owls as by one, until she has mentioned them all.
“It’s hard to choose a favorite. They are all so different!” she says. “It’s like having 12 kids with different personalities.”

Garden tour visitors will have an opportunity to select their favorite, as the facility is included as a bonus site for the 2015 Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour.

A portion of the proceeds of the garden tour will benefit Sky Hunters.

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