Reclaiming splendor from squalor

"It's no wonder it's called the Summer Splendor Garden Tour. Far from being a few petunia beds guarded by azaleas and rhododendrons, the gardens on the second Summer Splendor tour sponsored by the Silverdale Chamber of Commerce have an attitude.For the Schaefer and Van Dahlen gardens, side by side with a shared drive on Illahee Road, that attitude says, I'm back.Both homeowners had to wrest the land from the grip of nature after years of neglect left it overgrown.In place of tangled ivy, insidious blackberry, and majestic but encroaching pines and cedars are cultivated lawns that sweep down from Illahee Road to Port Orchard Bay. Myriad paths in the Schaefer and Van Dahlen gardens lead to cool, brick floored nooks tucked under pruned branches, with benches just right for a tete-a-tete.Garden tourists will appreciate the work it took to create the colorful order from nature's chaos as they wander those paths.The Schaefer and Van Dahlen gardens are two of the five on the Summer Splendor tour, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 21 and 22.We try to have flowers in bloom year around, Jo Schaefer said of her garden.A huge bush to one side of the Shaefers' gray Victorian-looking garage is eyecatching.The house is 100 years old, built in 1901, and the bush was here, she said.The house was in a state of disrepair when George and Jo Schaefer bought it 15 years ago. They also had to clear the former Meydenbauer farm of overgrowth, to reclaim the orchards, lawns and gardens that had once been the old farmer's pride and joy.One of the neat things about it was the urn and old fountain, she said. The fountain, now filled with yellow and orange flowers, as well as daisies and other flora, is on the border the Schaefers' share with the Van Dahlens.It ran on a spring that came down from the hill, Jo Schaefer said.The tour includes a pleasant, white lattice-work booth, like an anteroom on the path to the house, surrounded by flowers and frequented by hummingbirds. The piece de resistance is the lawn gazebo, near a 100-year-old cherry tree overlooking Port Orchard bay. The summer house is an island of tranquility in the midst of gladiolas, lavender, dahlias and daylilies.Just down the hill from the Schaefers' gazebo is the Van Dahlens' waterfront home, with an unusual, scarlet hydrangea in the foliage along the side of the house. Bob and Sue Van Dahlen moved to the verdant slopes overlooking Port Orchard Bay about two years ago, from the concrete jungle of Los Angeles.The trees are absolutely amazing, Van Dahlen said of the tall pine, cedar and fir trees lining the south side of his property. He'd trimmed them up at least 20 feet to clean out and allow sunlight to nourish the rest of his garden creation.You couldn't see the water from here, he said from midway up the slope from his house. Blackberry and ivy had obscured the land, and overgrown the apple and fruit trees on the former Meydenbauer property.Now, new fruit trees - replacing those that grew during Meydenbauer's day - march in two lines up the hill with an expanse of green grass, to the road edge.Van Dahlen also incorporated native plants and volunteers, such as the golden California poppies and moss, among his cultivated greenery.The moss is better than a ground cover, and gets quite green in winter, he noted. He also doesn't have to mow it with the old-fashioned push mower he uses on the rest of the grass.Several Japanese maple saplings, in various shades of red, jut up from the ivy on the slope to his little, hillside gazebo overlooking the bay.He built the gazebo, and laid all the bricks for the patio, paths, miniature lighthouse and piers on the concrete wall down his driveway.He works dawn to dusk on it. He's not done, he'll never be done, Sue Van Dahlen said with a laugh.I just like to see the dirt fly, Van Dahlen said.If you goThe second Summer Splendor Garden Tour, sponsored by the Silverdale Chamber of Commerce, is scheduled for 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 21-22. The tour begins at the Clear Creek/Sa'qad Interpretive Center, located behind the Saloman Smith Barney building on Levin Road. Shuttle buses will take tours to the gardens. Ciscoe Morris, host of KIRO radio's Gardening with Ciscoe, and poet Mary Lou Sanelli will be guests at a special Saturday evening event Klahowya Secondary School.Tickets for the five-garden tour are $15 each. Tickets to the Saturday evening special event only are $15 each, or purchase both for $25.Local artist Sharon Hamilton has also created a colorful poster commemorating this year's tour. The posters are available, $10 unsigned, and $15 signed.For more information and advance tickets, call the Silverdale Chamber of Commerce at 692-6800 or visit "

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