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Local team powers up winning garden design

By: Gloria Young, Home & Garden
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A mix of old and new was a winning combination for Newcastle resident Robert Lenney at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show Lenney’s “The Sustainable Garden” display took a bronze award for overall Best in Show. The 710-square-foot creation combined a traditional wooden farm windmill and garden shed with state-of-the-art rainwater and solar collection technology. “The concept portrayed rain collected from the garden tool shed roof to keep the water storage tank filled in the winter, and the windmill mechanically pumped the water out of the ground to keep the storage tank filled in the summer,” Lenney said in a press release. “(The system) provides water year-round without the need of electricity or the local water agency. The water is then gravity fed to an irrigation drip line to water the plants.” Lenney worked on the project with Tony Tomeo, a Los Gatos-based garden writer, Kevin Moore of Rock Ride Windmills in Cloverdale and McNear Brick & Block. Tomeo, who offers garden advice at AskTonyThe Gardener.com, at first was hesitant about entering the show. But Lenney, who owns Gutterguard Gutterglove in Rocklin, was enthusiastic about the opportunity. “I’ve already been designing a rain harvesting system, so I thought this was the perfect thing to do,” he said. “Tony did the plant selection and I did the hardscapes.” The duo designed the garden to have 100 percent sustainable elements. “It had to have rain collection and needed the windmill to be able to fill the rain tank without electricity,” Lenney explained. “The solar would power the pump or it would power the controller timer for letting the drip system go on and off.” Even the shed reflects the environmentally friendly theme. “We decided to use reclaimed wood,” Lenney said. “It built one house and now it is being used in another one.” He installed the gutterguard on top of a 6-foot acrylic see-through gutter attached to the garden shed. As a finishing touch, he added goldfish. “Water would come down the roof, go through the gutterguard to the see-through gutter, then through the tank and be recycled on top again,” he explained. When choosing the plants that surrounded the shed and windmill, Tomeo focused on sustainability. “I wasn’t trying to specify drought tolerant or native plants,” he said. “These are the sort of plants that survive other things as well — soil conditions, harsh exposures.” He chose to stay away from choices often used by garden designers in the show, instead opting for durability. “Others were a lot more spectacular,” he said. “Mine was the one people would comment on as being the most practical for their own home. For example, I used agapanthus. It is one of those plants that can be stigmatized by designers because it is used by gas stations. But over time, most plants die off except agapanthus.” He also incorporated Indian hawthorn and juniper. “Because of their sustainability, they’ll survive in a landscape,” he said. “Hawthorn remains. It is always in the landscape.” Tomeo cautioned that agapanthus may not be suitable for higher elevations because it doesn’t withstand cold temperatures. Likewise juniper is not recommended because of potential fire hazard. But Indian hawthorn and New Zealand flax are durable choices that would fare well locally, he said. “It’s a matter of preference,” he said. “The main deterrent is they are so common. People go for things that are less common.” The display created a lot of buzz during the four-day show, held March 18-22. “I was surprised at how many people were taking pictures of our garden,” Lenney said. “People said (the see-through gutter) was one of the most photographed things in the show.”