When JoAnne Chilcoat and her husband, Lew Robertson, moved to the Rim country from Cave Creek seven years ago, JoAnne figured the time to pursue her dormant interest in gardening was finally at hand.
"It was now or never," the retired sixth-grade science and math teacher said as she surveyed her handiwork, one of six stops featured on the High Country Garden Club's Fall Garden Tour this weekend.
Problem was, the acre of land on which their new house sat in Flowing Springs was completely barren of landscaping except for one dead rose bush.
"The rose bush turned out not to be dead after all, but it sure looked like it at the time," JoAnne said.
Fast forward to the present. The Chilcoat-Robertson spread now features more than 250 rose bushes and hundreds of other flowers and plants, and the image that comes to mind is the Garden of Eden. Billed in the club's tour brochure as a "large country garden," it is scheduled to be featured in an upcoming issue of "Country Gardener" magazine.
For almost as far as the eye can see, rare and unusual flowers sway in the breeze, exotic and colorful plants stretch majestically skyward, bubbling brooks and rock-filled streams flow throughout the grounds, and shaded nooks and crannies invite a moment of quiet reflection or peaceful repose.
At every turn along the many meandering paths is a new surprise: an arbor made of twisted roots here, a rusting antique cream separator there, or a multicolored butterfly that draws your attention as it flits aerially from one delight to the next.
And then there are the animals. In fact, if the scene didn't conjure images of Eden, Noah's Ark would surely come to mind. Besides the usual household variety, JoAnne and Lew are raising what Lew calls "a real menagerie" of creatures, including two wild turkeys, a set of bourbon red turkeys, a pair of rare Mongolian pheasants, two goats that stand nonchalantly on top of a shed roof, and a burro named Annabelle, whose high quality of life is directly related to her ability to produce copious quantities of manure.
But Lew is quick to give most of the credit to JoAnne.
"The animals are kind of my area, but the rest is all hers. She is one of the most talented, hardest working ladies I've ever known in my life," he said.
In fact, JoAnne uses the fruits of her garden in some of her other pursuits, which include photography, video production, and making herbal soaps, hand-painted stationery, dried flower wreaths and seasonal fresh flower bouquets.
"She even made the stained glass window in the East Verde Baptist Church in Whispering Pines," Lew said.
He marvels at how she manages to keep so many balls in the air at one time. "I tell her she's obsessed," he said. "She tells me it's her therapy."
Yet another Biblical analogy comes to mind. Just as God rested on the seventh day after creating his world, JoAnne looks forward to her time of rest.
"At least," she said with a sigh, "winter is coming. I can't wait till the first freeze."
The High Country Garden Tour is self-guided, and runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at Plant Fair Nursery, Ace Hardware and at the tour gardens themselves.
For more information, call Pauline Rodriguez, club president, at 474-5229.
OTHER TOUR SITES
Besides the Chilcoat-Robertson garden in Flowing Springs (go north on Highway 87, turn right into Flowing Springs, continue to the end of the road), the High Country Garden Club's Fall Garden Tour includes:
Barbara and Art Trevithick, 1110 E. Phoenix St.
Beautiful xeriscaped grounds incorporate islands of vegetation and a dry stream tastefully situated in an expanse of decomposed granite. Go east on Phoenix Street from Highway 87 until you see the street's dead-end sign.
Carol and Pete Johns, 1112 E. Phoenix St.
Another xeriscaped yard, the owners are putting in a pond with a waterfall. Also features a dry stream spanned by a bridge. Go east on Phoenix Street from Highway 87 until you see the street's dead-end sign.
Bob and Fran Muggli, 157 Lion Spring Rd., Star Valley.
Features scores of fruit trees, grapes and berries, many new to this area, and many, like the plumacot, crossbred. The Mugglis have a wealth of background information to share, and can provide excellent sources for their unusual varieties. A Japanese garden also is in progress, and water is available here. Go east on Highway 260 through Star Valley. Turn right near the zoo onto Lion Springs Road.
Payson Elementary School Project, 500 East Rancho Rd.
Under the direction of Roger Rohrbach, this project allows fourth-graders the opportunity to develop and plant their own garden. Includes a dry stream. Turn east off Highway 87 onto Airline Road and follow the signs to the project.
Don and Candy Brooks, 114 Chelsea, East Verde Park.
A lovely and peaceful place that accommodates two office buildings in front for Don's drafting business . Beautiful tree-shaded grounds with lush lawn. Refreshments will be served here, and a bathroom is also available. Go north on Highway 87, then left into East Verde Park and follow the signs.