Garden Tour Gives Glimpse Of Handcrafted Beauty

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With silver bells, and cockle shells, and pretty maids all in

Danuta LaViolette’s large country garden in Star Valley is actually a multitude of plots with a staggering variety of flowers, landscape plants, vegetables, fruit trees and more. Her green thumb, with the help of readily available natural fertilizer from her many birds (chickens, ducks, turkeys, pheasant, emus, rheas and more), plus well water have produced an outstanding rose garden.

Photo by Andy Towle. |

Danuta LaViolette’s large country garden in Star Valley is actually a multitude of plots with a staggering variety of flowers, landscape plants, vegetables, fruit trees and more. Her green thumb, with the help of readily available natural fertilizer from her many birds (chickens, ducks, turkeys, pheasant, emus, rheas and more), plus well water have produced an outstanding rose garden.


There aren’t any Marys on the 2011 Mogollon Garden Tour, presented by the Rim Area Gardeners from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, June 25, and a cockle is the common name for small, edible, saltwater clams, finding those on the tour is not likely either. What’s a soul to do?

But take heart — there are the bells — not silver, but Bellflowers, Bluebells of Scotland, Canterbury Bells, Coral Bells and Lobella. And that’s just in one garden on the tour.

Each year, the Rim Area Garden Club seeks out gardens to be featured on the annual Mogollon Garden Tour. There are six sites included in the 2011 tour. Three are in Payson, with one each in Star Valley, Whispering Pines and Washington Park.

Each site will also feature either an artist or musician as part of the tour.

Tour tickets are $5 each and are available at Ace Hardware, Plant Fair Nursery, Payson Jewelers, the libraries in Payson and Pine, and at the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce.


Peppers await on the June 25 Mogollon Garden Tour.

The Payson gardens on the tour belong to:

Bruce and Diane Branstrom first participated in the tour in 2009, since then they have added raised vegetable beds, fruit trees and an Asian inspired “tea house.” Potter Doug Lawrence will be featured at the site.

Bob and Dee Hershberger have innovative architecture that helps capture rainwater for their small, residential garden, which features flowers, vegetables, berry vines and space for outdoor living. Bob is also an artist and will be showing his paintings, which are done in a variety of media; the couple will also have the metal sculptures of Ernest Nickels lining the walkways.

Will and Bev Wells used careful planning and creativity to transform their suburban yard into a sanctuary for hummingbirds and butterflies, as well as a productive vegetable garden, rose garden and mini fruit orchard. The Wells’ site will feature artist Joe Prow, who will be displaying his distinctive, hand-carved wooden bowls, birdhouses and other garden items.

Gardens elsewhere belong to:

Danuta LaViolette, Star Valley, who has a large country garden with raised beds, flowers, fruit trees, fish pond, summer and spring vegetables and lots of birds, from chickens, ducks and turkeys to pheasants, quail, emus and rheas. The site is wheelchair accessible. Bob Weber, a basket weaver, will have baskets of all sizes on hand and will be demonstrating his craft.

Gene and Donna Runnels, Whispering Pines, have a creekside prayer garden with meandering paths through flowers, vegetables and interesting artwork. The Runnels will feature a musician, to be announced, during the tour.

Harry and Nancy Jones, Washington Park, have a unique, spacious garden with a wide variety of trees, perennials and bright annuals. It is a haven for a variety of birds and wildlife. Tour participants are invited to bring a picnic, sit back and relax and enjoy the wildlife. Musician Steve Stevens will offer guitar music during the tour.

Payson North

A dear friend and former neighbor, Credda Smith, inspired the Branstroms in their landscape efforts.

Smith, in her 90s, is still gardening at her home in Payson Ranchos, where the Branstroms first owned property. Even though they have had their current home since 2002, they still visit with this special friend and help her with different projects.

The couple, who are retired from teaching and coaching, have a boundless supply of energy — and they need it. Their Payson North property is actually two lots, plus a portion of the adjoining greenbelt given to each landowner when the area’s homeowners association dissolved. So, if you saw their landscape in 2009 when they first participated in the Mogollon Garden Tour, you will see a garden that has now been extended by about half. There are about a dozen plots, around 300 containers and more than 700 plants, which the couple has painstakingly listed on a map of their gardens. The list also identifies the low water plants.


Pretty flowers are just the thing that await on the June 25 Mogollon Garden Tour.

The couple had watched the construction of the Payson North home and had always admired it. When they discovered a 3-by-5 index card stating the property was “For Sale by Owner” they pounced on it, even though they already had a home in Payson Ranchos. The owner said he would hold it for them, but they needed to sell their place within three weeks or he’d put the house back on the market.

“We sold in two weeks and were able to get this,” Diane said.

Then the work began. There were no porches, no landscaping.

“He was a recluse and the back yard was nothing but brush,” Diane said.

The Branstroms were not retired at the time, so they did what they could when they had the time, and bit by bit, they transformed the brush-covered property into the showcase it is today. The first landscape project was to put in a small lawn, and from there things exploded. They now have a front yard, a courtyard, a back yard, and a Xeriscape area they call the “Big Boy Yard” for their dog — “He eats the other plants,” Diane explained. There is also an east patio, “man” kitchen, the “boulders” garden and a big plot for vegetables, fruit trees, grapes, etc. There are a few outbuildings and their most recent project, a modified Asian-style teahouse.

They were inspired to build it from a show they saw on the HGTV network and spent the winter constructing it.

“We watched the video about 700 times,” Diane said.

A few years later, they were able to buy the neighboring property with its A-frame house. First they remodeled the house for guests and then tackled more landscaping.

They call the guesthouse the Sugar Shack. It has a tree house, shade garden, a front yard, a vegetable patch to the side, another garden in the rear and a hummingbird garden at the back of the property.

In spite of all their years of experience with gardening, Diane said she still gets anxious when it seems the plants aren’t doing as well as she’d like them to. She’s discovered the plants, especially their vegetables, benefit from the use of freeze and shade cloths.

“They help extend the growing season up to a month on both ends,” she said.

The Branstroms’ favorite vegetable? Tomatoes. Specifically Sweet 100s.

“They grow in clusters, almost like grapes,” Diane said, adding the tomatoes are small, about the size of a large grape and so good, both she and Bruce will just pop them in their mouths right off the vine.

The Payson North site isn’t just about the gardens, the couple have incorporated seven water features; nine rain barrels; lots of seating; and porches with views in every direction.

Star Valley

Danuta LaViolette is a Wisconsin native who migrated to Arizona almost 20 years ago.

She and her husband first settled in Surprise, making their home there for 10 to 12 years. Then about six years ago they came to the high country because Danuta’s husband liked the forest and wildlife.

When they first moved to the property it just had some bushes and a few other things, such as periwinkle.

“I pulled a lot up and started planting flowers,” she said.

Helping Danuta’s flowers — and eventually her vegetables and fruit trees — thrive is a steady supply of fowl manure.

When she and her husband moved to the Rim Country they brought about a dozen emus with them. Now there are a pair and a baby, plus a pair of rheas, a flock of turkeys, ducks, Chinese pheasants, quail and 75 to 90 chickens and chicks. There are also a startling number of hummingbird feeders.

“They really get busy in August,” Danuta said.

In addition to providing an abundance of fertilizer for her landscape, Danuta’s birds produce enough eggs for her to sell.

“I use the money to buy more plants,” she said, and laughed.

Moving from Wisconsin to Surprise and then to the Rim Country, one of Danuta’s biggest challenges has been finding plants that work in the different climates.

“Since it’s cooler here, the blooms last longer,” she said.

It took some trial and error to find the right vegetables to plant. She is growing zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, peas and beans, asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes. Her favorites are the peppers — especially red and green bell peppers. She grows hotter varieties for friends. And she can grow peppers — last year she had one that weighed a pound. She is not having that kind of luck this year, at least so far.

“The plants are really small ... the peppers will probably break the plants.”

Her husband loves the tomatoes she grows.

“He can eat a whole plate of them at a time,” she said.

Danuta likes trying different plants to see what will work and what won’t. And this year she is splitting her vegetable plots, she has several different areas where she is growing produce instead of one, big garden.

Her property is fairly level and has wide, well-maintained granite paths, making the gardens wheelchair accessible.


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