By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

A gardener's paradise

One draw for Mentzer, now with the Erath winery in Dundee, and Nichols, now managing a Dollar Store in Newberg, was a desire for better wine country access. Another was a desire for a real yard — one actually featuring green, growing things.

“I had a degree in horticulture, and I wanted a chance to finally use it,” Mentzer said.

“In Arizona, it was more stone and cactus,” Nichols noted, adding, “I don’t miss the 116 degree temperatures.”

They moved to McMinnville two years ago and have been busy working on their front yard ever since. They have removed or pruned back some of the trees and added an abundance of flowers.

Their efforts caught the eye of the McMinnville Garden Club, which awarded them Yard of the Month honors for July.

A corner lot at 901 N.E. Grandhaven, the yard draws attention first to the angled center bed, where colorful annual blossoms splash a wide swath of color. Twin weeping larch trees with twisted trunks frame the display.

Wine barrels spill over with bright blooms, and more flowers spread at their feet. Marigolds, petunias, lobelia, snapdragons, mini-sunflowers and black-eyed Susans create a carpet of summer cheer, backed by the occasional rose.

Additional flower beds punctuate the lawn, and hanging flower baskets complete the look.

Still, Mentzer noted, yard design work is seldom actually “finished.“ “There are still a lot of things we’d like to do with the yard,” he said.

Mentzer began gardening as a child in Indiana, helping his father grow vegetables.

“There’s not a lot of room here,” he said, so he opted to focus on flowers.

Nichols grew up in Arizona, which offered considerably less gardening opportunity.

Mentzer said they made a determined effort, but it went largely unrewarded. “We killed a lot of things,” he said.

The hot, dry air sucks so much moisture out of plants, he said, “You had to water all day long. Here, you can water once a day, and things are fine.”

The pair have been experimenting with various flowers.

“We’re slowly figuring out what grows where,” Mentzer said. “This is the first year we’ve really grown annuals out front.”

The flower bed had featured dahlias, he said, but this year, Nichols experienced some health problems. That delayed their planting, though some new flowers are coming up behind the annuals.

They said they enjoy spending time in the yard daily.

“We’re out here almost every night working, and people stop their cars and say, ‘Your yard is beautiful,’” Nichols said.

The experience has been unexpectedly enjoyable. “Nobody would ever do that in Phoenix,” he said.

They were unfamiliar with the Yard of the Month program, and were considerably surprised to learn of it from a note on their door, informing them they’d been selected.

“We do enjoy it, especially knowing the neighbors are enjoying it as well,” Nichols said. Mentzer agreed, “It’s more fun when you get a lot of positive feedback.”

However, he said, he also enjoys gardening for its own sake.

“I consider it very zen,” he said. “It’s a way to relax after the work you’ve been doing all day.”

They estimated that they spend at least a couple of hours a day tending to their yard. In addition to gardening, they also enjoy decorating the yard seasonally. They are already planning their Halloween decorations.

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