Time To Unmask Outdoors, Relax And Smell The Roses


By Lynda Brommage

Members of the Merced Garden Club and supporters were once again able to relax, breathe in fresh air, and enjoy a stroll through wonderful landscapes during the club’s recent Home Garden Tour.

Last year the tour was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, the home owner participants kept up their gardens and were ready for restrictions to lift this year.

Meanwhile, local gardening fans were easy to please.

“Last year there were 300 tickets available,” said Vanda Aalgaard, the club’s president. “This year there were 400 because demand was greater. People want to get out of the house.”

Dee Near, a retired Merced County librarian, said it was “nice to be outside and see each other safely.”

It takes about two months to organize the tour, Aalgaard said. She and her husband, Alan Claunch, place identification tags on many of the plants on display.

“The MGC gives people inspiration for continuing a garden,” she said. “People can pick up ideas for their own gardens.”

There were four participating garden homes in this year’s tour. Three in Merced and one in Atwater.

The Van Elswyk’s home was the host residence, offering snacks and refreshments. And the Atwater home had an opportunity table with prizes.

Lisa and Kris Van Elswyk of Merced spend a lot of time in their garden. Lisa said Kris does most of the garden work. She is just a helper.

“The idea was no matter what garden bench we sat on, there would be a horizon,” Kris said.

The Van Elswyk’s garden is unique with redwoods and shady areas. “You have to work with what you have,” said Kris. “The vision, the gift and improve and nurture. We have redwoods, a forest floor, lots of shade, ferns, so we had to have shade loving plants.”

Kris claims he spends about 40 hours a week working in the garden, “But as the seasons change, like in the summer, it’s more about maintenance.”

On the other side of the tour spectrum was Dr. Sunit Patel’s garden, and it revealed an extravaganza of exotic plants, flowers, and tropical trees from all over the world.

Dr. Patel spends time researching his plants. And with the help of his devoted gardener of seven years, Elias Armenta, they maintain a fantastical garden surrounding a majestic home on 1.3 acres.

Patel’s backyard is surrounded by rose bushes, carnations, and mulberry trees from Pakistan and Persia. There are palm trees all around. Off to one side is an enclosure with every tropical tree imaginable; mangos, guava, leechee, Indonesian black pear, Brazilian cherry, seedless pomegranate and even a banana tree.

Some of the trees have to be wrapped to keep them warm during the winter along with the use of heat lamps. “Every tree is unique, you won’t find it in the market,” said Patel. “Many of the plants are not from here.”

Said Armenta, “We usually always have something in bloom all year around.”

Armenta tends to Dr. Patel’s garden about 10 hours a week. But Armenta is no novice to gardening. He attended Merced College to study landscape horticulture, and received his BA degree from Cal Poly in Landscape Architecture.

Dr. Patel is originally from India. He has lived in Merced at his home since 1998. And, of course, he has a passion for gardening.

“It is very satisfying,” said Patel. “Variety is the spice of life,”

In all, this year’s Merced Garden Club tour was successful in inspiring all those who attended. The MGC members meet once a month. And the hope, according to its members, is to keep people inspired about gardening.

The club continues to support and cultivate a passion for gardening, horticulture, landscaping, conservation and civic beautification projects with proceeds going to support horticulture at Merced College and to provide scholarships for local high school students.

AtwaterGarden ClubMercedMerced County
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