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‘Bowling alley’ yard maximizes every inch of space

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‘Bowling alley’ yard maximizes every inch of space

The patio set in the picture is one of two located in the front yard of the Cornelius home at Del Webb in Manteca. At left in peak bloom is an Australian tea tree.

ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The Bulletin


POSTED May 6, 2013 12:45 a.m.

Robi and Ray Cornelius describe their Del Webb home’s back yard as something akin to a two-lane bowling alley. Yet, the garden that they have created in that limited space is nothing close to a “tunnel vision,” as Robi Cornelius puts it.

On the contrary, the view that meets the eye when one stands at either end of the long and narrow back-yard space is that of a lush and verdant wooded glen. The creative landscaping, which takes advantage of a zigzagging pathway to mesh together the overhead foliage and flowers planted on both sides of the meandering concrete pathway, visually gives the impression of a garden that is larger than it actually is.

“Just try to maximize the space,” Robi Cornelius said, summarizing the gardening philosophy that went into the transformation.

With that in mind, the couple was able to incorporate a number of features in their private paradise. They include three waterfalls and a pond that is large enough for their pet canine, Chamois, a seven-year-old golden retriever, to take a dip several times a day, a favorite past time.

The Cornelius’ garden, one of six that is being featured in the 2013 Manteca Garden tour sponsored by the Manteca Garden Club, is barely two years old, but it has an established look.

“My back yard looks like it has been planted for years,” Robi admits. “The secret is to buy the biggest plants you can afford. So I used a lot of five- to 10-gallon plants.”

Having worked for a commercial landscaper in Fair Oaks near Sacramento also helped, which allowed her to buy all her plants at wholesale prices.

In keeping with the long and narrow shape of the back yard, the retired couple espaliered a number of the tree varieties such as the evergreen pears that successfully hides the back fence.

“We use a lot of trellises too,” added Robi.

One arbor tucked against one corner of the back yard is topped by a purple clematis that is blooming in wild abandon. In the back of the arched trellis is a rare pink bottle brush whose spring blooms are about to wane. The feeling that this cozy nook evokes is written on the long and narrow decorative pillow that sits on the metal bench below the arbor: RELAX.

Like many avid gardeners, Robi and Ray Cornelius have plenty of nostalgic stories connected with the many plants and decorative features in their garden. “There are some things here that have a lot of meaning,” Robi said.

The pink bottlebrush was a given as a gift to Robi by her former boss when she retired two years ago. A miniature tree rose had its beginnings in South Carolina half a century ago.

“A neighbor gave me a cutting from her grandmother’s rose,” she explained.

Then there’s the large driftwood that is doing double duty as a plant pedestal in front of the espaliered evergreen pears. It came from Morro Bay in Southern California, and it’s been in Robi’s possession for 40 years.

“My mom and Dad hauled it up the beach 50 years ago. So it’s pretty special,” she said.

The cactus in a small container sitting on top of the driftwood has also been in her possession for four decades. They dug it up in the desert in Arizona on the side of a highway when they went to attend her brother’s funeral.

A dwarf lemon tree in a huge planter in front of the house is also 40 years old. It was a wedding present from her parents.

“All these stuff have sentimental value,” Robi said with a wistful look on her face.

They also help maintain all of the good memories that they had with their old home in Fair Oaks. When they sold the house to move to the retirement community at Woodbridge at Del Webb on North Union Road in Manteca, they brought with them many of the plants from their garden in Fair Oaks.

There’s another reason why the Cornelius couple chose this property.

“My husband liked a small yard, that’s why we have this bowling alley in the back yard,” Robi said laughing.

Its widest point is only about 15 feet, and runs a length of about 80 to 90 feet.

She is primarily the one with the green thumb in their gardening partnership.

“I’m pretty much the gardener. He cleans up after me. I’m lucky he’s very helpful,” she said, still laughing.

About the garden tour

The garden tour, which is the Manteca Garden Club’s only fund-raiser during the year, will be held Saturday, May 11, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the day before Mother’s Day. Refreshments and drawing for major prizes donated by various businesses and individuals, will take place in the last house located at Woodbridge at Del Webb on North Union Road.

Tickets are $15 apiece. Included in the ticket will be a list of the featured houses. Tickets can be purchased from any club member or at the following businesses:

•Delicato Vineyards, 12001 S. Hwy 99 (west Frontage Road), Manteca.

• Ed’s Rockery, 600 E. Lathrop Road, Manteca.

• German Glas Werks, 109 E. Yosemite Avenue in downtown Manteca.

• Manteca Visitors Center, Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley on South Union Road on the south side of Hwy 120 bypass in Manteca.

• New Buds Nursery, 23563 S. Manteca Road just north of West Ripon Road.

• P&L Concrete Products, 1900 Roosevelt Avenue in Escalon.

• Park Greenhouse and Nursery, 12813 E. West Ripon Road in Ripon.

• Silverado Nursery, 460 South Stockton Avenue in Ripon.

• Morris Nursery, 1837 Patterson Road in Riverbank.

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