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A garden that is really for the birds
Tom and Rita Canales’ lush garden attracts all kinds of birds, some of them rare ones. Among their most frequent avian visitors are American house finches like this hungry group feasting on seeds. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The Bulletin
The garden created by Tom and Rita Canales in their pie-shaped cul-de-sac property is a bird’s paradise.

Tom Canales coined that phrase in praise of the avian visitors that they host year-round in their well-tended garden. Every nook and cranny of their cozy and lush back yard holds a unique surprise like a nesting gift box. And don’t even start counting how many plant varieties are contained in this private arboretum of sorts, many of which are probably gifts left behind by avian visitors as their way of thanking the Canaleses for the bird feeders, bird houses and bird baths generously scattered throughout the lush garden. This secluded back-yard Eden is one of six gardens featured in the Saturday, May 8, garden tour sponsored by the Manteca Garden Club.

The plant and tree varieties in the couple’s garden are so many they are often hard-pressed to identify some of them. But like many avid gardeners, the Canaleses have fond stories to tell about some of their plants. One case in point is a thriving tri-color beech tree next to the outdoor Jacuzzi whose mostly pink vivid hue immediately grabs everyone’s attention. As many ardent admirers of this tree variety surely know very well, it is also not the easiest plant to nurture in the valley known for its hot weather especially in the summer. It is a tree that thrives in colder climates, Zones 4-7. Much of California is generally Zone 9 or higher, in contrast.

But for some reason, said a smiling Rita, this beech tree has adapted very well to the macroclimate in their back yard for the last decade or so. She and her husband found the tree at the old Nakata Nursery on North Main Street in Manteca before it closed its doors after being in businesses for many years. So that’s how old the tree is today based on the number of years Nakata has been out of business, Rita estimated.  A San Joaquin County Office of Education school now stands on the old nursery property.

The Canaleses’ property butts up against a large vacant lot that has plenty of trees, such as locust and evergreens, that are laden with heavy foliage year-round. Tom Canales thinks that’s one of the reasons they get plenty of feathered friends visiting all the time.

“We’re bird watchers too. We’ve seen a bullock oriole – very beautiful – cooper and Swainson’s hawks, woodpeckers, American gold finches, cedar waxwings and black-headed grosbeaks; we saw six of them last night,” said an excited Tom Canales.

They also hear barn owls at night.

And this year, they had an unusual avian visitor – a western tanager which, he said, was “completely freakish because you only see them in the Sierra.”

While both husband and wife are avid gardeners, Tom readily admits, “Rita (a retired Manteca Unified teacher) is really the master gardener. I’m sort of the heavy lifter. I do a lot of the pruning; she does a lot of weeding.”

Both of them literally created their garden from scratch since the back yard was practically empty when they purchased the home that was custom-built by Hahn Construction in Manteca. Just to get the basics done – scratching the landscaping design on paper then refining it in his CAD program – took five to six years, Tom said. Since the property is quite large, about a third of an acre, “we divided and conquered,” working on one area to the next, he said.

The Lawrence Livermore Lab employee describes their garden as “quiet and peaceful and colorful throughout the year.”

Plus, “it’s a birds’ paradise,” he quickly added.

Tickets for the garden tour are $5 a piece with all proceeds going into the club’s many beautification projects in the community as well as scholarships. The garden tour will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased at German Glas Werks in downtown Manteca, New Buds Nursery on South Manteca Road, Park Greenhouse on West Ripon Road in Ripon, the Manteca Convention and Visitors Bureau office at The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley near the roundabout water feature, Morris Nursery in Riverbank/Modesto, and P & L Concrete in Escalon.

For further details about the tour or tickets, call tour coordinators Gayle Foster (823-2209) Joan Collins (823-6300) or club president Sandi Larson at 824-2062.