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Couple creates garden paradise
Gary and Rolanda Lewis sit in a corner of their garden which they designed to replicate the ambience of Carmel-by-the Sea. All 3,500 plus pieces of brick in the garden were laid by Rolanda Lewis in a period of three weekends. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

• WHAT: 14th annual Ripon Garden Club September Stroll
• WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 10 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• TICKETS: $18 for adults, $8 for children 12 and under. No children’s strollers, please.
• MORE INFO: Call Anita at (209) 599—3359

RIPON – When is a garden a journey?

When it’s an ongoing labor of love. That, in a nutshell, is the story behind the private paradise that Gary and Rolanda Lewis has created around their home near the Spring Creek Golf Course in Ripon. They even have their gardening philosophy as part of what they fondly call their Garden of Eden. Next to the nook called The Secret Garden is a cozy corner tucked next to a 15-year-old apple tree and a towering pink angel trumpet – one of two in the garden – with a latticework over it sporting a sign that reads, “The Journey is Everything.”

“The pond as it sits now is the third of three (building) evolutions,” Gary Lewis said about the seemingly interconnected water feature that hugs about half of the back and side yards of the property.

The water feature is actually made up of several ponds, all dug up by hand by the Lewises with the deepest sections plunging about four feet. Two gurgling waterfalls empty themselves into these gold fish- and koi-filled ponds where several turtles, including a large Russian tortoise named Rocky and its smaller friends, also make their home. Gary guesstimates there are about 25,000 to 27,000 gallons of water circulating in the garden features.

The ponds are large and deep enough for swimming. The Lewises have actually done that, “swim with the fish, because we scuba dive,” said a smiling Rolanda, the one with the green thumb between the gardening pair.

“She’s the gardener. I haven’t planted anything,” the correctional officer, and business owner fully acquiesced.

Rolanda said she got her green thumb from her father, Ed Desrosiers, who lives in Mountain Ranch with wife Dolores. “Dad is a gardener. He is in his 80s but he still does (garden),” she said.

As far as the massive masonry that went into the landscaping in front of the house and throughout the back yard, Gary said, “Rolanda works side by side with me except planting.

“She helped me lay out the bricks,” but as far as setting them firmly on the ground, his wife did it all, “some of it in the rain,” he said. All 3,500 of them, he added, and that’s just the ones in the back yard.

The director of educational services for the Modesto Unified School District said she laid all the bricks in three weekends.

“This, to me, is relaxing. It’s a stress reliever,” a smiling Rolanda said of the brawny task.

“She is a very determined woman,” a chuckling Gary said admiringly of his talented better-half.

The couple said none of the work involved in the creation of their private Eden was contracted out. And that includes picking up and transporting the huge boulders that easily weigh up to 500 pounds or more and the river rocks that came from the property of Rolanda’s parents in Calaveras County’s Mountain Ranch.

One corner of the garden in the back yard was designed to create the ambience of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a place that is close to the couple’s heart.

“I like the quaintness and the serenity of it. We just wanted that feel,” Rolanda said.

Accentuating that ambience are several architectural touches that the Lewises incorporated into the garden and landscape design in the back of the house. Next to the main waterfall, for example, is a small building that looks like a quaint inn complete with quarters upstairs. The upper part of the building is actually a façade.

As complete as the gardens may look to the visitor, the Lewises said their garden is continually evolving and a work in progress.

“It’s been a labor of love,” Gary said as Rolands smiled in complete assent.

The Lewises garden will be one of five featured in Saturday’s September Stroll Garden Tour sponsored by the Ripon Garden Club. The tour will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.