Multiple sclerosis is a tough hurdle for a lot of people. But as the adage goes, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And one of those tough people is Diane Stellhorn.
Even when the debilitating disease progressed to where she needed the aid of a wheelchair, MS did not affect her determination to continue working. She kept on teaching at Lathrop School until she retired five years ago when she called it a career after being in the profession for 25 years. Nor did her physical shortcomings deter her from enjoying the hobby she is most passionate about – gardening.
All around her house in the Joshua Cowell School area, the gardens are set up so that she can do some gardening chores while in her wheelchair. Decorative planters are all over the place. In front of the house where a lawn should have been, a cemented front patio was built on half of the lawn area outside the front door and oversized French window. Running along the east and south side of the patio are low cement walls doing double duty as raised planters. Yellow, pink and white shasta daisies, golden coreopsis, multi-colored Iceland poppies, and other showy annuals and perennials are all in their peak flowering season.
The other half of the front yard which stretches to the curb side of the road are equally teeming with blooming perennials that are mostly shrubs: decorative grasses, lavenders, Magic Carpet spirea, Red Hot Pokers, different varieties of lilies, marguerites, and a low-growing bottlebrush plant that hummingbirds love, among others. The plants are all thriving in the shade of a tall tree which enjoys the center of attention in this part of the garden.
A matching, albeit narrower raised planter on the north side of the garage is dominated by a profusely blooming dark pink geranium sharing space with lamb’s ears, ground-hugging miniature zinnias and more lilies.
In the garden behind the house outside a wide French door are more raised planters with the main attraction claimed by a large circular planter with stone facing. It’s located next to a water feature. Looking like a giant vase, the planter boasts a thriving crepe myrtle in the center while around it are different varieties of geraniums planted around the tree. Sitting on the wide edge of the planter are more geraniums blooming in profusion. Competing for attention around this central garden focus are more perennials in bloom – a red clematis, a red bud, another clematis with saucer-size blue blossoms, fox gloves, and a purple hibiscus which Maggie Saffen, Stellhorn’s good friend and former co-teacher in Lathrop, called Rose of Sharon. The vegetable garden on the north side of the house also consists mainly of barrel planters filled with vegetables such as onions and sweet peas.
“I had it landscaped this way,” said Stellhorn of her gardens.
The house was also “handicapped-built,” she said. She designed everything for her eventual limited mobility – she was already diagnosed with MS when she built the house right after her divorce – so the sinks, the showers, and everything else inside the house are handicap-accessible. And when she designed the overall landscaping, her rules were: “no lawn, just walkways.”
And she had the raised planters set up so that she could work in the garden by herself, although these days she relies on the help of her caregivers to help her with such chores as digging the soil.
With the help of her motorized wheelchair, “I can get through the garden,” she said.
“The garden has always been a hobby,” said Stellhorn who grew up in the hills of Berkeley right above the famous snow-white Claremont Hotel.
Stellhorn’s garden will be among the six gardens featured in the 17th Annual Manteca Garden Tour sponsored by the Manteca Garden Club. Tickets to the tour are $15 per person. The tour will be held Saturday, May 14, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tickets are available at German Glas Werks in downtown Manteca and New Buds Nursery on South Manteca Road in Manteca, Park Greenhouse and Silverado nurseries in Ripon, P&L Landscaping in Escalon, and Scenic Nursery in Modesto.