By Sophie Wilkins • The Bulletin

When Sue and Carl Ryan moved into their house in southwest Bend 22 years ago, there was no garden. There was, however, a 6-foot-wide moat of gravel surrounding the house and a huge deck in the backyard.

The Ryans first got to work moving the gravel and covering a large rock pit in the front of the house with a smaller deck. Eventually, they decreased the size of their deck out back, and Sue Ryan laid pavers to create a stone patio and paths.

The backyard, just shy of a half-acre, contains mostly perennials, although Ryan says she loves to throw in “hot spots of annuals to kick up the color.” Their house is approximately 300 feet higher in elevation than Bend proper, and temperatures are around 3 to 5 degrees lower, which makes it more difficult to have a more colorful garden for Ryan.

“I go for more texture and hues of green,” she says. “This has been years of ideas just popping out of my head.”

A peaceful oasis

Out of their back door and to the left, a beautiful flowing waterfall bubbles peacefully. Ryan worked with a local company to try to make the water feature look as natural as possible. In the pond below, three goldfish used to swim year-round. Ryan put a horse-trough heater in the pond so it never froze entirely and kept the water running through the winter. The three fish lived there for eight years until the pump started leaking, causing the flow to be shut off. Ryan eventually wants to get fish again, for her grandson Nathaniel. The lucky 4-year-old is patiently awaiting a roof for his new fort in the backyard, nestled directly behind the water feature.

It will be close to the shed, greenhouse and some raised vegetable beds. Ryan grows cooking herbs in her “hobby” greenhouse, including oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, basil and parsley. When fall comes, she pulls her tomato plants in, and they continue to bear fruit until December.

“I have spent more trying to grow things than it would have cost me to go to the grocery store and just buy it flat out,” Ryan says. Behind her greenhouse, she has had a compost pile for eight years, although she says it’s really not composting due to the fact she forgets to go back and work on it. Instead, Ryan works a lot of other amenities into her soil, like bark chips or organic soil.

In the back of her yard, Ryan has a small homage to the farm her parents owned north of Seattle. She brought back farm soil, and with it came wild ginger, bleeding heart, a snowberry bush and multiple ferns.

Her backyard contains many hostas, roses, petunias, peonies, delphiniums and columbine, including the smaller and even more delicate double ruffle columbine.

It’s the perfect sweet-smelling oasis to read a book in the spring, with a flowering almond tree, honeysuckles, a purple chain locust that smells faintly of sweet baby powder and three kinds of lilacs. In various corners, Ryan has created seating areas with chairs, tables, gates and archways, even naming one such corner after a good friend who had moved away.

Oh, deer!

After 20 years of fighting off the deer — which eat anything and everything — in their backyard, the Ryans had finally had enough. Last June, they put up a fence around the perimeter of the backyard. “I really could have paid for four or five fences with the amount of plants I lost,” Sue says.

Carl used to call their yard a “salad bar,” saying that the deer would come eat, take a drink out of the small pond, lie down and take a nap.

Their neighbor’s yard has been left entirely natural, so the deer still love to spend time there (a few stopped by while The Bulletin was visiting).

Now that the deer aren’t munching on the plants, Ryan is having more success with her garden than usual.

“I’ve got plants coming up that I don’t even remember planting. … I didn’t even know they were there,” Ryan says. “I kind of miss them because the babes are just too cute, but I don’t miss them eating everything.”

This year, she’s finally been able to share certain plants in the garden with her friends, digging them up and passing them on. “I have so many coming up, it’s ridiculous,” she says.

In front of the house, out of the safety of the fence, Ryan is more careful about what she plants. She says the deer won’t eat her peonies, so she’s focusing on putting more of those out front, as well as salvia, yarrow and penstamins.

Give it a year, or three

In some of the rockier beds out front, Ryan had trouble growing things. She couldn’t afford the massive amounts of dirt a larger raised bed would have required, so she used something else. Layering about 8 inches of newspapers over the rockier soil, she then laid more soil on top of that, and said that it worked perfectly.

Ryan got her gardening philosophy from an interview she read with a gardener in Saskatchewan. She’ll try planting something for three years; if it doesn’t make it, she’ll try it in a different section of her garden. “If I lose it, I lose it. It’s worth a shot, and if it grows, it’s kind of fun,” Ryan says.

She reminisced about a painter she once sat and watched in Lithia Park, in Ashland. She thought, “Someday … I want to be with my easel and my paints and my garden. I want to be that crazy lady at the end of the street that kids will come down to and ask for a flower and then run back.”

Her garden is her canvas, a true work in progress. Ryan says, “You learn as you go.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0651,