21st Annual Clairemont Garden Tour

The Red Rock and Redwood Railway in the backyard of Craig and Janice McKinnis (photo: Miles Munson)

“I have such wonderful memories of Jim and Lise’s gardens.  I remember the first time I visited, as I drove down the street, wondering which house I was going to visit, I saw the towering palms in the distance and knew exactly where to go.”

Nan Sternam, host of the popular gardening series, “A Growing Passion” on KPBS-TV, is describing the lush palm gardens of Jim and Lise Wright.

She continued, “Jim was so so proud of his collection of palms and bromeliads.  And he was so proud of Lise’s garden and her mosaics.  I think of them both as having huge smiles on their faces and a deep love of plants and gardens.  It was a strong bond between them.”

Lise Rasmussen-Wright died in 2008.  Her husband, Jim Wright, died seven years later in 2015.  Their beautiful gardens on Burgener Boulevard will once again be featured on May 6, 2017 during the 21st Annual Clairemont Garden Tour.

Jim suffered from a hereditary kidney disease.  A kidney transplant extended his life for 15 years.  When he would go into the hospital for treatment, friends and neighbors would care for his plants.

Jim Wright cultivated friendships.  He gave Amanda Ballard the confidence she needed to start her own personal gardening service in Clairemont.  Amanda got teary talking about her mentor, but laughed when she recalled one of Jim’s favorite expressions.  “Life’s too short for a crappy plant.”

Krista Mill’s succulents garden (Photo: Miles Munson)

Krista Mills, whose garden is on tour, is also a protégé of Jim Wright.  They met while gardening and became close friends.  Jim bequeathed some of the exotic plants that are now in Krista’s yard.

“Jim and I were great friends,” Krista explained.”  He knew a lot of people in the plant world and he took me with him to visit them.  I called them adventures.  He loved palms.  They were his passion.  The license plate on Jim’s Toyota was SDPALMS.”

Jim Wright’s palm garden (photo: Miles Munson)

“He set money aside in his will to cover the cost of an irrigation system for his palms,” Krista added.  “Jim used to water all his palms by hand.  After he died, friends put in the irrigation and his palms are doing fine.”

When tourgoers visit Krista’s garden, they will be impressed by a 20 foot tall aloe tree.  “I love aloes.  There are over 250 varieties.  They all come from South Africa and they love it here in San Diego.”

The twelve gardens on this year’s tour are all inspired by imagination and creativity.  They include koi ponds, a chicken coop, a Foo dog, a pizza oven and numerous items of garden art.  The Red Rock and Redwood Railway runs around one of the gardens; Rio Beltran meanders through another.

Because of the prolonged drought conditions in San Diego, gardeners have adapted with succulents, native and drought tolerant plants.  Lawns that once required mowing and constant watering have been replaced with landscaping and drip irrigation systems.

Chairperson Lynn Little has a special appreciation for the history of the Claremont Garden Tour.  “It occurred to me to count the gardens in our 21 year spreadsheet.  Over 200 gardens and I would guess well over 100 committee members in the 21 years of the tour,” she said.  “Our gardens have changed greatly over the years.”

“It’s a great way to feel more at home in our community,” Lynn enthused.  “There are fabulous gardens with great diversity… small and large, mostly, do-it-yourself and professionally designed.  Canyons are creatively landscaped and there are a variety of approaches to saving water.”

“The tour wouldn’t be possible without a lot of help from committee members, volunteers and our generous sponsors,” she said.

2012 television interview with Jim Wright in his palm garden (photo: Bill Swank)

My wife, Jeri Lynne, is a big fan of the Clairemont Garden Tour.  We’ve been cruising Clairemont gardens since 2003.  I’m her chauffeur, because she gets lost trying to navigate Claremont’s canyons.

The most unforgettable garden in my memory is from 2003.  It was raining that day.  The address was a modest duplex across from the Square on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.  The resident, an elderly woman with a green thumb, was probably just getting by on her social security check.  She planted her garden the old-fashioned way with seeds and apparently every one of them germinated.  Her tiny yard was covered with flowers.  Although the day was gloomy, I’ve never forgotten how the love this woman had for her flowers brightened my spirits.

My wife is more pragmatic. “I like the Clairemont Garden Tour because it’s real. Most of the gardeners do their own work. Their gardens are real. The people taking the tour are real…. This is Clairemont.”

For more information on the Clairemont Garden Tour visit www.ClairemontOnline.com


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