Tahoe Donner's Secret Gardner

Tahoe Donner's Secret Gardner

Association News, Featured

By Ali Dickson

Springtime would be nothing without the flowers that bring us the promise of sunshine and warmth, and Mother Nature provides us with spectacular wildflowers throughout the spring and summer. Over the past 20 years, however, many of the flowers that dot the landscape around Tahoe Donner’s buildings like Northwoods Clubhouse, the Tennis Center and Trout Creek

Recreation Center have come from one man: Dick Fearon. A Tahoe Donner homeowner for over 30 years, Dick has grown these flowers from seeds in early spring and brought them to TD for planting at the start of summer.

At 88 years young, Dick doesn’t know the definition of the word “lazy.” Working from early morning to late afternoon, much of his joy comes from his garden crafts. One of his biggest projects each year includes singlehandedly growing hundreds of native flower seedlings in his backyard in Lafayette, California. These seedlings are then planted in small, easy-to-move containers since their destination lies across the state.

When the seedlings grow tall enough to plant, the magic begins. Dick carefully nestles each container in the back of his car and makes multiple 170-mile trips from Lafayette to Tahoe Donner. There, each flower finds its home around our popular buildings for members, guests and staff to enjoy. If you’ve seen flowers growing around the association, Dick quite possibly grew and planted them. He finds help on his own or with a Tahoe Donner staff member to get the job done. His devotion running deep even at 88 years, you might even find him down on his hands and knees to carefully plant each one.

A man dedicated to his passions, Dick enjoys crafts beyond just gardening. He can build practically anything and takes great pride in his workmanship. Known to create entertainment centers and desks, his talents are just about as inspiring as his personality.

He also enjoys cooking and delights in making sensational berry and apple pies with homemade, flakey crusts. To relax a little, he and his wife, Karen, enjoy sports and working on puzzles. Both were tremendous skiers and were members of the Sugar Bowl ski patrol team for 13 years. Also avid tennis players, they frequented Tahoe Donner’s Tennis Center in the summertime.

Dick was taught at a young age not to waste time, and because of that, he has mastered the art of making the most of every day. While you’re out and about Tahoe Donner this year, take a moment to stop and smell the flowers, then thank Dick for his work to make our association such a beautiful place to be.

Growing flowers in alpine environments is a task that requires research, skill and a bit of luck. With the right tools and knowledge, you can find yourself with a beautiful garden of your own. Below are tips to making your garden the word on the block this summer.

The Sierra is already home to many flower species, so one of the best ways to grow a successful garden without disrupting the environment is to plant native flowers. Not only will they grow more quickly and healthy, but invasive species won’t spread to areas beyond your yard. Common native flowers include:

• Lupine
• Columbine
• Bleeding Heart
• Yarrow

With a climate like Tahoe Donner, you have to work with your property. If you have a north-facing slope, don’t plant sunny flowers and expect them to grow in ample shade; likewise, if your property sees lots of sun in a day, make sure the flowers you plant can stand full sunshine. As you get planting, keep a journal of what species thrive over the spring and summer. This way, your flower selections next season will be that much more bountiful!

Freezes happen. When you overwater your flowers in chilly temperatures, the saturated soil can freeze your plants’ roots. Finding that sweet spot between oversaturating and drying out the roots of your flowers will keep them growing safely. One tip to remember is to water your garden anytime the temperatures are above freezing and the top two or four inches of your soil feel dry.

Often, high country soil is too alkaline, too sandy or too nutrient-deficient to fuel your flowers. It also may drain too quickly or too slowly, depending on the sand or clay material in your soil. To get your soil up to speed, organic material such as compost, pine needles or leaves can be added to create a richer bed.

To quickly recognize what your soil needs, soil can be tested through the University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension for a fee.

Planting your seedlings in the ground without getting them used to the climate can shock them to death. To prevent this, try “hardening off” your plants by placing them outside for a few hours a day before planting them permanently to get them used to the temperature, sunlight and other elements. While you let your plants get accustomed to the outdoors, remember to accommodate for any evaporation the elevation and sunlight might cause. Water your plants appropriately!

There’s no surefire way to become a plant expert overnight (we can’t all be Dick Fearon!), but with the patience, flexibility and good humor that come with growing a garden, you’ll be well on your way to a beautiful and colorful yard in no time.

You can read this article in the June issue of Tahoe Donner News.