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Alpine Historical Society to Continue the NWF Community Wildlife Habitat Program

Community CWH Sign

Alpine Historical Society to Continue the NWF Community Wildlife Habitat Program – February 2016

On May 1, 1998 the National Wildlife Federation certified Alpine as the 1st Community Wildlife Habitat in the nation. For several years prior to that date, Maureen Austin had worked tirelessly with the NWF to establish this program and to make sure that Alpine was the first community to be certified. To accomplish this, Maureen launched CHIRP for Garden Wildlife, Inc. a non-profit corporation “dedicated to the preservation and enjoyment of birds, butterflies and other creatures of habitat, through hands-on and interactive programs and gardens”. For nearly two decades Maureen, her husband Wally, and a cadre of dedicated members and volunteers generously gave their time and talent to maintain that “first in the nation” status. Many of you will remember the annual Sage and Songbirds Festival and the popular Monarch Mania program which made us all more aware of how we could create beautiful gardens in our own space while providing much needed habitat for winged wildlife threatened by suburban development.

Community Habitat 15 years-300In December 2015, after nearly two decades of service to our community, Maureen and Wally sold their Alpine home and retired to La Quinta, CA to be closer to their family. At the same time they dissolved the CHIRP organization and put out a plea for a person or organization in the community to take over the Community Wildlife Habitat Certification program. We saw this as a great opportunity to fulfill the “conservation” element of the Alpine Historical and Conservation Society’s mission and the Board of Directors agreed. Maureen was delighted that the AHCS was willing to continue the program and Patrick Fitzgerald of the National Wildlife Federation supported us as well. So, in 2016 the AHCS will be launching a new program to fulfill this challenge. There are so many avenues this program can take within our Historical Society—all of which will require committed and dedicated volunteers. So, if you are interested in working with us to develop this program, please contact us at 619-885-8063 or email

Contributed by Tom & Judy Myers

Alpine’s Beloved “CHIRP” Garden Club & Sage & Songbirds Tour is Closing its Doors

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The status of CHIRP… By Maureen Austin

December 21, 2015 – After 19 years of serving Alpine and the San Diego area by helping people garden for winged wildlife, CHIRP is closing its doors*.  As with many non-profit organizations, especially small, grass roots groups such as ours, the past several years have been especially difficult for us. I feel it is time for me–the founder and executive director–to move on.

I’m happy to say that we have achieved many successes in fulfilling our mission.**  Here are a few highlights:

Chirp - Garden Tour 2015 Large  posterAREA IMPACT – I am extremely grateful to the community of Alpine for its 19 years of support of the Sage & Songbirds Festival and Garden Tour, our landmark event.  We truly put Alpine “on the map” with the gorgeous gardens created in harmony with nature and focus on birds and butterflies.  For 18 years, people came from throughout the county, state, and even other states, to tour the gardens that YOU lovingly created and opened to share for the 3 days of our annual event.  The Alpine tour is widely-recognized as one of the best in the county because of YOU, and the caliber of gardens that you created.

NATIONAL IMPACT – Our national claim to fame is securing Alpine’s designation of America’s FIRST Community Wildlife Habitat” by the National Wildlife Federation. It is my hope that you, as a community, will continue to nurture this prestigious recognition so as not to lose your place!  (I will be happy to assist in transfer of NWF’s annual status report accounting to another person or organization. Please contact me if interested.)


Gardens on the blvd logoLOCAL IMPACT – The past few years were spent leaving our mark on the downtown Alpine community, with our “Gardens on the Boulevard” project.***  In CHIRP’s true grassroots style, we raised $24,268 through a fundraiser and private donations, in order to “make lemonade from lemons” and beautify what had been demolished by construction of the Sunrise Power Link.  (We received NO funding from the County, nor from SDG&E, for this beautification effort.)

Monarch Butterflies_optBUTTERFLIES! – It is my hope that when you remember CHIRP, you will think of the thousands of butterflies we released each year during our Sage & Songbirds and Monarch  Mania events.  Alpine is a beautiful town, and has been enhanced with the winged creatures that you all nurture by gardening for winged wildlife. I firmly believe that together we have increased the population of butterflies in our community. Please keep up the great work!  (Did you know that every one of those butterflies we released was raised in my bathroom?!?!  …. a true and little known fact.)

ON A PERSONAL NOTE – I have lived and breathed CHIRP, day and night, from before its official conception in January of 1996.  Much blood, sweat and tears, along with great joy, have been mine.  I do feel as though a part of me is dying as we put it to rest.  On the other hand, I’m excited about what the future holds for my husband and I….. Last month, we closed escrow on our home of 35 years in Alpine, and purchased two small properties in the desert town of La Quinta, CA, (Palm Springs area) in a charming, historical area called “La Quinta Cove.”  It’s an eclectic community nestled among magnificent mountains, with hiking and biking trails just outside our front door! One of the “casitas” will be our primary residence (it is currently being rehabbed) and the other home, a mile away, has been a thriving vacation rental property (VRBO), and we plan to continue in this venture.  We will begin renting it to vacationers, once our casita is ready to move in to.

We are within walking distance of historic “Old Town La Quinta”, with a weekly farmer’s market and dozens of unique shops, restaurants and services. Weekly events and festivals abound. It’s a complete lifestyle change for us and we are thoroughly enjoying it! And the very best part–we are now close to our new grandson (and his parents), which was the primary reason for our move.

We have many wonderful memories of our time in Alpine, raising our children there and the friends we made. Please keep in touch.  And if you are in our area, please reach out to us!

Yours truly, Maureen Austin

Maureen & Wallace Austin


*The not-for-profit corporation known as CHIRP, or the Center to Instill Respect and Preservation for Garden Wildlife, Inc., is being dissolved according to requirements set forth by the IRS and State of California, by unanimous approval of the CHIRP Board of Directors in its final meeting held November 10, 2015.

**MISSION:  CHIRP is dedicated to the preservation and enjoyment of birds, butterflies, and other creatures of habitat, through hands-on and interactive programs and gardens.

*** Every penny of the $24,268 raised for Gardens on the Boulevard was literally put back into the ground along Alpine Blvd.  Plants were purchased at WHOLESALE prices, all garden design plans were DONATED, and all labor was DONATED (with the exception of one paid laborer who dug holes in ground that was too hard for me or other volunteers to dig/plant in).  Again, let me be clear that not a penny was paid in administrative costs to anyone, including me, for the dozens and dozens of hours contributed to the project.  Twelve gardens of varying sizes were installed along Alpine Blvd., and at two other “non-Boulevard” sites.  If you are interested in a detailed accounting of funds collected and spent, please contact me via email at

P.S.  There has been some interest in re-establishing a garden club, such as the one previously organized by CHIRP.  If you are interested in Alpine having a garden club please contact Babs Rosenberg at or 619-722-6990; or

Hilde Hinchcliff at or 619-659-8707.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO COMMENT ON THIS POST? Please use our comments section below :-)



Win Great Prizes at The Sage & Songbirds Event in Alpine – May 1-3, 2015

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Win Great Prizes at Sage & Songbirds Event!

Over $3,000 worth of prizes will be awarded to lucky recipients during the upcoming Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour, set for May 1-3, 2015 in Alpine.

A four-pack of “Park Hopper” tickets to Disneyland and California Adventure Park, valued at $620, will go to the highest bidder in a silent auction. A 2-night get-away to the Two Sisters’ Cottage in Julian, including 2 wine glasses and wine tastings from Menghini Winery, a Julian Pie gift card for $15, and 2 bottles of wine, for a total package value of $335, will also be awarded to the highest bidder in a separate silent auction.

A limited edition “Blue Fin Tuna Bottlefish” on stand, created by IronNStoneDesigns is another silent auction prize, as is a hanging basket chock-full of succulents, created by Kalura Garden.

Opportunity drawing items, including a “rock-in” rocking bird and 4-pack of tickets to San Diego Zoo or Wild Animal Park, and much more will go to the lucky ticket holders in several opportunity drawings.

The Silent Auction and Opportunity Drawing are being held in the Sage & Songbirds event headquarters, Garden #4, at 1168 Alpine Heights Road in Alpine.  Tickets to attend the other gardens being featured on the Garden Tour, and a habitat plant sale, will also be available at this location.

For more information, please visit or phone 619-445-8352.  The event is hosted by CHIRP for Garden Wildlife, Inc., a not-for-profit habitat education organization.  Proceeds benefit habitat education programs for our backyards and schoolyards.

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Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour 2015 BONUS SITE Sneak Peek – Birds of Prey Facility


Get Up-Close & Personal with Rarely-Seen Birds-of-Prey

Alpine is home to a unique raptor education and rehabilitation facility, housing over 20 non releasable birds-of-prey, including a variety of owls, hawks, falcons, eagles and more.  Owners of this facility have graciously invited Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour attendees to visit each year since  2004, to meet these magnificent creatures up close and personal.  It has become a favorite of garden-tour-goers. It is once again included in this year’s selected sites.  A garden tour ticket will provide admission to the facility.  Here is a brief history on the site, the organization, and its very unique founder.

NC&barn2Sometimes as we cruise through life, an unexpected “bump in the road” results in our life being instantly and significantly changed. Nancy Conney, a retired accountant and recording studio manager, encountered her “bump in the road” one dark night 28 years ago, in the form of a barn owl laying in the middle of the road.  Had she and her husband not stopped to rescue it, it would have been a literal “bump in the road” to them, or to the next passing car!

After stopping, her husband, John, took off his jacket to cover the owl so that he could remove it from the road.  They put the owl in a cat carrier and took it, the next day, to a wildlife rescue group.  As she was leaving, the volunteer who took the owl said to Nancy, “We always need volunteers!”

Nancy answered that volunteer call. “It has consumed my life ever since,” she said. After working with that volunteer group for 10 years, Nancy and a partner decided to launch their own raptor rehabilitation program, and thus “Sky Hunters” was born in 1996.  It is a non-profit organization, dedicated to rescue, rehabilitation and release of birds of prey, as well as public education.

Nancy’s partner was tragically killed in an auto accident shortly after the organization’s inception.  So Nancy, with the help of her husband, through the direction of a board of directors, and under license of both California Fish & Game and U.S. Federal Fish and Wildlife, cares for hundreds of raptors each year in their Alpine facility.  Most are rehabilitated and released, but some cannot be released for various reasons, such as permanent injury, etc.  These are maintained as educational birds.  Among the more than 20 permanent residents are owls, eagles, falcons, kestrels, hawks and more.

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Feeding her charges is both time-consuming and costly.  The smaller birds get a mouse every day, at $1 each, and eagles are fed rats, at a cost of $5 each.  She buys the rodents in bulk and keeps them in her freezer.  The feeding process, which Nancy performs herself, takes about 2 hours each day. Keeping the cages clean takes another 3 hours each week. And although vet services are donated, medicines, when needed, cost another $100-$250/month.

conney_owlThe time and expense of care is not Nancy’s biggest challenge, however.  Not getting attached to the birds is! Among her educational birds, she admits to having a favorite–the Golden Eagle. “He curls my toes,” she says.  “He is magnificent!” And although the Bald Eagle is “awesome,” Nancy says, she relates him to a “ditzy blonde.” Upon further thought, she cites some of her owls as favorites…one by one, until she has mentioned them all. “It’s hard to choose a favorite.  They are all so different!” she says.  “It’s like having 12 kids with different personalities.”

Garden tour visitors will have an opportunity to select their favorite, as the facility is included as a bonus site for the 2015 Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour on May 1-3, 2015 in Alpine Ca.

For Tickets visit Visit or call (619)445-8352


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2015 Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour BONUS SITE – “Hummingbird Haven!”


Hordes of Hummers Thrive in this Hummingbird Haven

This Alpine woman is committed to caring for hundreds of wild hummingbirds a day, EVERY day of the year.  And if she’s a little late with breakfast, Denise Myers hears about it! “I get chewed out by a bunch of hummingbirds!” Denise says.

It all began 12 years ago with her son Rawley’s, seventh grade science project–and it forever changed her life. The experiment was simple enough: “Do hummingbirds prefer red?” Red parts of hummingbird feeders were covered with tape of different colors–yellow, orange, pink and purple.  One was left in its natural red color. Feeders were hung in a group around the deck of their home. Liquid food was measured, served, and scientifically recorded daily for 2-3 months. And the result?  Hummingbirds prefer yellow!

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But there was a much more significant “result” to this project… Denise realized that their family had successfully attracted hummingbirds–a LOT of hummingbirds! “I couldn’t let that go,” she said.  So she took up where her son had left off when he finished his experiment and she began a daily feeding routine. Denise said the first time she showed up late with their breakfast the birds threw a feeders&umbrellastantrum. “There were birds everywhere–yelling, zooming around, scolding and buzzing me,” she said.  “It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen!” There she stood, with a feeder in each hand, while dozens of chaotic birds rallied for their breakfast, completely oblivious to her while she called for her husband, Chris, to witness the phenomenon.

That was how it began. Over the years, feeders have been added as needed and in the summer months, when the hummingbird activity is most prevalent, she hangs up to 35 feeders around the deck of their home. When the birds are not at the feeders, they “hang out” in the nearby trees and bushes. “The shrubs come alive,” Denise said.  “It looks like a cherry tree with all the iridescent neck colors.”

myers-hummer-on-feederSugar is purchased in 25 lb. bags — about 7 bags each month, and 5 pitchers of filtered water are processed daily. And of utmost importance, feeders are scrubbed every day, using both a baby bottle brush and toothbrush. “Keeping feeders clean and free of mold is the absolute most important part,” Denise stresses.

The entire process takes her about 1.5 hours daily, and she has taken very few “vacation days” in 12 years.  In her absence, her husband Chris assumes the duty. Is it worth it?  “YES, it’s worth it!” she says, “or else I’m just crazy!”

The Myers’ “Hummingbird Haven” is a bonus site on the Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour on May 1-3, 2015 in Alpine Ca. For Tickets visit Visit or call (619)445-8352


Denise & Chris Meyers – Hummingbird Haven


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2015 Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour Garden #5 – Chill-out in an Artist’s Cozy Casita with Talking Parrots

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Chill-out in an Artist’s Cozy Casita with Talking Parrots

In most gardens, art plays second fiddle to the plants.  But not in THIS garden where artwork abounds on every path, waiting to be “discovered.”

When Mike Monfort retired 11 years ago, his wife Kathy suggested they transform their property into “an art project”. Mike, who holds a master’s degree in art, seized the challenge, and took it a step further. He created the garden to be “a visual experience…a trip in discovery,” he says. “The whole point is not to ‘notice’, but to ‘discover’,” he said.

Monfort_Garden 5_BEnchMike knows that not everyone who tours his garden will “notice” everything in it the first time.  In fact, he estimates that 80 percent of the people will see only 30 percent of the art in the garden. “It’s all about discovery,” says Mike.  “You have to just sit and look for a while.  And just when you think you have seen everything, you will see something new!”

Many of the pieces in the Monfort garden are one-of-a-kind creations, purchased at their favorite haunt, Quartzite, Arizona’s gigantic winter swap meet, or unique “finds” from local swap meets that are revamped into pieces of art. As would be expected, many of the items have been created by Mike or Kathy individually or a combination of both of them.

Their joint creative chemistry yields intriguing results, such as Kathy’s idea to fill old picture frames with pictures of Elvis, which Mike implemented and hung throughout the garden. One of their newest creations is a female scarecrow that is so realistic that she even scared their family dog!  And yes, she keeps away the crows. She wears a Victorian dress and hat from Kathy’s collection of vintage clothing, and Mike “did her makeup” by painting the styrofoam face.


 Monfort_Garden 5_Colored Chicken  Monfort_Garden 5_Bird House

A swap meet find is an old file cabinet that was converted into two different planting vessels…the drawers were painted, planted and placed on a wooden stepladder for a vertical effect, while the cabinet itself was painted, laid on its back and planted with herbs for a horizontal touch. A trio of French doors, destined for the dump due to decayed bottoms, now create an artful screen along the back property line.

Monfort_Garden 5_Stained GlassBottle trees abound here, ranging from metal art to an olive “whiskey tree” to a literal traffic-stopping dead cottonwood tree emblazoned with red, orange and blue reflectors, wiggling metal strips of corks and bottle tops, and of course, wine bottles. It is topped with a one-of-a-kind birdhouse. Mike said he has watched drivers actually stop their cars to check it out!

From a guitar-turned-birdhouse to authentic 1900’s baby receiving bed-turned-plant stand there is no shortage of art to discover here!  What’s more is that not only are the art pieces interesting to look at but most have an engaging story behind them. After a sensory overload “discovery tour”  in the Monfort garden, a relaxing seat in the cozy casita, built by Mike and Kathy, is a welcome respite.  It is not without more to see, however, with handcrafted chandeliers, tables, a bar and more.

Visitors will have no doubt that Kathy’s suggestion of turning their garden into “an art project” has been accomplished in grand style.  Theirs is garden #5 on the Sage & Songbirds Tour. For Tickets visit Visit or call (619)445-8352

Kathy & Mike Monfort

Kathy & Mike Monfort – Garden #5

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2015 Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour Garden #4 – Succulents Thrive Where a Pool Once Glistened

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Succulents now thrive where a swimming pool once glistened

When the dermatologist told this fair-skinned gardener to stay out of the sun, she took it a step further. She had the swimming pool removed and filled in, and planted a succulent garden in its place.

Now, instead of adding water to replace evaporation and using electricity to run a pool pump, Wallace and Maureen Austin have decreased both their water and electric bills, and enjoy a colorful collection of extremely drought tolerant succulents. Additionally, the chlorine and other chemicals used to maintain the pool water have been eliminated and organically-grown plants fill the space.

austin garden5  monarch-on-aloe  tree aloe w_bloom

bubbling urnThe area is one of the Austins favorite places to sit and enjoy the birds which come to the garden for a drink from the gently bubbling fountain that Wallace created from a ceramic urn. “Moving water is the best way to attract birds to your garden,” he said. A variety of birds flit through the garden to also dine on both nectar and seeds from the many aloes and other flowering succulents, Maureen said.  “I’m crazy about aloes,” she said.  “They all have different bloom times, so there’s always aloes in bloom in the garden, year-round.  And they come in so many different sizes, from trees to ground huggers.”

Entry to the pool had been a towering arch, covered with orange trumpet flowers, and when the pool was removed, so was the arch. “We missed that vertical element, so we decided to add a new arch with mission doors,” Wallace said.  “It’s completely compatible with the succulents.”

All of the concrete decking around the pool was salvaged and used to create walls and outline planting beds.  “The demolition company thought I was crazy when I asked them to leave me the broken cement pieces,” Maureen laughed.  “I love the rustic walls we were able to create with the concrete pieces….and it was free!”

garden_wallThe succulent garden is only one small area in the Austin’s 1.25 acre property, and it is nearly all planted. “She thinks if there’s open dirt, she has to plant it!” Wallace says about his wife. Included in the gardens is an orchard and veggie garden to feed the family, and dozens of milkweed plants to feed the Monarch butterflies.  Arbors of passion vine provide food for Gulf Fritillary butterflies, and yellow Sulphur butterflies flit around cassia trees and bushes, laying eggs on the leaves so their young will have what they need to grow.

Several recirculating water features, including a few built around natural boulder outcroppings, provide soothing sounds and entice birds and other wildlife to the overall garden. “We love winged things!” Maureen said.  “Our garden was created to invite them here, and to provide what they need so they don’t ever leave.”

The Austin garden is a Certified Monarch Way Station by the Monarch Watch Organization, and is recognized by the National Wildlife Federation as both a Certified Backyard Habitat and Certified Schoolyard Habitat. It is also the headquarters of CHIRP for Garden Wildlife, Inc., the not-for-profit organization which hosts the annual Alpine Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour.  It is Garden #4 on the tour. Visit or call (619)445-8352


Wallace & Maureen Austin – Garden #4

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2015 Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour Garden #3 – Relax By a Bubbling Creek & Outdoor Living Room

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Relax alongside a bubbling creek in a spacious outdoor living room

When this couple decided they wanted a waterfall and pond in their yard, they started digging…literally… and the result was a beautiful, meandering creek and pond. They also lugged and placed multiple loads of flagstone and river rock to create patios, a bird sanctuary, and with the help of their neighbor, landscaped their one-acre property. Gary and Diane Swarberg are self-proclaimed “tough, do-it-your-selfers”. Through their tenacity and the help of their neighbor, the Swarbergs  transformed an area that was “dirt, rocks and some native shrubs,” into a lush habitat enjoyed by birds, butterflies, family, friends, and their numerous pets and foster dogs.

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As with most gardens, it has been a gradual transition during their 22 years of owning the property. “We used to have lots of lawn,” Diane said. “Now we just have a little to soften around the house–and for the dogs,” she said as one of her furry friends rolled in the grass nearby. After removing about one-third of their lawn, their water bill dropped 20-30 percent, Gary said.  The remaining lawn is equipped with water-efficient sprinklers, he said, to further conserve water.

Garden 3_Swarberg_BridgeDiane recalls that after building their home they were on a tight budget, and she often shopped for “deals” on plants. She said she paid $1 for a one-gallon plant that was “supposed to be a bush” and laughed as she pointed to it — a tree that now reaches about 45 feet tall!

This garden of vignettes has a surprise around every corner, and an abundance of places to sit and enjoy each area–some cozy, and others spacious. A hub of this habitat is a large outdoor living room, complete with a stuccoed Rumford fireplace, and adjoining 16‘x25‘ seating area with padded lounge chairs and wired-in sound system. The area was created recently, to reap maximum enjoyment from the adjacent waterfall and pond that the couple had created years ago.

That water feature, which gently winds over the landscape, culminating in a koi pond,  recently received an overhaul. The boulders that the Swarbergs had laboriously hand-dug out and implemented into the original creek, waterfall and pond were rearranged by a local waterscape professional to maximize sound and water movement, and eliminate mud. It was just the needed touch to perfect the pond, they said.

Garden 3_Swarberg_Bir HouseAlthough their original koi were eaten by herons and raccoons, the water feature is a highlight of the garden, and is an attraction to a host of birds. Among the winged visitors Diane has noted here are Phainopepla,  Tricolored Blackbird, Black Phoebe, Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Lazuli Bunting, Hooded Oriole, California Thrasher, towhees, grosbeak and titmice, along with several birds-of-prey including kestrels, hawks and owls.

Boulders also abound in this garden, and all are native. “Every boulder you see was already here,” Gary said.  “Where we found boulders, we implemented them into the landscape.” Most of the planting design was done by Diane, with a few basic tips from professionals. She was advised by her neighbor to create beds and paths in curves instead of squares, and to plant in groups of three. “Basically, the garden has just ‘evolved,’ Diane said, noting that the newest addition to their yard is a pet cemetery for the pets that have shared the garden.

This National Wildlife Federation-certified “Backyard Habitat” includes butterfly bushes, bottlebrush, cotoneaster, Mexican sage and much more–an outright invite to hummingbirds, butterflies and songbirds. The winged wildlife have accepted the Swarberg’s invitation to come in and stay awhile…and garden tourists will certainly want to do the same.  Theirs is Garden #3 on the 2015 Sage & Songbirds Tour.

Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour 2012 Garden #6 Diane & Gary Swarberg Alpine Ca 91901

Diane & Gary Swarberg


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2015 Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour Garden #2 – A Sprawling Old Hacienda


Garden #2 – Saunter through a sprawling old hacienda’s grounds

It has been said that “the third time is a charm.”  In this case, the third house is a definite “charmer”! This sprawling adobe hacienda is the third home that Penny and Darren Wiemer have owned in Alpine. It’s the second adobe home they’ve owned in this town.

wiemers courtyardBut what is most unique to them is that they are the only couple in the 18-year history of the Alpine Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour to have owned TWO DIFFERENT homes that have each been featured during the event! Like their first home here, this adobe hacienda and its grounds were in very bad repair when the Wiemers purchased it about 3 years ago. “There was trash and stuff everywhere,” Penny said.  It took a bobcat and backhoe to do the initial cleaning.  Then they hired a tree crew to clear the thicket of weeds and chaparral so they could move through the property, she said.

What was revealed was an incredible display of magnificent boulders and Engelmann Oaks, with a breathtaking view of Palo Verde Lake in the near distance, Penny said. She was pleased, but not surprised.  Penny had already seen the potential in the home and garden, but had to convince the not-so-sure Darren that they should buy it. “Darren didn’t want this place at all,” Penny said. “He didn’t see it the way I did, but at least he was open to it.”

Darren admits that he did not see the possibilities inherent in the property, as Penny had. “She had a vision, and it did turn out well,” he laughed.  “That’s kind of humbling.” There is no doubt that he now shares Penny’s passion for the property, and he has, in fact, added his own touches throughout the 2.5 acre grounds. Darren planted corn.  But not just a couple of rows of corn.  He planted 10 rows, each 50 feet long, and fenced the entire area to keep the squirrels out.

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Thwarting squirrels was also a factor in his motivation for the “industrial-strength” raised veggie beds he created. “Last year the squirrels ate all the blooms off our tomato plants and we didn’t get any fruit,” he said. That won’t be the case this year!  Penny found an idea for raised beds online and Darren ran with it. Four by eight-foot boxes, created on a base of galvanized metal sheeting, with netted tops and wire bottoms has resulted in triumph over squirrels, gophers and birds.  Boxes are equipped with irrigation systems on automatic timers, and veggies are waist-high to make harvesting is easier.  Their harvest has been abundant.

wiemers-horseSuch is typical of the Wiemers’ division of labor… Penny conceives the ideas and Darren implements them.  He builds, she plants and waters.  It’s a great team. Together they have reinstated the magnificence of this 3400 square foot adobe home and its gardens, where abundant Monarch butterflies flutter about, and the dappled shade of stately oak trees provide the perfect condition for Penny’s collection of annuals, perennials and succulents.

It was a blank canvas to start, as Penny and her crew cleared the weedy vegetation and began planting.  Plants have thrived and today present the appearance of “having always been there,” in keeping with the restored adobe structure.

Visitors will enjoy the serenity and charm found here, at “Casa Mariposa,” where there is no longer any question in anyone’s mind as to whether or not this property “has potential.”  It has been restored to its original glory–and beyond.  It is Garden #2 on the Sage & Songbirds Tour. For more info and to purchase tickets for the Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour on May 1-3, 2015 in Alpine Ca, please click here


Penny and Darren Wiemer – Garden #2 on the CHIRP Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour 2015


2015 Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour: Sneak Peek of Garden #1


Garden #1 – A Wine-Producing Vineyard

They never intended to make wine, but Jan and Dean Patterson now produce up to 1,000 bottles a year from their Alpine vineyard! The vines were planted on about half of their 1.9 acre lot as a water-efficient alternative to a lawn, garden or weeds.  “We didn’t want a big garden to maintain, but the weeds would just take over the area,” Jan said.  So they decided to plant a vineyard.

patterson-tabletop-bottletreeThe result is not only a water-efficient use of space, but the creation of a romantic vision on the sloping hillside below the deck of their Spanish-Colonial style home–and ultimately, wine with which to enjoy and accompany the view. Established grape plants need only a few drips of water weekly during their growing cycle, Dean says, although the first few years, they need about a gallon a day.

Most of Jan and Dean Patterson’s 400 grapevines are in their 7th year of growing.  They have been producing wine for the past 3 years. Dean, a biochemist, researched and studied soils and plants before deciding what to plant at their Alpine home. “We didn’t want to grow what Alpine wouldn’t give us,” he said. The upshot is a vineyard with plants from the Rhone Valley of Southern France– 80 percent Syrah, coupled with Grenache, Mourvedre, and Red Zinfandel (all reds), and one white grape, Viognier. Jan said the white grapes bring a deeper color to the red. “You’d think it would make it whiter!” she chucked.

patterson-birdhouseThe original plan was simply to grow the grapes and sell them to other vintners. “But then we started making wine,” Dean said. Thus, that simple plan became a complex process. Actual wine-making begins late August and involves daily measuring of sugar and acidity of grapes to determine the optimum day to pick them, a day of harvesting, cold soaking a few days, crushing, de-stemming, fermenting for up to a week, pressing, inoculating with yeast, adding a chemical to prevent spoilage and further fermentation, checking the Brix level in the “juice”, and putting it in barrels in the wine cellar for aging before the ultimate bottling.

Although the actual wine-making process centers around harvest time, Dean stresses the importance of good crop management, year-round, and especially during the months of May to August. Problems such as powdery mildew, a bane of grape growers, can be controlled by proper pruning to allow adequate air flow, he said.

Dean considers himself to be a “farmer.”  “Farming is gardening, but for a living,” he said.  This year he plans to sell 75% of his estimated 2-ton harvest.

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In addition to a degree in biochemistry, this “farmer” has his MBA in marketing from Stanford, and is working on a doctorate degree in immigration economics.  Jan, a retail banker, is his perfect complement, with a dual degree in finance and Spanish. She also enhances the vineyard with her vegetable and container gardens, and a passion for feeding the birds.

The couple welcomes visitors to Victoria Hill Vineyard, which is Garden #1 on the Sage & Songbirds Tour. For more info and to purchase tickets for the Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour on May 1-3, 2015 in Alpine Ca, please click here

Jan&Dean Garden #1

Jan and Dean Patterson – Garden #1