Gary and Doris Eberhardt live in a water park. But you won’t find any screaming children playing in the cool water. The Rochester couple’s nearly 10 acres is a nature park, cut through with ponds, streams and one impressive water feature: an 80-foot-high waterfall.
The Eberhardts’ property is one of five private gardens in Rochester and Tumwater that will be open Saturday as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Gardens program (see box). Since 1995, almost 3,000 private gardens across the U.S. have swung open their gates to nearly one million visitors in the country’s only national garden-visiting program. Proceeds from Saturday’s event benefit the Chase Garden in Orting, a Garden Conservancy preservation garden.
When the Eberhardts bought their property in 1999, it was missing one crucial ingredient: dirt. The acreage had been used as a rock quarry for decades. The years of excavation (initially for a nearby railroad line and later for breakwaters in Grays Harbor) had left stone escarpments and an amphitheater-like hollow. A spring higher up the hillside in the Capitol Forest fed the waterfall.
Before the couple could build their rustic post-and-beam home, they had to haul in soil. “We traded rock for dirt,” Gary said. The couple estimates about 75 truckloads of soil were brought in.
The water is more than just a pretty backdrop at the property they call “The Falls.” It quenches their thirst, powers their home and waters their plants.
Gary is the mastermind behind the garden and waterways though it was never his intention to create the elaborate system of ponds, pathways, grass and plants he now has cultivated on about a third of the property.
“I was going to make a circle (drive) and that’s all. Then I started to get bored,” he said.
One thing the couple has very little of is flowers. And one thing they have plenty of is deer. There is a direct correlation between the two.
Doris has surrendered to the hungry deer and is just content with a few dahlias, rhododendrons, hydrangeas and tubs of plastic flowers. “The deer don’t eat those,” Doris said of the latter.
Artificial flowers are not a typical sight on a garden tour but then little about the Eberhardts’ garden can be called typical.
Down-slope from the waterfall is a “flooded mine” right out of a southwest desert. Lanterns, a Halloween spider and fake skeletons add kitsch to the setting. A stream gurgles from the mine and flows into a greenish pond. Gary built the addition in one weekend while Doris was visiting family in Phoenix. It would have turned out bigger had she not returned home early.
“I had a fit. Jeepers Creepers,” Doris recalled. “I told him ‘No more ponds!’ He’s a pond freak. Every time I turn around there’s another pond,” Doris said recently in the couple’s kitchen. Gary, standing nearby, cracked a mischievous smile at the memory.
“She’s been watching me ever since,” he said.
Water is more than just a pretty feature on the Eberhardts’ property. An underground spring provides unadulterated drinking water for the home, and the same spring that feeds the waterfall provides gravity-fed water that powers two hydroelectric turbines.
The turbines are housed in a container barely larger than a chest freezer. Together, they produce four kilowatts of electricity at full power — enough to power three to four homes, Gary said. It’s all the more amazing given that the water arrives via a thee-inch pipe.
Gary thinks more people with gravity-fed water supplies would take advantage of them if they knew how little water it takes to power modern, home-sized turbines.
“They don’t realize what a little small stream can do,” Gary said. The couple pays about $7 a month for electricity — basically the cost of the meter reading.
A stroke three years ago slowed Gary, now 75. The couple employs a helper for about five hours a week to help maintain the property. Occasionally they talk about selling the property, but they are stymied by one problem: they can’t think of anywhere else they’d rather live. THE GARDENS
12930 Hunter Road SW, Rochester.
Hendricks Memorial Park
12640 175th Street, Rochester.
Features: More than 100 varieties of trees and 300 rhododendrons, ponds and a riding train.
19225 Kelsey Marie Lane SW, Rochester.
Features: A prairie setting with water features, arbors, decks and theme gardens.
3010 Bush Mountain Court SW, Tumwater.
Features: Koi pond, containers and grasses on one acre.
3005 Bush Mountain Court SW, Tumwater.
Features: A woodland park setting with pond, rocks and a 100-foot-long perennial bed.Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541 email@example.com