When Betty and Gene Aslin moved to Hood River nearly 20 years ago, real estate agents had a running joke about the property the couple wound up buying.
“They called it the wreck with the deck,” Betty says, laughing. A run-down house and a run-down barn were the highlights of the five acres at the end of Eliot Drive. There was a dramatic view across to the forested hillsides and neat orchards of East Side Road and Pine Grove, but on the sloping property that drops off to the Hood River below, the blackberry bushes threatening to overtake the property were anything but neat. A scrawny oak tree next to the house was all that was left of what locals once called Eliot Woods.
“There was a hydrangea and some spirea,” Betty recalls.
Strolling through her prolific gardens today it’s hard to imagine what that dearth of color and life was like. Today the house, which has been fixed up and painted barn red, is surrounded on all sides by flowers, plants and shrubs in all colors, shapes and sizes.
A driveway circles around a central lawn and garden on one side of the house. Siberian iris jut from beds and fruit trees — apple and cherry — sit neatly in the middle.
Dozens of raised beds that Gene built spread down the sloping hillside in front of the house. In them grow everything from tall, lanky sunflowers to delicate lilies to — Betty’s favorite — bursting balls of multi-colored dahlias.
“They’re not fragrant but they’re just so beautiful and colorful,” she says. “They’re almost an addiction.”
A side yard is filled with rhododendrons and foxglove and gloriosa daisies. Betty calls it her “Eugene backyard,” because much of the original shrubs came from the Aslin’s previous home in the Eugene-Springfield area.
Daisies and baby’s breath continue along the back of the house.
“The garden didn’t happen overnight,” Betty says. She credits much of the profuse growth to the soil, which is helped by her two four-legged composters that roam the sloping hillside on the Aslins’ property.
“They love it when I start clipping the dahlia heads,” Betty says, tossing some pink and red balls toward the two steers. Betty doesn’t use any pesticides “because of the birds and the bees,” she says. And she forgoes some flower etiquette in favor of her feathered friends.
“These sunflowers don’t really go in here,” Betty says, gesturing to the yellow flowers towering over a row of dahlias. “But the goldfinches sure love the seeds.” She also lets some flowers go to seed for the same reason.
“Gotta keep the birds fed,” she says.
Betty says she relishes gardening, even though it’s often hard work.
“In the spring and fall, it can be real intense,” she says. “But it’s such a sense of satisfaction.” She is always changing things in her garden, figuring out what new flower to plant where, what shrub or tree to place in a new spot. Still, Betty says she now peruses nurseries mostly for plants and flowers with “different shaped leaves, different colors or different habits.”
“But I’m still a sucker for a good dahlia,” she adds.