Jacquie Barone answered the phone one evening this past June to find a friend on the other line, telling her that she and her garden had been featured in that month’s edition of Better Homes & Gardens magazine and that she had to come over to look at it immediately.
Barone’s friend had been persuing the newest edition of the magazine and hadn’t noticed that the couple smiling up from a small photo on page 74 were people she knew, not until she had glanced over the rest of the four-page spread and realized that the vegetables, koi pond, chickens, beehives and salvaged-material structures featured in the photos looked familiar.
But what the photos don’t show is that the spacious house and vibrant backyard were just an empty one-bed-one-bath house surrounded by blackberries when Barone and her husband, Pasquale, first fell in love with the property 28 years ago.
“We immediately pulled in and loved that tree out front,” she said, referring to a massive copper beech tree growing beside the driveway, scarred with memories of the original inhabitants’ kids using it for axe-throwing practice over 50 years ago.
The two ran to Costco for furniture and moved in that night, sleeping on a mattress on the floor.
Jacquie and Pasquale, both developers and designers, had moved to Hood River to restore and open the Hood River Hotel.
“It was really hard for me to work at the hotel all day…and then think about taking the kids to the park,” she said, “so I thought, ‘I’ll make a park at home.’”
What started as a treehouse and play area in one section of the yard, and an effort to keep gifted houseplants alive, quickly evolved into what Better Homes called a “living laboratory,” an outdoor classroom where Barone taught herself how to garden.
“I still kill plants,” she admitted, mostly just when she waits too long to get them in the ground, but she loves her garden as a place for her to “forget about people and work and just get dirty” and embrace her creativity.
“The garden is a constant place of learning because there’s no such thing as a perfect gardener,” she said.
Her garden is always generating a new mystery to unravel — this year it was the “mystery mice tomatoes” that grew after Barone removed their tags and threw them out, thinking they’d been killed by mice that got into the greenhouse.
Normally, she allows people to reserve varieties of tomato plants early on in the season, selling them once they’ve grown and donating the money to FISH.
“My tagline is ‘food for food,’ you get tomatoes and people get fed.”
Since she had already replanted tomatoes to fill her preorders, the “mystery mice tomatoes” were donated to FISH as well.
Food is the center of Barone’s household and her garden reflects that: Nine 20-foot long vegetable beds lie right outside the kitchen door and around the garden, decorative trees and plants produce plums, strawberries, currants and more. She collects and cooks most meals from the garden while Pasquale takes care of buying and cooking meat.
“Everyone’s garden should be a reflection of themselves,” she said, “I always try to encourage people to be creative and do their own thing.”
When asked if she was working on any ongoing projects, she answered “it’s always ongoing.” The greenhouse and tree house are waiting to be refurbished and she wants to build a built-in barbecue on the deck — and her daughter is constructing a tiny-house on wheels in their driveway to be moved to Portland when it’s finished — the list goes on and on, she said.
She does want to learn how to weld, since she’s got a pile of salvaged materials from work waiting to be implemented in her garden. Currently, old window frames serve as the faux walls of an outdoor seating area, and rusted pipes form arbors beside the koi pond. Since wood has a tendency to break down over the years, Barone prefers to use metal in outdoor structures because it lasts longer and blends into the landscape as it rusts.
Her repurposed materials have attracted the attention of a TV producer who expressed interest in some sort of program, but nothing has been decided, she said.
“You know when you’re going to the post office and when you get back you’ve done 10 other things,” she said, “that’s my garden.”