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North Valley homes on garden tour

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In May of 1939, perched among her roses and wild desert flowers, wearing a black and white summer dress, Lois Law welcomed guests to tea at her “country home” in the North Valley.

Desert friendly plants grow in front of the 1930s home of Mark and Jean Bernstein. Their property will be featured in an upcoming garden tour. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The location was Rio Grande Boulevard and the occasion, she told the Albuquerque Journal, was “to exhibit my garden and my Aunt Mary.”

Aunt Mary was traveling through New Mexico from California to Mason City, Iowa. The garden, according to the paper, was something Law had dedicated herself to for several years.

“Miss Law has made her ‘desert patch’ a hobby the past three years, with more than a dozen specimens now growing, many of them started this spring from seed.”

Nearly eight decades later the garden remains in the spotlight. The property will be one of nine featured in Saturday’s Parade of Gardens, the Council of Albuquerque Garden Clubs’ annual garden tour.

Law was a professor at the University of New Mexico, once being named the director of the UNM Extension Department. She was also a prominent member of society and served on the Opera Guild Committee and as president of the New Mexico Speech Association. She lived in the home until her death at age 99, according to Kristin Thompson, publicity chair for the tour.

An iron gate frames the garden of Mark and Jean Bernstein, who live in the North Valley. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The current owners are Mark and Jean Bernstein, who purchased the 2½-acre property in 2004. Mark Bernstein, a master gardener, has worked to rehabilitate and restore the grounds. A dirt driveway leading to the house is lined with cottonwood trees the couple planted about 15 years ago. The front of the house features a circular garden with drought-resistant plants and an enormous cottonwood that Mark Bernstein said was mostly likely planted when the home was built in the early 1930s. An iron gate with a decorative chile ristra ushers visitors into the lush back yard that features a forest of trees, roses, various plants and a thick, green lawn.

Jean Bernstein said she embraces the home’s history and loves hearing stories from the neighbors about Law. In honor of the home’s original owner, the Bernsteins have kept the rose bushes Law planted in the mid-1930s. Beyond the garden is a large plot of land the couple uses for growing tomatoes they sell at local growers markets.

The tour shifts to a different location within the metro area each year. This year’s tour will take place in the Village of Los Ranchos from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and tickets are $15. They can be purchased at the Albuquerque Garden Center, Alameda Nursery, Jericho Nurseries, Osuna Nursery, Plants of the SouthWest, Plant World, Rehms Nursery, Santa Ana Garden Center and Bookworks. Purchase of a ticket comes with a booklet that provides the locations of all the featured gardens.

The other gardens range in size from landscaped patio areas to several acres and feature flowering plants, bushes, trees, ponds and waterfalls. One home on the tour was once part of the Anderson winery property and when the owners built there they were required to install grass. The owners have since added flowering plants such as begonias, roses, peonies and hydrangeas. The result is a lush, green environment.

Another stop on the tour is a garden on Fourth Street that was inspired by a visit to Monet’s Garden at Giverny, France. The garden has a mixed layout, with flowers, fruit trees and vegetables packed into a small patio area. A garden on Ortega was transformed from mostly dirt and now has an orchard with nectarines, peaches, cherries, apples and plums, a vegetable garden, flower beds and several colorful plants including Russian sage, chamisa and red barberry.

Thompson said the council selects the final gardens for the tour and they hear about them either from the owners themselves, members of the garden club and sometimes even approach property owners with gardens the group thinks would be good for a garden tour. They are usually given a two-year notice.

“Gardening in New Mexico is not a slam dunk,” Thompson said. “Here it’s a challenge. I think people are interested in getting ideas. People are interested in seeing how others do it (garden).”

No word yet on what the Bernsteins plan to wear or whether they will serve tea.

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