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Rose Society’s annual tour highlights Old World charm

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By Andrea Papagianis

Maria del Carmen Calvo steps into her canvas.

Nestled along the Capistrano Beach bluffs, Calvo’s rich garden “rooms” provide an escape from the outside world, where the inside meets the out, creating a space straight from one of the artist’s oil paintings.

Walking the grounds Calvo stops to smell the roses. “It’s my sanctuary,” Calvo says in the heavy Spanish accent she carries even after 50 years in California.

She moves through the garden, passing through a line of olive trees—a simple, gravel path shrouded by tall, neatly trimmed topiaries. It’s one of the many ways her European heritage, and artistic style, shines through the rose-lined pathways and tall hedges.

Calvo and her husband, Walter Henry, have been building their home for 30 years. They started with a clean slate. All but one tree was removed when they moved into their Camino Capistrano-located home. Since, Calvo has cultivated an outdoor living space where tranquility reigns.

One of nine fountains at Maria del Carmen Clavo’s Capistrano Beach home provides tranquil sounds amidst a garden of roses and olive topiaries. Photo: Andrea Papagianis
One of nine fountains at Maria del Carmen Clavo’s Capistrano Beach home provides tranquil sounds amidst a garden of roses and olive topiaries. Photo: Andrea Papagianis

Roses billow from their branches, heavy and wide, encompassing cement walkways Calvo lay with intricate glass and tile designs. Fountains echo the gentle trickling of water. Around each corner, Calvo’s artistic sleight of hand peeks through with personal touches straight from an artist’s eye.

Situated just above her bathroom sink is a broken Lalique vase that Calvo united with the home’s edifice. Now the crystal provides a surprise among the stucco and a simple backdrop to Calvo’s water lilies—one of her much loved garden features to paint.

“It’s a happy place,” Calvo said. “It is a place for everyone to enjoy.”

On Saturday, May 10, Calvo and Henry will open their home for all as the Rose Society of Saddleback Mountain hosts its annual south Orange County garden tour. Attendees of this year’s event, coined the “Elegant and Enchanting Garden Tour,” will have the chance to tour five home gardens highlighting floral displays, environmentally sound garden practices and garden architecture.

Looking from the second-story balcony of Bill and Sandra Jensen’s garden cottage, which sits behind their main house, an elaborately woven garden takes form.

Knotted together, various short hedges weave in and out of one another, replicating a technique from European gardeners of old. Throughout the couple’s San Clemente one-room bed and breakfast, which acts as a backdrop to weddings and weekend getaways, views from above provide a clearer vision of the techniques Bill acquired from his decade living in Europe.

The perimeter of the Jensen’s home is lined with well-manicured hedges, tall shade trees and colorful vines that pop against deep green hues. Sprinkled in the mix are scentimental roses of reds and pinks that are swirled with creamy-white stripes, and espalier fruit trees, presented in the two-dimensional trained form from the Middle Ages.

“I tried to have things that you would not see in everybody’s garden,” Bill Jensen said. “When someone looks at the espalier apple tree and says ‘Where can I get one of those,’ I say ‘Well you can’t get one of those you have to grow it.’”

Visitors can learn more about Calvo’s and Jensen’s gardens and techniques during the Rose Society’s tour. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 the day of. Sales support the society’s horticulture and plant science related scholarships for college and university students. Visit for tickets.

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