Mary and Fred Benninghoff just want to have fun.
Fun finding outdoor decor at weekend garage sales, fun figuring out how and where to put it, even fun trying to outsmart menacing moles.
A walk around their yard full of towering trees, a “secret garden” and numerous blooming and shady spots reveals their attitude. There’s a blinking lighthouse, old-time wicker furniture painted bright turquoise, a “secret garden” entered through a looking glass.
“We’re all about fun,” said Mary, “all about it.”
Their fun house is one stop on this year’s annual Oak Harbor Garden Tour June 30, which features five locations. Tickets are $18.
In its 19th year, the self-guided tour is sponsored by the Oak Harbor Garden Club. It selects yards to showcase based on recommendations and hitting the road.
“We drive around and see what’s out there,” said lead organizer Linda Bos. “If we see something, we talk to the home owner and ask ‘Does your back yard look as good as your front yard?’”
The Benninghoff’s home, north of Oak Harbor off Fakkema Road, will serve as the tour’s reception site. Refreshments will be served and musician Dorothy Waite will play auto harp.
As hosts, the couple plans to walk visitors around their yard that’s more like a park in size and design. On two-and-one-half acres, there’s a variety of trees — madrona, weeping willow, birch — many planted when they moved in 32 years ago.
A row of small apple trees in six varieties is already sprouting; there are also plums and hazelnuts to pick in season.
“I made so many apple dishes last fall,” Mary said. “Enough apples already!”
She cooks up all those apples in a small kitchen that they have no plans to renovate. That’s because the house is living history, an executive officer’s home moved from the original Navy base in 1970.
More than 100 years old, parts of the small, cozy home seem a time warp.
“It reminds people of their grandmother’s house,” Mary said. “So I’ve kept it that way.”
Their front property is lined in multi-colored hydrangeas soon to pop. Delicate, white silver lace climbs one trellis while red camellias cling to another.
Small garden and shady spots are accented with treasures from yesteryear — croquet sets, potbelly stove, grandma’s tea set, even small wooden sleds hung on the side of the garage.
“They remind me of winters where I was raised in Central New York,” she said.
Her husband, a California kid, has no such memories. But he understands the pull of nostalgia. Opening the door to his “man cave” verifies that.
Taking up more than half the garage, Fred’s manly space is a museum devoted to models of airplanes, cars, movie sets and monsters. Small cars are neatly arranged in display cases he built and walls are a scatter shot of items from the 1950s and 1960s.
“Every Friday, a group of guys meets here to make models,” he said.
Fred also takes a shine to lava lamps.
“He must have 100,” chided his bride of 40 years. “No, dear. I have 31,” Fred replied.
They plan to open their fanciful indoor spaces during the garden tour to all who are interested.
After decades directing a small army of employees for his business, Troubleshooters Plumbing, Fred can’t seem to slow down. Neither can his wife who spends her time sprucing up all the plants, recycled furniture and other garden features.
Fred fashioned windows for his getaway garage from empty Rose’s cocktail infusion bottles and glass blocks. (Yes, drinking many, many wildly-flavored martinis was necessary.)
He drilled holes into the glass blocks and filled each block and bottle with water and food coloring.
The result is a stunning treat and trick for the eye.
He’s also president of the Whidbey Cruzers Car Club. Fred and Mary are often out spinning around town in his bright red 1972 Plymouth Scamp.
“You know, there’s no requirement to growing up,” Fred declares in a deadpan voice. “I’m in my mid-70s. I could be doing this into my 90s.”