The covid garden

In March 2020, our normal lives and our hobbies all came to a halt. Our local area was under a complete shutdown order from public health. My daytime job is Director of Tennis at a small tennis club in San Jose, CA. My hobby is landscape and wildlife photography in various parts of the world. My wife has retired, and her hobby is travel. My club was forced to close due to the Covid shutdown restrictions in our county (Santa Clara County, California, USA.). All travel was cut off and all our planned trips for the next year had to be canceled. The following is how my wife, Paula, described our response:

We are travelers. We love different countries and cultures and languages and foods. But our favorite pastime of exploring the world was abruptly brought to a halt when Covid hit. Suddenly we were “trapped” in a much smaller world—one that was defined by the property line of our own home. For the first few months, we waited patiently while doing chores around the house and reading the news voraciously.

We hoped that this would all blow over soon and we could resume our lives. We would be on an airplane posthaste and Reno could continue teaching tennis. That didn’t happen and as time went on, I decided we could not waste this time. We needed to do something to satisfy my creative side. I am a retired interior designer with over 35 years’ experience, and I needed to create.

But my house was pretty much done. I gazed out of my office window and realized I had a whole new palette… my front yard. I started imagining and researching and shopping online. At some point, I had too many ideas that just did not mesh. So, I rethought and replanned and suddenly it came to me. I would like a project that my husband and I could do collaboratively. I wanted to create our Covid Garden.

My husband, Reno, is a photographer at heart. Since the beginning of the pandemic, he had spent many hours photographing the birds in our back yard. They were beautiful so I thought, “why not incorporate an outdoor art gallery into our landscaping plans?” And since we live on Bird Avenue, we could showcase “The Birds of Bird Avenue”.

We now had our starting point. I finally decided to use some Corten Steel privacy panels… both in 12” x 72” and 24” x 72”. Some were solid and others had a bamboo design laser cut into them. The plain panels would feature Reno’s photographs. All would serve as visual barriers from our somewhat busy street which was originally hidden by a row of somewhat scruffy trees.

We would now have a more open and friendly yard. We still wanted privacy so all of the panels and plantings would be strategically placed to serve that purpose. After we decided on the art panels, everything else fell into place. I decided to duplicate an arch that we had over our front gate to make what I call my double rainbow. A double rainbow represents an opportunity for growth, self-discovery, and evolution.

What better inspiration could we have during a pandemic! We put up lights on the inside curve which have some sort of prismatic effect and cause a rainbow to glow. The rest of the yard has the Corten Steel repeated in the planters and oversized leaf sculptures. A contemporary statue of a seated lady with birds watches over our garden.

Now to the gallery. We decided to have the photos of our backyard birds printed on aluminum which is supposed to withstand the elements and last “forever”. So far so good! The prints are beautiful, the colors burst from the print and have real depth. They are in varying sizes from 5×7 to 16×20 inches and are placed in coordinated groupings.

They are mounted with stainless steel standoffs. As time goes on, we plan to change out the photos to give the passers-by a new gallery. We are also thinking that we might add in some flowers or insects, but everything will be from our own garden. The interesting thing is that as I work on my now-beloved front yard, many neighbors pass by as they walk their dogs or get some fresh air and exercise.

Many stop to talk about our design and our photos. The kids love seeing the birds and have learned from them since you can see the details of the hummingbirds, for example, that you could not often capture with your eye. I have met so many new people that I would never have met had it not been for the pandemic.

This has certainly been a silver lining for us. Our garden has brought us new life and new friends and it has given Reno and me something beautiful that we were able to create together. I’d say we made lemonade!

Perhaps as the world opens again, we might even showcase photos from our trips. But for now, we are still on stand-by. However, the birds continue to come to our home and Reno continues to capture their beauty. As an added challenge, we have an extreme drought in California.

We are trying to balance our low-water plants with insect and bird attracting flowers. All are nurtured with a drip watering system which demands constant tweaking and refinement. As the pandemic continues, our Covid Garden continues to evolve and improve. Sharing with the neighborhood has been a source of great joy and fulfillment.

Technical: All the pictures are taken with Olympus cameras, OM-D E-M1X and E-M1 Mk II or Mk III, using a variety of lenses. Most of the bird pictures use the Panasonic 100-400mm F4-6.3, the Olympus 300mm F4 PRO, or the Olympus 40-150 F2.8 PRO with teleconverters. For general pictures, I use the Olympus 12-100mm F4 PRO. All shots are taken either in our yard or in the general area and are local birds/insects/animals.

They are printed on aluminum by a special process at Nations Photo Lab that includes drilling mounting holes and supplying special standoffs. Nations Photo Lab has some pictures printed with this process that have been outside in their parking lot in Hunt Valley, Maryland, for over a decade without fading, so we are sure these will last long enough for our garden.

Paula Zacher
• 30 years as an interior designer in San Francisco Bay area.
• Published author, book available on Amazon “If Something Should Happen” about her experiences in the earthquake in Nepal and a hospital in Tibet.
• International traveler, 124 countries and counting.
• Mother of two children and grandmother to one (so far.)
• Married to Reno 44 years–her longest-running project.
• When Covid sequestered Paula at home, she became intensely creative as a landscape designer, gardener, and photo critic.
• Taking up a new post-retirement skill to create her own garden décor.


Reno Davenport
• Started taking photos instead of snapshots in 1967. Moved from Canon to Olympus in 2012 when the Olympus OM-D E-M5 was first released, sold all my Canon gear, and never regretted it. See article in Olympus Passion, Issue 32, January 2020 on Reno.
• On 3rd career: US Naval Officer, Executive in Silicon Valley (8 startups), now a tennis professional running tennis programs at a tennis club in San Jose, CA, USA.
• Have been to 96 countries (so far) via my first two careers and following Paula around.
• When Covid locked us in the house and canceled all our travel plans, started shooting the wildlife in our backyard and neighborhood. The new E-M1X makes many shots achievable that my other cameras would just have missed. Paula looked at the pictures and decided to incorporate them into her yard design.
• Camera equipment utilized: E-M1X, E-M1 Mark III and E-M1 Mark II. Lenses in use for these pictures were the Oly 300mm f4.0 (with 1.2x and 2.0x extenders), Pana 100-400 f4-6.3, Oly 12-100 f4.0, Pana 8-18 f2.8-4.0. The bird and Koi pictures are primarily taken with E-M1X using bird recognition settings.

Paula Zacher 30 years as an interior designer in San Francisco Bay area. Published author, book available on Amazon “If Something Should Happen” about her experiences in the earthquake in Nepal and a hospital in Tibet. International traveler, 124 countries and counting. Reno Davenport Started taking photos instead of snapshots in 1967. Moved from Canon to Olympus in 2012 when the Olympus OM-D E-M5 was first released, sold all my Canon gear, and never regretted it. See article in Olympus Passion, Issue 32, January 2020 on Reno. On 3rd career: US Naval Officer, Executive in Silicon Valley (8 startups), now a tennis professional running tennis programs at a tennis club in San Jose, CA, USA. Have been to 96 countries (so far) via my first two careers and following Paula around.

2 Comments

  1. I just spent upwards of an hour visiting your yard, dear Paula and Reno. What you two have done is really remarkable and a gift for your friends and neighbors, be they near or far. Reno, your photography is simply outstanding and captures for eternity those fleeting moments in time. Jim and I enjoyed every photo of life inside your yard. We hope to see it in person one day. We’re appreciative of the time and effort invested in this beautiful gift to all. Love you both, hope to see you soon!

  2. A truly magical garden incorporating passion , expertise, creativity, love and partnership. This is something you would expect to see in a professionally curated museum arboretum or garden. The way that it changes day to night with lighting is delightful and gives reason to view in all the seasons and times of day. Thank you for sharing this with us all and inspiring us to “color outside the lines” in our own environments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 96 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video, document, spreadsheet, interactive, text, archive, code, other. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop file here