This is the third residence the couple have built together. The first was in Baton Rouge when Carl was just starting out as a contractor and Evon was in a garden club and anxious to experiment with plants in the courtyard of her 800-square-foot home. They relocated to Sarasota 25 years ago and have lived in The Meadows and on Siesta Key. Carl developed and built Ashley, a subdivision on Proctor Road named after one of the couple’s five grandchildren. One of their three sons, Duane, is an award-winning green builder, his most recent accolades coming in this year’s Sarasota-Manatee Home Builders Association Parade of Homes.
The public has a chance to see Evon’s garden and Carl’s koi when the Claytons open their property for a one-day public garden tour on Friday, May 6, that benefits Baby Basics, a volunteer organization that provides diapers and help to the area’s working poor. The event includes a garden party at Sandy Slaminko’s home with music, food and prizes in the garden-party hat category. The garden tour at the Claytons includes a plant sale and advice from a landscaper and a Master Gardener. Carl will answer questions about the care of koi.
In the decade that Evon and Carl have lived in their Country Creek home, they have turned their acreage into a series of verdant garden rooms that guests discover as they round a bend or follow a canopied stone path through a forest of Australian tree ferns.
Sometimes you have to cross a bridge (courtesy of son Duane), walk under a vine-covered pergola or stroll through a cluster of overhead birdhouses (Evon has two dozen and Carl built some) to come upon a surprise shaded area. You might sit on a bench and hear nothing but the breeze wafting through maple and magnolia leaves or water trickling from the two waterfalls that feed the giant pond on the screened lanai where 35 brilliantly colored koi thrive under Carl’s care.
“When we designed the house, we didn’t want a conventional swimming pool,” says Carl, who is a self-taught expert on koi.
“But I wanted a swimming pool-sized pond for koi and another smaller one for goldfish. The free-form water feature is rimmed with natural stone and decorated with a bridge, two waterfalls and statuary. I engineered the pond so that other owners of this house could easily convert it into a swimming pool.”
Carl’s oldest fish is 13 but, he says, koi routinely live to 100 if they survive infancy and grow to more than three inches.
Carl’s koi pond is fed by well water in a system he designed to hold 50 fish based on a formula of gallons of water to surface area and number of fish. Carl’s pond holds 19,000 gallons.
“Koi are amazing,” he says, “and I’ve learned a great deal by having them. For instance, koi are social. They have friends and each night they lay down side by side with their best buddies. It’s the same every night. I’ve named every fish, and the only thing I have to worry about is a bacteria that all koi are susceptible to. When they breed, I don’t sell any of my fish but I do give some away to friends who are interested in these fascinating and beautiful creatures.”
As for the garden rooms, because of the number of trees on the property, they are all in shade or filtered light. Evon grows a wide variety of ferns and flowering tropicals, and keeps annuals, including impatiens, in containers so that she can move them around.
“I gave up on roses,” she reveals. “There isn’t enough sustained sunshine for them here, and I don’t have good luck with small begonias, although the giant ones near the koi do fine. It’s often a matter of experimentation, and I like that aspect of gardening. You just never know what will take off.”
Evon has turf in the front yard, but none in her gardens. It’s all mulch and stone pathways. She amends the soil when putting in new plants and feeds them regularly, and spends about six hours a week in her gardens.
“I don’t have a big weed problem,” she says, “but I do have critters, such as raccoon and possum, who dig up things. I see black snakes occasionally, birds and butterflies all the time. And we have three semi-feral cats who adopted us four years ago.”
Evon calls them semi-feral because she and Carl captured the mother and her two offspring and had them neutered.
“They follow me around some mornings, and I feed them outside,” says Evon. “When we have a rainstorm, two of the cats will tiptoe into the lanai. But never the third one. He’s not about to be mistaken for a house cat.”
So if you visit the Claytons’ for their garden party, lavish attention on the koi, the flowers and the ferns, but please ignore the cats. They think they have a reputation to uphold.