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Son's Roots Lead to Mother

Like many teenage boys, Mission Viejo's Devin Alderton enjoys basketball and a little golf, but his first love is gardening--a passion he shares with mom Sue.


One of Sue Alderton's fondest memories is of her then-toddler son Devin dropping sweet pea seeds into the ground. Now 14, Devin still helps tend the rows of sweet peas in the garden they have created together in Mission Viejo.

The Alderton home is architecturally undistinguishable from surrounding dwellings. The garden, however, makes the house a showplace.

As the house comes into view around the bend of a cul-de-sac, it is apparent that avid gardeners live there. A cream-colored picket fence surrounds the frontyard and is almost obscured by the hollyhocks, stock and delphiniums. Folk-art signs welcome visitors into the garden and ask that they not pick any flowers.

This cottage-style garden has been about five years in the making, Sue Alderton said. "My husband keeps asking when it will be done, and I say never. A garden is a creation that is constantly being remade."

Along with the triumphs, there have been a few mistakes in the Alderton garden, such as the small palm trees around the swimming pool. "We put these in when we first moved in here before I really got into the cottage look. We're going to be taking them out in fall," she said.

She will replace the palms with roses, including climbing roses to cover the arbor that will also replace a palm. In the meantime, Devin plants lots of annuals at the base of the palms to try and blend them in with the surrounding garden.

Devin and his mom share garden tasks such as weeding, planting and watering. But they each have their own plots. Sue's is on one side of the driveway; Devin's slightly smaller garden is on the other. Devin's garden was created when he was about 8 and his best friend moved away.

"That's where they always played with their toy trucks," Alderton said.

Now the area is waist-deep in stock, cone flowers and other annuals and perennials.

Devin said most of his friends don't know he gets up early before school to water his garden. He's not ashamed of it; it's just that he never felt the urge to mention it.

Gardening isn't the teen's only passion: He is on the 7th-/8th-grade team of the City of Mission Viejo Basketball League and never misses an opportunity to play golf with his dad, Bill. But his first love is being in the garden. "I like colorful areas, and I like planting. It's enjoyable," Devin said. "Except weeding, which I don't like to do."

Years of gardening together have created a special relationship between Sue and Devin. "It's created a bond that brings tears to my eyes just talking about it," Sue said. "Gardening is so personal and special to me, it's wonderful having someone else in the family to share it with." Her husband and their older son, Brysen, 17, enjoy the look of the garden but have no interest in getting their hands dirty.

Sue says Devin's interest in gardening was fostered when he was a toddler and would follow her around with his red wagon during her frequent trips to nurseries. "He would put plants in his wagon, and before you knew it he knew the names of the plants," she said.

The Aldertons grow flowers and vegetables in the ground and in pots. Devin's favorites have been annuals, but he is developing his mother's passion for perennials. "I like bright colors--all colors. I buy anything that's blooming," Devin said.

Sue said perennials are her favorites, and she sticks to hues of lavenders, blues and pinks. But slowly she is gaining appreciation for the reds and yellows in Devin's plantings. "I would never have used those colors before, but they look so good in his garden I had to have them," Sue said.

Devin said the biggest challenge in their garden is finding plants that can flourish around the backyard swimming pool: "We have problems with the plants dying from getting chlorine water splashed on them."

Unlike his mother, whose reading material consists mostly of garden books and magazines, Devin has learned about plants from trial and error in the garden. He enjoys working with plants so much that he is considering a career in landscape architecture. Sue works part time at a nursery.

Sue doesn't remember exactly when the gardening bug bit, but her father was an avid gardener when she was growing up. "I didn't have as much time when the kids were real little. But now there is no place I'd rather be than in the garden. Some people jog and exercise; I like to be among the flowers."

Although Sue is more the expert, she never tells Devin what to do in the garden. "It's better to learn on your own," she said. "I think gardening can teach a kid a lot about responsibility, patience and adversity when the rain topples a plant or a cat eats it."

Mother and son still prowl nurseries together, and Devin spends most of his pocket money on plants. The two spend so much time in the garden that Sue's husband jokes about installing a floodlight so they can garden at night.

"We probably would, too," Sue said, laughing.

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