By Leah Weissman

Pilot staff writer

andquot;Welcome to my secret garden,andquot; Carl De Ment said as he swung open the wooden gate and walked into a miniature Garden of Eden. Leafy bushes, twisted trees, giant flowers and climbing vines cover his backyard, with a pebble path twisting its way around the flora.

andquot;There must be a hundred varieties of plants in my garden,andquot; De Ment said. andquot;Most are hybrids, and very few are native. I'm fortunate that, in our climate, we don't get overly hot or overly cold - so I can grow a wide range of things.andquot;

A retired nursery owner from California, De Ment and his wife moved to the Brookings-Harbor area in 1982 after he closed his nursery. He is now a member of the Brookings-Harbor Garden Club, and has dedicated his life to exploring new realms of horticulture.

De Ment is always developing varieties of hybrid flowers and plants and spends hours, days, weeks, months and years perfecting each hybridization. His current project involves making a hybrid christmas rose with fuller petals, more color varieties and increased durability.

andquot;Once I get going in one direction, I have to start concentrating on strength, color and fragrance,andquot; he said. andquot;All those things come into combination, and I have to cross-breed generations of flowers until I get a certain characteristic that I want - such as a purple, spotted, triple flower.

andquot;I see it as a challenge to improve upon something already beautiful,andquot; De Ment added.

De Ment's garden is a gorgeous testament to his love of horticulture, with exotic flora, colorful blossoms and unique plants that can only be found in his backyard. Some examples include a 40-year-old Japanese maple that barely reaches De Ment's shoulders, a Hawaiian tree fern with fronds longer than a person's arm, and a yellow Butterfly bush that actually attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

andquot;I always try to have something blooming throughout the year,andquot; he said.

The centerpiece to his garden is a terraced patch of strawberries and, in the middle, a tower made of metal piping and intertwining vines reaching for the sky. At the very peak, a glass ball sits to catch the sun's rays.

andquot;I've always had an interest in flowers, even as a kid,andquot; De Ment said. andquot;My dad, who I admire to this day, was a dedicated, stubborn man who liked to improve on things. He ran a nursery, and I guess you could say I'm a chip off the old block.andquot;

De Ment said he likes to share his green thumb secrets with others. For instance, he said 16x16x16 fertilizer (which can be bought at most nurseries) is one of the ingredients to his beautiful garden.

He also looks to Mother Nature for new ideas. After watching plants quickly and evenly sprout from the earth following a forest fire, De Ment started replicating the effect by burning pine needles over the ground after he plants certain seeds - triggering the plants to germinate at the same time.

andquot;Mother Nature is a great teacher,andquot; De Ment said. andquot;And my imagination just said, 'What if?''

With spring already in the air, De Ment's garden is just beginning to add color to these still-cold months - and his presence among the flowers and plants will undoubtedly increase as the days get longer.

andquot;What else is there in life than doing something that brings you joy?andquot; he asked.