Weed-filled hill gets new look with petanque court

Makeover includes planter boxes and rock accents
By: Gloria Young, Home & Garden
-A +A
From the street, you might not realize there’s anything back there. And for years it was an empty lot. “It has been a great place to grow weeds,” said Gary Moffat, owner of Old Town’s Carpe Vino. “It was just an unsightly place. It looked like such a momentous task.” But in recent months, Gary and his son, Drew, have transformed the 40-foot by 25-foot space behind Carpe Vino with a garden area and petanque court. Petanque is similar to bocce ball. “The first purpose was to build planter boxes to grow herbs and vegetables for the restaurant,” Moffat said. The idea for the garden came from KCRA meteorologist Eileen Javora, who is tilling a plot behind the TV station, Moffat said. “We ended up building four raised beds,” he said. “But the first thing we did was put up a fence and gates, and we enclosed all of our waste cans (from the restaurant).” Then on a trip to Amador County to find some new wines, the Moffats stumbled on an idea to expand their project. “We stopped at a (winery) called Terre Rouge, owned by Bill Easton, longtime Amador wine maker,” Moffat said. “He had a bocce ball court next to the tasting room. They brought out this game called petanque, a cousin to bocce ball.” Bocce uses wooden balls the size of grapefruits; petanque is played with metal balls about the size of an orange. “It’s just a lot of fun,” Moffat said. “It’s a game people enjoy with a can of beer or a glass of wine. It’s something you’d expect to do in your backyard or at a vineyard.” Moffat enlisted the help of Meadow Vista contractor David Eyster. Gary and Drew Moffat pitched in, too. “We helped, but he did the really hard work,” Moffat said. The project took nearly a month, including leveling the site and installing the materials. They also added some personalized touches. “We’re from Chicago and we’re big Chicago Cubs fans,” Moffat said. “My son had a couple of stadium seats from Wrigley Field. He’s had them sitting around forever.” So they built a concrete platform and bolted the seats to it. There’s also a concrete patio set, a purchase from Craigslist. And there’s Internet access. The completed project is not accessible to patrons of Carpe Vino. Rather, it was designed to be an employee lounge for the restaurant. “It’s shady and quite comfortable,” Moffat said. But the planter boxes get plenty of sun for the herbs and vegetables being grown under the guidance of Courtney McDonald, former Carpe Vino chef who now works there part time. “We’re not trying to supply the restaurant,” Moffat said about the garden. “We want to augment the restaurant with herbs.” McDonald has planted four kinds of basil — lemon, Greek, Opal (a purple) and Genovese — chives, lemon verbena, sage, oregano, marjoram, Italian parsley, summer savory (“something we use in lamb dishes,” he said), French lavender and a Mexican herb used in the restaurant’s watermelon salad. There are also three kinds of tomatoes, three kinds of peppers and two kinds of yellow squash. “I’m going to be planting a little slope with strawberry plants,” Moffat said. The project was completed just a few days and the Moffats are pleased with the results. “It’s pretty exciting to go out in the backyard and pick something,” he said. “We have a garden in Old Town.” The petanque court has proven popular, too. “We use it just about every day,” Moffat said. Anyone interested in trying out the sport can check it out online at and, there’s plenty of open space to play in the foothills. “Unfortunately we don’t (have a bocce or petanque court),” Kahl Muscott, Auburn Recreation District administrator, said Monday. “It’s something we’ve considered for the future. But I’ve seen people doing lawn bowling out there, which is very similar.” Muscott recommends Regional Park or Recreation Park as good sites for petanque or bocce ball because they have a lot of shade trees. Moffat estimates the total cost of the project was about $8,000 plus the time he and his son spent working on it. His advice for someone looking to transform a similar space is to go into the project with a good plan. “It’s labor intensive,” he said. “Our plan evolved. We wanted to maximize the amount of planting space with raised beds. But fortunately there was enough space in between to have this second use. It really makes it a fun place. It’s really functional and it’s our little playground.”