When you visit Debbie Krekos at her home in Old Willamette, she is full of apologies.
She apologizes for her house being untidy. She apologizes for Charlie the dog's yapping. And most of all, she apologizes for her appearance and 'looking so much like a gardener.'
'I'm a mess, mess, mess!' Krekos said.
But in reality, her house is as neat as a pin except for a couple of small cardboard boxes on a couch. Charlie the dog quits barking after a short while and becomes merely enthusiastic. And as for appearances, Krekos looks just fine. She has curly, dark hair, is slim and trim and has muscles like iron from literally moving tons of earth and rocks for more than 20 years.
When she invites you to sit down to have a cup of coffee and a slice of fresh homemade apple pie, you must come to this conclusion: Debbie Krekos is charming.
But you don't have to step inside her house to conclude that Krekos is a remarkable person. Just from her front step you can see four trees heavily laden with fruit - quince, lady apples, elderberries.
That's just the beginning. The home doesn't just have a yard. It's an adventure.
Most impressive - especially if you are hungry - is the edible landscaping. There is also the raised vegetable garden, the nature landscaping, three compost bins, gravel path, the stairway made from recycled tires, etc., etc., etc. So much to catch the eye and tempt the tummy.
The list goes on and on because Krekos and her husband, Jim, never stop doing their 'projects.'
'We have one fourth of an acre here. We've tried to use every square inch,' Krekos said. 'People who visit us say, 'This looks neat!' But I always say, 'Oh, my gosh, I've got to do things!' But I enjoy it. It's my relaxation.'
This is a woman who, along with her husband, used a shovel, wheelbarrow and little ramp to move 16 tons of gravel into her yard. It is exhausting to even consider such a feat, but Krekos is unamazed by herself.
'I'm not better or different than anyone else,' Krekos said. 'I'm not afraid to try. People forget the first rule: Try! Sometimes you just have to go for it.'
Krekos will definitely go for it. One time she pulled out a whole slope of ivy and replaced it with nature scaping, just so her home could be on the Metro Garden Tour.
One winter, she tore down the front porch all by herself. She wanted to watch birds from her front door so she put in edible landscaping. She put in a small waterfall that is just a gem.
Then there was the time she took a crowbar to her middle bathroom and ended up remodeling the entire thing.
'It was old, orange and ugly,' Krekos explained. 'I was sick of it. January and February are dreary months, so I had to do something.'
It was in 1985 that Jim and Debbie moved to West Linn and found a foreclosure house that was a 'real gamble.' To say the least.
'The yard was like Vietnam,' Jim said. 'It was a muddy bog, the deck was falling apart, there were holes in the walls.'
'Talk about two people moving a mountain,' Krekos said.
The couple dug in and worked, cleaned and painted, and after eight months, Jim said, 'We earned this house with sweat equity. It was all these projects.'
Many more projects followed over 23 years.
'We gave up vacations. We learned everything about laying brick. We watched lots of home and garden shows,' Jim said. 'Most of these projects are accidents.'
The fruits of the Krekos' labors have been enormous: strawberries, blueberries, beans, cucumbers, squash, lettuce, green onions, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Italian, prunes and more.
'I'm trying for sustainability,' Krekos said, 'so I can eat something from my garden the year around.'
Strangely enough, it is what she doesn't do that largely accounts for her success.
'I call myself a messy gardener,' Krekos said. 'I allow weeds to grow because that's the natural cycle. A lot of native bugs lay their eggs on weeds. Now, people are so neat and they spray for bugs. I don't spray for anything. If we don't have bugs, we don't have birds.'
Debbie is not a fanatic with a green thumb.
She holds a full-time job as manager of the office for Lake Oswego dentist Dr. Mike Criscione, plays poker on weekends, plays ping pong twice a week and bakes prize-winning apple pies.
She even sleeps six or seven hours a night.
Still, her garden and her 'projects' are always near her thoughts.
'Gardening is a cycle, a process. It's really fun,' Krekos said. 'The nice thing about gardening is that you can change your mind.'
Krekos is prone to apologies and not blowing her own horn. But she does say this about herself.
'I get stuff done.'