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Lost Horizons: A Garden Left to Fend on its Own


by Linda Pastorino

The labyrinth-style garden rooms were walled-in with scalloped fences and bordered with profusely planted beds. The aroma from Viburnum burkwoodii and V. carlesii, buddleia and peonies was gone under the crush of falling fences and tree limbs. This section of the garden remains cut off and impassible due to the width and length of the fallen tree.

The snow-covered yard with its volumes of wood and lack of inexpensive tree services made a clean-up impossible. Many valuable hardwoods were down including a 100 year old cherry which would have fetched a pretty penny if not for the plethora of free wood in our area.

On New Year’s Day, following a snow storm and three months after Super Storm Sandy, the celebration went with a bang as the last half of a 200-foot contorted pine came down on the rest of the standing fences.

On each side of a four-foot high lattice fence, the planting had started in 2000. After eradicating decades of pachysandra, I created raised beds at this dividing line between the upper lawn beds and the soon-to-be sunken rose and vegetable gardens.

Drifts of astilbe, iris, hosta and hundreds of tulips became the under plantings for an old cherry, several dogwood and the original Tree of Heaven that was brought back as a seed from Setauket, Long Island by William Woodhull. The tree’s large stump now serves as a pedestal for large container plantings. These divisional beds were home to Viburnum dilatum, rows of Hydrangea macrophylla, Pieris japonica, and Leucothoe fontanesiana. They set the stage for the heart of the garden – the rose garden on the level below. There, hundreds of roses, clematis, boxwood and espaliered fruit trees fenced and protected by privet hedges, is where the eye of damage occurred.

My inability to process the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” that was my once-beautiful bedroom view, led to a reversal of all my core personality traits. Determination, coupled with the ability to plan and complete in an orderly fashion the mission at hand, dissipated. Fifty-four years of a set pattern of behavior vanished into thin air.

I could only bring myself to walk the garden once by myself in an incomplete manner. Twice was with the insurance adjustor to get the total damage to the mortgage lender and broker. After the payment was not approved, I walked for a third time with the mayor and church group that helped in cutting, sorting and removing four trees that destroyed the property. That took a year, but the town didn’t like how my outer fence damage was making the neighborhood look, so they threatened a lien, preempting my attempt to get my neighbor to remove his 300-year old trunk which had repositioned itself on my property. Due to insurance issues and no payment from the neighbor’s insurance, I agreed to build over and around the stump with the fence which was an interesting incorporation of the stump into the fence as a design element.

Depressionary spending of plant purchases continued unabridged for about five years in the attempt to feel that I still could ‘fix’ the issue with shopping therapy, learned from years of inventory purchasing. When the chips are down buy your way out. The lack of my living design portfolio (my property) to be seen at the best advantage, limited my chances to get hired for garden design work. But purchases of rare specimen shrubs, trees and perennials were left in an area to water but continually left to die.

In the summer of 2015 I tried to take a step forward by hiring a cut-rate service to eradicate what had become the “March of the Petasites.” Their weed whacking technique against my instructions of pulling the culprits out by the running roots activated this pest to quickly multiply and form a path of destruction across the property.

By October 2016, with accumulated leaf mulch and four years of rampant weed encroachment, most of the perennials had vanished. Unclipped boxwoods and lollypop standards had become Tim Burton props. My extensive shrub collection was left to live its life unobstructed by the absence of corrective clipping.

My “Nights in Shining Armor” (a local landscape firm with a payment plan) finally allowed me to take action towards saving and protecting the last vestiges of my dreamscape and giving me hope that the garden could eventually be recovered. Although every area of the garden suffered the ravages of neglect, many beautiful shrubs and trees are still alive as an anchor to a platform to design upon once again.

The steps to repair, replace, renew and re-design without having the financial ability was a long-standing stumbling block, especially when so much depends on hardscape repairs and profuse plantings. Instead of being held back I decided to clean up and in the coming season, I will review and inventory the grounds so that a method of restoration can be put in place. Fence debris and site inspection will commence when weather permits so I can plot a course of action that will be a road map to the next chapter.

** All photos by Linda Pastorino

Coming March 10, 2017, 11-2 - Spring Shrub Pruning 101, a hands-on workshop.
Do you know how and when to prune your summer and fall flowering shrubs? Or how to reshape and restore their once-gorgeous figures? Or maybe they need a little corrective pruning to keep them healthy? Join Linda Pastorino and DIG IT! for a fun-filled, hands-on learning experience with master shrub-pruner Roman Fabiyan, who learned his trade in the Ukraine. These days Roman is trimming the shrubbery green at Leonard J. Buck Garden in Far Hills, NJ. Cost: $50 includes a fabulous lunch, lots of fun and camaraderie as you learn all you need to know about spring shrub pruning.

Space is limited to 30. First come; first served. Nothing is ADA Compliant. Property has uneven ground. Please b ring your own tools and gloves. Register here.

For a list of workshops, click here.

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published January 19, 2017

Photos to enlarge

Center of rose garden, where it all began.

Cleaning up the rose garden after the damage

Variegated hydrangea along fence

Shrub border and astilbe bed. Note the variegated willow lollipops in the background.

Fence bed before the disaster

Border along fence needs pruning

Pee Wee Hydrangea in better days

A once-lush shrubbery

Front of the house border today

Viburnum in need of a trim

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