George Trecina's Garden, an Artist’s Vision
by Mary Jasch
Along the embankment of a Connecticut suburban street, the wild sweetfern grows luxuriantly under cherry and little-leaf linden trees. Clouds of Diamond Frost euphorbia, perky white lantana and white black-eyed Susan vine beautify the mailbox there at 341 Spring Street, Meriden.
These bright and frosty flower explosions begin the adventure to a front yard that looks anything but. Under spreading trees, the “yard” – front and back – is packed with zillions of potted flowers and colorful shrubs and grasses sliced by interesting pathways to see everything up close. Within this floriforous jungle sits the unassuming home of a gardener possessed.
This is the garden of George Trecina, landscaper/gardener by trade, plant obsessor by nature. He moved here with his parents in 1956 and slowly developed a fever for planting this piece of land, starting with garden beds of verbascum. Serious gardening began in 1987 when he took a year off from graduate school and made his first “real” perennial garden. He worked, then, for a large landscape architecture firm. “I couldn’t wait to get out of work. I wasn’t thinking of money; I was thinking of gardening.” And over the years, his little gardens on this one-third acre eventually became one.
Visitors take the wood and stone steps stuffed with thyme up to the surprises that wait at the top. To get there, one traverses the white garden with multi-stemmed kousa dogwood, mounds of white variegated boxwood, bishops weed, white variegated hosta, polygonum and pachysandra, grey foliaged plants like Russian sage, striking yuccas, and very happy chartreuse alocasia in peachy white pots. Mr. Trecina is indeed a man impassioned. “Design is the most important thing to me although people seem to value it the least,” he says.
In the center of the front garden, a circle of dwarf boxwood (bought as 100 rooted cuttings for $1 each) surrounds plantings now, such as a purple canna used for breeding, but destined to be a formal garden with only one constant: ironweed.
Trecina is fearless. Outrageous non-hardy cacti, resembling the native prickly pear, rise from the earth as if dancing around an urn of sansevaria. The top heavy cacti tend to fall down but that doesn’t intimidate Trecina, who merely sticks their fleshy bodies deeper into the earth then cut back their tops. They flourished. He'll take them out come winter and stash them in his basement.
The gardens flow together, although areas are created in themes like the gold garden, white garden and, around back, the purple/gold garden. Chocolatey phormium in an amazing terra cotta planter, embossed with buffalo horns and fruit, echoes nine-bark and glossy abelia. In concrete nearby: lavender angelonia with purple heart, delicate fuschia and huge dark oxalis. Every one of the 235 planters is to be enjoyed. That’s thousands of plants!
Tired already? Have a seat on comfy benches of recycled tombstones topped with granite slabs, garnered from a gravestone maker. He imagines the family, whose name appears on them, left them behind.
All around, the eye falls on beauty. “Wait till you see the backyard,” he says.
Follow the red brick path between hedge and silvery plants in window boxes dripping over red hot Devotion begonias. Excitement builds as a splashy mix of pink, cream and blackish green stromanthe – a tropical related to prayer plants and calathea – comes into view. Enter a world of container gardens and St. Francis among the ginger. Where to look first?
In the middle of a former patio, tomatoes in tubs grow with their traditional companion with a twist – tall and wild, pale yellow marigold Snowdrift. Bay laurel and lantana, castor bean and silver dichondra, purple velvet streptocarpus, magnificent red bananas, and gorgeous, just gorgeous shrubs and succulents in containers stun the brain and fill the soul. It is an artist’s vision.
A maze of pathways through the potted jungle begins. From the garden’s modest L-shaped beginnings, it has evolved as a “whole earth” garden with a grass path between large borders. A few trees among the marvels: katsura, seven sons, amur maackia, sourwood and an unbelievable blueberry bush roughly 8 feet tall and a dozen wide. How can it be?
There is everything here: arches with vines, glass gazing globe, tubular yews that Trecina propagated in college, standards, exotics, natives, simple shrubs, sculpture, even down the driveway, tall plants with flouncy bottoms overflow huge containers. There is no surface left undecorated.
“I love radial plants. It’s like fireworks going off,” he says. The fireworks are everywhere: pale dried globes of tall allium against dark weigela, fiber-optic grass potted with pancake plant, thickly potted cannas, yucca, aloe, agave, grasses spinning and exploding. He’s recently into vines, too: Dutchman’s pipe, Spanish flag, thunbergia, variegated honeysuckle, porcelain berry, wisteria on arches and trellises – he is a brave man. In fact, Trecina recently resurrected the frame of a greenhouse which he plans to adorn with vines.
Trecina waters his 235 container gardens – plus the plants growing in the ground – in 90 minutes. Convenient hoses wind around garden edges like snakes. And there’s not a weed in sight. Before his Garden Conservancy Open Days (three this year), he and staff log 100 hours in fine tuning. But he doesn’t think of it in terms of time, he says, rather in setting goals and keeping the goals in mind. Like: “The night before, I think of what isn’t flowering well. Or what am I going to put a certain plant on? Will I start digging a certain area tomorrow? It’s a matter sometimes of getting the pieces together. It’s just getting it onto the schedule. I don’t think I’ll ever stop opening the garden.”
So what does a person do with 235 mostly terra cotta container gardens come winter? He stashes them in his basement under lights and hopes for the best, like the cacti. He just wants them to survive and be resuscitated and rejuvenated in spring. Other pots are emptied, soil and all, and protected. It takes a month to bring everything in.
Trecina loves plants in almost a child-like fashion – with fire, abandon, pride and joy. And it shows. This is definitely a Wow! garden that plucks the strings of ardor. A definite must see!
Take a trip and see this wonder. Garden Conservancy Open Day: September 12 www.opendaysprogram.org
**Photos by Mary Jasch
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published August 21, 2010