Saratoga Springs garden wins citywide contest

The French essayist Joseph Joubert once wrote “All gardeners live in beautiful places because they m

The French essayist Joseph Joubert once wrote “All gardeners live in beautiful places because they make them so.”

This has never been more true than in the garden that surrounds the Saratoga Springs home of Rob Saba and Mark Hogan.

It is breathtaking in its attention to detail, its definition of space, its structures and in the use of foliage and color that bring out the best of each. This is the garden of a gardener.

And last summer this garden won first place in the city of Saratoga Springs’ most beautiful garden contest.

Work on the garden began 14 years ago after the Sherwood Trail home was constructed. It is a suburban lot and when the contractor pulled the last truck out of the driveway, the grounds were essentially bare. “There wasn’t even grass in the backyard,” Hogan, who is vice president of Saratoga National Bank’s mortgage department, remembered.

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Today the grounds are exquisitely landscaped with each bed well thought out and well tended. Hogan credits Saba for the beauty of the garden. “He spends about eight hours each weekend in the garden and about an hour every night,” Hogan said.

Saba is senior executive director of leadership gifts for Albany Medical Center. He has a horticulturist’s heart.

seasonal changes

Four times a year he changes the garden to echo the season. In spring, there are abundant tulips and pansies. Last summer, there were yellow African daisies with purple centers that complemented the surrounding purple petunias. In the fall, the palette changed to deep orange mums, blue-cast kale, burgundy fountain grass and black-eyed Susans, accented with pumpkins and gourds. It could be a set for Martha Stewart. It is that good.

Foliage colors and leaf shapes are part of the appeal. Saba said he thinks of the garden one bed at a time and continually changes the plants. “If something doesn’t work, I remove it,” he said. He also has an eye for the unusual. Concolor firs are used as specimen plants on the front lawn, a fruit tree is espaliered in a narrow bed that leads to the side door, and window boxes are overflowing with kale, mums, zinnias, fountain grass and few gourds and artificial accents “to provide color before the other plants are coming in,” Saba said.

Thinking of the garden as a series of beds rather than as one large space has helped Saba focus on the particular demands of the area. For example, the back porch is close to his neighbor’s driveway. To create visual privacy, trees and shrubs were added along the border, ferns and palms are grown on the porch and strings of seashells hang curtain-like from the porch roof. The effect is a barrier of interesting shapes and greenery.

illusions of depth

Next to the porch, in a narrow passageway along the side of the house, a fountain sits on a gravel square. The result of all these layers is that you can’t see the neighboring yard or hear their conversations. Instead, there is a sense of enclosure, intimacy and privacy without feeling closed in.

The fence used in the backyard is another example of creating the illusion of space and depth, and doing so in an interesting way.

Instead of a wooden fence that runs continuously along the property line, the fence was installed in eight-foot sections with evergreen trees planted in between sections.

The highlight of the garden is an outdoor-room pergola constructed in the corner of the back yard. While the design echoes elements of the house, the outdoor feeling is reinforced by the use of twigs and branches tied to the ceiling beams providing a natural canopy. A garland of twigs is wrapped inside the chandelier, there is weatherproof art on the wall, and comfortable furnishings. It has the amenities of indoors with the delight of being outdoors.

“We entertain a lot. Our guests love this space,” Saba said.

Both Saba and Hogan travel and bring ideas home to their garden. Charleston, which is known for its beautiful gardens, is “one of my favorite cities,” Saba said. Ideas gathered from other places are brought home and “a lot is done by trial and error,” Saba added.

“When I moved here a friend said ‘You have one of the worst lots,’ Now it has been transformed.” Hogan said. It certainly has.

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