Stockade garden tour yields countless hidden delights

Gazette Gardener Natalie Walsh takes in the "secret garden tour" in Schenectady's Stockade neighborh
Solar lights normally used along pathway, but creatively hung in the backyard tree in the garden of Karen and Jeff Mallia. A nice idea for creating ambiance in the garden at night.
Solar lights normally used along pathway, but creatively hung in the backyard tree in the garden of Karen and Jeff Mallia. A nice idea for creating ambiance in the garden at night.

Last Saturday morning, I visited some lovely gardens in Schenectady’s Stockade and I came away understanding why they call it a “secret garden tour.” From the street, no one could possibly guess the delights of the gardens tucked away and often completely concealed behind historic homes.

Garden tours are sources of inspiration and a chance to gush with a fellow gardener about how spectacular the roses are blooming this year, or the merits of a particular plant. Who better to appreciate the work a beautiful garden involves than another gardener?

One jewel after another, these gardens were obviously treasured by their owners and dearly tended and adorned. The gardeners are to be commended for creating miniature but magnificent spaces.

I love garden tours. Not only do I get to meet more gardeners but I learn so much. And what I’ve seen stays with me.

Plenty to see

For example, during this garden tour, I saw a tiny water feature about the size of a punch bowl with two seemingly happy goldfish at the garden of Janie Hayner. The fish are taken indoors for the winter to a cool garden room, and go out in the spring. The basin was one of those “would you look at that” moments.

At Kathy Johnson’s garden — all of about 19 by 19 feet — were colorful flowers in raised beds around the garden’s edges. This garden was designed to be low-maintenance and easy on the gardener’s knees.

On the deck were colorful containers and in the front of the house were two window boxes crammed with some 20 flowers each. The boxes themselves had a water reservoir to keep the plantings from drying out too rapidly during hot spells — a sensible idea that makes life easier for the gardener and the plants.

Another jewel box of a garden was at 111 Union St. This garden was full of visual energy — the gardener paid great attention to foliage color, texture, proportion and who was seated next to whom. The perennial combinations were wonderful.

In some of the gardens, the very old was woven into the new with great success. On North Ferry Street, a garden once tended by Miss Bernice Hodges had massive arborvitaes pruned to expose the reddish bark of the trunk and the sculptural branching. Richard Brown, who tends the garden today, credited the garden’s trees to Hodges, who lived there from 1942 to 1977. She was the Schenectady County head librarian. The texture of the trunks and branches are eye-catching and the color a natural complement to the surrounding greenery.

Idea to copy

In a Front Street garden, I spotted an idea that I will bring to my garden. Imitation is the sincerest compliment, right? On the branches of a courtyard tree, Karen Mallia had hung solar lanterns. These are lights typically used to line a pathway, but by hanging them in a tree it provides lighting and a bit of firefly magic to the night garden.

Another idea I especially liked was on North Ferry Street where the garden was divided into two levels. There was no lawn; instead there was a bluestone patio, evergreens, select perennials and large containers that added razzle dazzle with flowers in pinks and whites. The entire space was well-designed and a pleasure to visit.

Another pleasure of the day was the garden of Samantha and Aaron Couture. Both owners engaged visitors in conversation about artifacts found on the property. Sitting on a table were bits of blue and white glazed pottery, a dog license from 1958, glazed shards and a long metal nail.

There was a lot to see here, such as raised beds for vegetables, many beds of perennials, hostas, hydrangeas and lilacs. One of the most eye-catching elements was a massive willow that toppled over decades ago but still lives, making it inviting to climb.

On the trunk are two boards nailed in as steps. Aaron Couture said that perched up high you can catch a breeze and see the river.

Their home is part of an old broom factory and one of the islands in the river that you can see from the property was where the broom corn was grown.

More tours

You learn so much on garden tours.

I hope you will visit one of the tours scheduled in other communities this spring and summer.

— On Saturday is the Schenectady Soroptimist garden tour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 399-4560 for tickets.

— July 12, the Care Links garden tour is set for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.. Call 371-5179 for ticket information.

— July 13, Soroptimists in Saratoga have a garden tour planned from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For tickets, call 583-9190.

— July 20, Greenwich garden tour, noon to 5 p.m. Call 692-9446 for ticket information.

— July 26 Landis Arboretum garden tour, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call 875-6935.

Maybe I will see you there.

Happy gardening.

Categories: Life and Arts

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