All gardens are ephemeral, most lasting only as long as a gardener tends them. Sue Colaizzi has been working on her garden for 38 years, and she isn’t done.
The large, stone, Tudor-style home, tucked away in a pocket behind a busy highway, was built in 1929. The builder had a live-in gardener for the 2 1/4 -acre property. Records show that he spent $2,600 on the garden that year, a large amount for the time.
Although never really neglected by subsequent residents, the landscape was not truly tended until Colaizzi and her husband, Alex, came upon this hidden gem in 1978.
These days, the property is filled to the brim with period-correct plants and lovely garden rooms.
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When the Colaizzis moved in, the landscape was in need of loving care, and Colaizzi took on the challenge.
“We started in the back garden with the pool,” she said. “We rented a dumpster and started cutting brush,” including lots of poison ivy.
Inexorably pulled into the vast landscape, she spends “all day, every day” in the garden, sometimes receiving help from some of her six grandchildren who live nearby. In a series of outdoor rooms, she has planted peonies, hydrangeas, hostas, roses, clematis and lots of spring bulbs. Her large collection of ornamental rabbits has been thoughtfully placed throughout, juxtaposed with other ornaments she and her husband have collected over the years.
Not to be missed is a giant rabbit carved from the trunk of a buckeye tree that needed to be cut down. She also has several large rabbit topiaries, which she trims by hand. Trees have been judiciously culled from the property, leaving a magnificent European beech, a stunning Austrian pine and others. Nothing has been done without consideration of the overall effect on the garden.
Additions, too, are selected carefully.
“When I started this garden, the internet wasn’t available,” she says. “Now everything can be researched. Early mistakes were mostly not understanding the meaning of dwarf. My dwarf evergreen garden now looks like a forest.
“Now I always check any major tree or shrub before I plant. Understanding micro climates is so important and comes with living with your garden,” she says in an email.
Complementary stonework has been added, and the family spends lots of time outside on the comfortable patio built by a family of Italian stonemasons.
Over the years, the old landscape has slowly re-emerged, albeit with personal tweaks. In one corner of the property, she discovered a goldfish pond that was overgrown with trees and has reclaimed it. It’s now a cool shady spot to relax on a hot summer day. Large koi swim lazily in the serene pool.
She professes a love for foxglove and a smoke-blue salvia called ‘Transylvania’ — both started indoors from seed — and all types of hydrangeas, especially blue-flowered varieties. Other favorite plants are ‘Toyama Nishiki’ Acer palmatum, ‘Abba Dabba Do’ and ‘Spilt Milk’ hostas and Allium schubertii. There are so many well-grown plants in the garden, one wonders how she can choose favorites.
Things have changed since she began her stewardship of the property. What began as a very sunny landscape has now matured into a sun-dappled garden with only a few full-sun areas. She takes advantage of the sunny spots; one has a raised bed vegetable garden where she also cultivates dahlias. Some plants go to the family restaurant, Alexander’s Italian Bistro in Bloomfield.
Colaizzi’s work is both a gift and a reward.
“I hope people can understand the pleasure a garden can bring to them and their family. The joy and anticipation of waking up every day and being able to be in my garden is a gift.”