The Italian Gardener – MAY 1, 2018

by Rick Cozza


I must be a Hybrid, apparently not taking the extremes of emotion that go with fierce loyalties that some people have. Case in point are the Ohio State/Michigan fanatics.

I grew up in Pittsburgh, maintaining my ‘Steeler Fandom’ all throughout my life. But I spent my 20s and 30s in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. (“The District”, if you live there), and filled my first yard with a Camellia Sasanqua, Crepe Myrtles, a small hillside filled with blooming Azaleas, and many of the plants that thrive in the acid soil of the east coast.

To this day, I still subscribe to Southern Living Magazine, mainly for the landscaping/gardening articles, and for the marvelous cooking articles. Yum! The articles about the pride, the ‘Southern Hospitality’, etc., go right over my head (Pittsburger that I am), but my Ohio yard still has several of the plants unique to the South, that I nurse along each year, well outside their comfort zones. I still have a white Crepe Myrtle, which I believe is hardy only as far north as Chillicothe, Ohio, at best. And in a somewhat protected bed, I am trying to grow a Chocolate Mimosa Tree, generally native to Kentucky and Tennesee, and farther south. It is now 3 years old, and 4 feet tall. But Google ‘Mimosa Tree’, and see just why I have to have one, especially this chocolate-leafed variety.

My reason for choosing this topic today was an article in this month’s Southern Living that discussed a gardener’s attempt to create a ‘writer’s sanctuary’ for himself on a recently-purchased 2-acre property in the mountains of North Carolina. As it mentioned the efforts to clear areas around the house, create walkways and sitting areas in the overgrown wooded areas of the property, it reminded me of a lady that I met last year, right here in Sylvania . . . in the City Of Sylvania, no less.

She had just bought an old home, just as had the Southern Living author. As the magazine quoted, “. . . in spite of all the problems it had.” The author had taken now-ten-years to get it to the point that he was somewhat satisfied, and could write his article for the rest of us. My Sylvania friend (and any of you wishing to create your ideal yard) should follow the author’s lead, and not try to eat the elephant all at once. Set your priorities, take one area each season, and eat the elephant ‘just one bite at a time.’

When I talk to folks that want to improve their property, to create that ‘sanctuary’ they have always wanted, they go on and on and on . . .! But when asked to prioritize, it becomes a much easier task to lay out in front of them, and is soooooooo much more manageable and do-able. When I moved into my current house seven years ago, we decided to re-do the front sidewalk garden the first autumn, the back yard in year two, etc., and we are mostly finished now. There are obviously a myriad of small additions and needs, but the ‘heavy lifting’ is now behind us. I have time now to try to grow ‘experimental plants’ from The South if I want.

And, as I read the North Carolina property-renovation article, the listing of plants made me say, “ . . . if only I could grow those here!” But being the northerner that I am, I have satisfied myself with a few Girard Hybrid Azaleas, grown in Lake County, Ohio, and more than hardy here. My perennials, my shrubs and my trees are cold-hardy to minus-twenty degrees, as they should be.

But, tucked into the hillside bed in the backyard are my white Crepe Myrtle and my Chocolate Mimosa tree, both a reminiscence of my days in Maryland and Northern Virginia. O –H … I-O!

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