Down the Garden Path

In a shady neighborhood just off Cottage Hill Road, Joe and Penny Adamo have created a hillside natural sanctuary that effortlessly merges vegetation and art. Even so, it is a labor of love. Except for the brickwork, the couple did all the landscaping themselves. Penny says that there is no master plan for the backyard, “it just sort of happens.” It’s been happening – evolving – for 20 years now, but the garden entered a new phase 16 years ago when Joe retired and Penny gave him a gold-painted shovel. Since then, Joe digs the holes, and Penny selects the plants.

ABOVE Granddaughter Shelby enjoys exploring the garden with Penny and Joe. There’s always something new to see.

Evolution of Plant Life

Before Hurricane Ivan, the garden was much shadier — the storm took out the patriarch live oak. However, Penny and Joe didn’t look back. The extra sunshine enabled them to add plants that need more light, and a flight of steps now leads up to a pergola that takes the place of the oak as a focal point.

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The couple applied a similar problem-solving strategy when drainage became an issue on the sloping lot. In response, they removed all the grass from their backyard and made the entire area into a courtyard. Joe designed a drip irrigation system for their container plants that eliminates watering by hand. In the winter, the garden is mostly green, with color provided by pansies and snapdragons which, Penny says, are huge thanks to the fresh planting soil Joe adds each fall. In summer, the garden is a burst of color. Verbena, black-eyed Susans and Knock Out roses fill every sunny spot, while shady areas brim with begonias, caladiums and ferns. The couple is always on the lookout for new additions, many of which they find at flea markets. Penny likes to make annual changes in the plantings; this year, her favorite plant is the cheerful, shiny-leaved orange marmalade, also known as crossandra.

ABOVE At the top of the drive, the area Penny calls the Red Roof Inns hosts decorative birdhouses. The touch of red reflects the Knock Out roses which bloom all summer.

Accessorizing with Sculptural Art

Many of their yard accents came from resale shops, though they also shop craft festivals for finds like the four statues of Siamese cats that grace the front porch. Inside, two real cats — Topaz and Cream Puff — keep an eye on the garden via the window. If they ever went outside, which they don’t, they would be fascinated by the area at the top of the drive that Penny refers to as the Red Roof Inns — a collection of seven decorative birdhouses and feeders. The red of the tiny roofs is reflected in the surrounding flowers and in the contemporary stained glass panels located strategically to catch sunlight and spread color through the garden. At night, soft lighting lets Penny, Joe and their guests enjoy the plants as well as the art.

What’s next? The front yard. The same drainage problem that inspired their back garden has led Penny and Joe to plan a retaining wall near the street to create a planting bed to fill with water-loving plants. “We’re thinking lotus, ” Penny adds. Whatever the Adamos decide, the result will, no doubt, be artistic as well as beautiful.

Highlights of the Garden

Knock Out Roses Pack a Big Punch
Red Knock Out roses — single and double — fill sunny spots in the garden. Joe began with all single Knock Outs, but used the double variety to fill in and now wishes he had planted all double Knock Outs from the start. He fertilizes two or three times a year, using Miracle-Gro. He does not follow a set schedule but adds fertilizer whenever he feels the roses, top left, need it.  He cuts the plants back by about a foot in February and July — or “whenever they start looking leggy.” He deadheads the plants all throughout their entire blooming season.

Begonias for Sun and Shade
Although begonias may be thought of as shade plants, the red ones in Penny and Joe’s garden can take the light of day. The secret is in the variety — red-leafed begonias can stand up to sun. Penny uses wax begonias in the yard, and angel-wing begonias — which need more shade — on her veranda. She fertilizes once a month, but otherwise just enjoys the plants. “Begonias are hardy. They just don’t get bugs.”


Bringing Art Outside
The Adamos live with art inside and out. Their back garden is home to bronze sculptures — including Penny’s favorite, above left, which depicts a boy flying a kite. Bronze herons also stalk through the plants. On the veranda wall, an assemblage of found objects by local artist Jim Hayward forms the abstract image of a bird. Grasshoppers made from railroad spikes perch on a nearby boulder. In the front yard, clumps of metal cattails flank the front porch, which is also home to the Siamese cat sculptures. Penny has some advice for gardeners who want to include sculpture: “Bronze has to be polished. Joe sprays ours with WD-40 whenever they start looking dull.”

More from the Garden


 ABOVE False dragonhead and spider flower

ABOVE Steps make a graceful ascent from the spacious veranda to the pergola. Shady areas are home to ferns and begonias.


ABOVE Black-eyed Susans and purple hydrangea

text by Kathie Farnell • photos by Kathy Hicks

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