Sue Colaizzi has spent 38 years working on her garden in Ross.
Caladiums, begonias and variegated ivy in a container in the driveway.
The garden of Sue Colaizzi on June 14, 2016. (Haley Nelson/Post-Gazette)
The gardens of Sue Colaizzi on June 14, 2016. She refers to these plants as "the lollipops."
Carved rabbit in the garden of Sue Colaizzi.
The garden of Sue Colaizzi.
By Susan Banks / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
All gardens are ephemeral, most lasting only as long as a gardener tends them. Sue Colaizzi has been working on her garden in Ross for 38 years — and she’s not done.
The large, stone Tudor-style home, tucked away in a pocket behind busy Rt. 19, 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 Ms. 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 that visitors will have the chance to see during the Town and Country Garden Tour of 12 North Hills gardens on June 26. Proceeds benefit the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.
When the Colaizzis moved in, the landscape was in need of loving care and Ms. 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, hosta, 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 hand trims. 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 a recent email.
Complementary stonework has been added and the family spends lots of time outside on the comfortable patio build 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.
Ms. 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.”
It’s a gift that she will be sharing on June 26.
Advance tickets for the self-guided tour — $45 for Botanic Garden members and $55 for non-members — are available through Monday by calling 412-444-4464 or online at pittsburghbotanicgarden.org. Tickets will be also be sold the day of the tour from 9 a.m. to noon at Wildwood Country Club, 2195 Sample Road, Hampton (15101).
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