Horticultural havens

N.J. judges vis­it North­east Philly hor­ti­cul­tur­al tri­umphs.

  • Local and lush: Crape myrtle grows across the street from Resurrection of Our Lord Roman Catholic Church. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Local and lush: David and Zita Greenstein sit in their front-yard garden by a Chinese dogwood tree on the 3500 block of Decatur Street in Mayfair. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Growing greenery: Justin Stevens stands in his mother’s garden on the 3100 block of Welsh Road in Holme Circle. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Growing greenery: The Stevens garden on the 3100 block of Welsh Road includes a pond. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Growing greenery: The Stevens garden on the 3100 block of Welsh Road includes a large blood-red hibiscus. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

A huge, blood-red hi­bis­cus in Holme Circle, a large fig tree laden with fruit in Rhawn­hurst and a flower­ing Chinese dog­wood in May­fair.

Those hor­ti­cul­tur­al tri­umphs were among the many splen­did vari­et­ies that three New Jer­sey judges saw as they vis­ited gar­dens in the North­east last week.

“Every place we’ve been we’ve been so im­pressed,” said Pat Mc­Der­mott, who along with Pat Brunker and Rita Vittese, all of mem­bers of the River­ton, N.J., Porch Club, rated five loc­al gar­dens for the Pennsylvania Hor­ti­cul­tur­al So­ci­ety’s 2013 City­wide Garden Con­test.

The gar­dens the three judges vis­ited on Ju­ly 24 were among the 41 from the North­east entered in­to this year’s con­test. City­wide, there are 249 garden­ers com­pet­ing. Win­ners will be an­nounced in Septem­ber.

Mc­Der­mott said that one of the cri­ter­ia used in judging is how well a garden­er uses his or her space, and that’s one reas­on the judges were in awe of the gar­dens they saw.

It’s the cre­at­ive use of little space that’s so in­spir­ing, Mc­Der­mott said. She, Brunker and Vittese have more ground to work with in their New Jer­sey prop­er­ties than many North­east Phil­adelphia homeown­ers, so they ap­pre­ci­ate how much is be­ing done in gar­dens set up in small front and back yards.

Util­iz­a­tion of small space, Mc­Der­mott said, is a les­son in garden­ing.

Take, for ex­ample, Mari­anne T. Miller’s prop­erty on the the 2000 block of Vista St. in Rhawn­hurst.

Miller has a 15-foot fig tree, a small olive tree, a crape myrtle, a 3-and-a-half-foot castor bean plant, se­dum, per­en­ni­al hi­bis­cus, Rus­si­an sage, oleander, herbs, to­ma­toes and too many oth­er plants to name — all grow­ing in her small front and back yards.

She’s lived in the house for more than 60 years, Miller said, but her garden­ing ac­com­plish­ments have ac­cu­mu­lated only over the last 17 years.

Miller is es­pe­cially proud of her beau­ti­ful red castor bean plant, which she grew from seed.

ldquo;How can you not be­lieve in God when you see that?” she said.


A great garden be­ne­fits more than its cre­at­or, Vittese said.

“It’s very in­spir­ing for the whole neigh­bor­hood,” she said.

Vittese said Mike Scotese trans­formed his back yard on the 6900 of Tor­res­dale Ave. by us­ing trees to cre­ate sep­ar­ate spaces.

“He cre­ated a work of great visu­al in­terest,” she said.  ldquo;It’s such an in­vit­ing space. It’s not something to stand and look at; it’s a space to be sur­roun­ded by.”

At Dav­id and Zita Green­stein’s garden on the 3500 block of Dec­atur St. in May­fair, the judges saw a flower­ing and berry-bear­ing Chinese dog­wood dom­in­at­ing a small front yard that also sup­por­ted to­ma­toes, pep­pers, basil straw­ber­ries, squash and cu­cum­bers.

Green­stein said he and his wife have entered the garden con­test for five years.

“We haven’t won yet, but we’re hope­ful,” he said.

On the 3100 block of Welsh Road, judges saw huge red hi­bis­cus.

“Those flowers were gi­gant­ic,” Vittese said.

Each judge eval­u­ates each garden sep­ar­ately, us­ing sev­er­al cri­ter­ia, Mc­Der­mott said. They look at cre­ativ­ity, col­or, main­ten­ance and design and ef­fect­ive use of space. They also look at how many vari­et­ies of a plant a garden­er is grow­ing, she said.

The judging is in­tric­ate, and the judges have to know their stuff, she said.

Judges come from the city and the sub­urbs, said PHS events man­ager Flos­sie Nar­ducci, who runs the con­test each year.

“Some judges have been vo­lun­teer­ing for years to vis­it city gar­dens. I have al­ways made an ef­fort to send those re­peat vo­lun­teers to dif­fer­ent parts of the city and to judge dif­fer­ent cat­egor­ies of gar­dens. I think the sub­urb­an judges are of­ten more un­der­stand­ing of some of the chal­lenges of urb­an garden­ing.”

As mem­bers of the Garden De­part­ment of the River­ton Porch Club, the three New Jer­sey wo­men have a lot of ex­per­i­ence with the sub­ject mat­ter.

Mc­Der­mott said they’ve ex­hib­ited in the Phil­adelphia In­ter­na­tion­al Flower Show for the past sev­en years. Brunker is a mas­ter garden­er, Mc­Der­mott said.

She said last year was their first as con­test judges. Their eval­u­ations were done in North Philly in 2012. They found it a very up­lift­ing ex­per­i­ence.

“We judged three large urb­an gar­dens,” she said. “It was phe­nom­en­al.”

“At the end of the day, we’re the ones who are im­pressed,” she said. ull;•

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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