Sewickley garden tour full of variety

| Thursday, June 6, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Backyard inspiration will be sought and found on the Sewickley Garden Tour, which offers a range of gardens featuring greenery and those overflowing with flowers.

“We have six very different gardens that people actually live in. Some have backyard grills, and one even has a trampoline,” says Carolyn Smith, vice president for the event's sponsor, the Sewickley Civic Garden Council. She is also chairwoman for the tour.

The tour celebrates the 50th year since the council formed to bring together all of the garden clubs in the Sewickley and Edgeworth communities. It started with women in 1963 who were concerned about the deterioration of the Sewickley business district. Its annual fundraiser, the May Garden Mart, started in 1965. The tours began more than a dozen years ago. Proceeds provide grants for projects in close communities, including Ambridge and Bellevue.

An air of French elegance greets visitors as they walk paths leading to three terraces behind a 1950s French Provincial cottage in the “Topiary Folley” garden of Anne and David Genter. On the final tier is a dramatically different woodland garden amid old growth forest bordering the garden that was once part of the John C. Oliver estate.

As visitors enter the gate, they see a perennial garden on the left, climb stairs to view three tiers of topiaries, and then walk through a woodland path. The topiaries are professionally designed and tended. Anne Genter remembers when she and her husband moved into the home seven years ago. The garden was mostly perennials.

“They never bloomed at one time, and it was a mess,” she says. “These shapes are interesting all year round. It's even pretty with snow on them.”

Their garden is shared with six grandchildren and two dogs. One is the stone statue of a French bulldog, as well as their real French bulldog, Anna Mae.

“It's a great garden for children to explore, and our dog loves it, too.”

At one time, the space where their house stands would have been a side yard to the Oliver estate. That garden is also on the tour from a different street entrance. “It's just beautiful to look up at that. It is such a contrast in the gardens,” Genter says.

The tour garden with the greatest contrast to “Topiary Folley” is the “Secret Garden” at the home of Sewickley Mayor Brian Jeffe. It's the only garden not within walking distance and is unseen from a road that makes a bend by the backyard.

The hillside garden overflows with more than 500 vibrant perennials, each having a season from early spring to fall.

“This is great stress relief. It's my therapy. If I have spare time, this is where I'll be,” Jeffe says. He and his wife, Kate, have been in their home since 1999. Then, they had five growing children and a St. Bernard for a pet.

“You want kids and dogs to play in the yard. We all had to co-exist — I struggle more with deer than with dogs,” he says with a laugh.

There are no annuals, and many plants came from end-of-season nursery clearances or plant divisions he's made with friends. Each fall, he plants about 200 bulbs with his children.

“It's a tradition,” Jeffe says. “My parents loved the dirt, and it's something I want to pass on,” Jeffe says.

Jane Miller is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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