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Pittsburgh Botanic Town & Country Garden Tour features adjoining gardens in North Hills

| Thursday, June 16, 2016, 8:55 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Sandy Csikari created a pond in her backyard garden.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Sandy Csikari's garden (left) and John 'Woody' Mucka's garden (right) blend together on their property line. The two McCandless neighbors are featured on the upcoming Pittsburgh Botanic Garden tour.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
A Captain Kirk hosta in Sandy Csikari's McCandless garden. This is one of the gardens featured on the upcoming Pittsburgh Botanic Garden tour.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Foxglove in Sandy Csikari's McCandless garden.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Textures in Sandy Csikari's McCandless garden.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Yellow begonias, a yellow glass ornament and various ivy accent a blue pot in John 'Woody' Mucka's McCandless garden.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
A tricolor beech tree in Sandy Csikari's McCandless garden.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
A Callalily in John 'Woody' Mucka's McCandless garden.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
John 'Woody' Mucka's McCandless garden.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
New Guinea Impatiens in John 'Woody' Mucka's McCandless garden.

Sandy Csikari and her husband, Bob, were planning to remove the deteriorating split-rail fence from the border of their McCandless backyard when their neighbor John “Woody” Mucka had a proposal for them.

Instead of replacing the fence between the properties, Mucka suggested extending the side yard fence straight to his house, which lies at a 90-degree angle from the Csikari house on a different road in McCandless. The arrangement would join their yards but still keep both free of deer, which like to nibble many flowering plants and hostas, of which Sandy Csikari has more than 400 varieties.

The Csikaris agreed, and a black iron fence went up. Sandy Csikari and Mucka then laid plans for a garden that would lie along the border of their two properties. They planted hostas, impatiens and other plants, and Mucka bought an iron gazebo for a focal point.

The result is a seamless, rolling series of garden rooms that slope from Mucka's home down to the Csikaris' rear patio under the shade of mature oak trees.

Fans of gardening will be able to see these adjoining gardens, and 10 more in the North Hills, as part of the 19th annual Town & Country Garden Tour on June 26� to benefit Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.

Garden visitors will be able to see how Sandy Csikari, a Penn State master gardener, and Mucka, who is largely self-taught, deal with the challenges of shade and mixed shade and sun areas. The two gardening neighbors do have different approaches to gardening.

“I have hundreds of perennials,” Csikari says. “My neighbor is the opposite. He wants instant gratification.”

Mucka gets that through planting flowering annuals, such as calla lilies with spotted foliage, blooming impatiens and New Guinea impatiens.

When the Csikaris moved into their home about 40 years ago, much of the backyard was wooded, and native plants flourished. Mucka's parents lived in the house where he now lives, and Mucka remembers the former owners of the Csikari home mowed grass only about 50 feet beyond the patio.

Then the Csikaris had a swimming pool put into part of the extended yard, the excavation for which made the whole area, in Sandy Csikari's words, “a mess.” So she just started gardening “in a little section, then more and more. (Gardening) turned into an addiction.”

Years later, after she and her husband decided to fill in the pool and then remove the deteriorating split-rail fence, Mucka came over with his suggestion to extend the fence and blend the two yards while keeping the deer out.

“The deer are out of control. They just destroy the yard. I've had Lyme disease two years in a row, so I still spray myself and check every time” he goes outdoors, Mucka says.

Mucka started gardening in earnest about eight or 10 years ago because he couldn't grow grass because of lots of shade trees. Since then, he's taken out at least five trees so he could grow more things.

Both Csikari and Mucka believe in the value of focal points. One of Csikari's garden “rooms” has a waterfall with natural stone surround centered among an evergreen, various groundcovers and yellow foliage that pops on euonymus and creeping Jenny.

She has filled other spaces with burgundy smoke bush, as well as burgundy and pink-leafed tri-color beech.

“I like artwork mixed in among the (plants),” says Mucka, 63, a plant controller who spends his weekends gardening. One area with groundcovers has three glass globes of different colors surrounding an armillary painted orange. The objects represent a small solar system. A cobalt-blue pot planted with contrasting bright yellow begonias and variegated groundcovers is topped with a flame-shaped yellow glass piece.

“I call it the poor man's Chihuly,” says Mucka, referring to glass sculptor Dale Chihuly.

Csikari has more than 400 species of hosta in her gardens, which give both texture and sometimes color to the spaces. She has them grouped in themes. One garden is “the sci-fi hosta garden” because varieties have names related to science fiction, such as ‘Captain Kirk' (from “Star Trek”), ‘Swamp Thing,' ‘Dragon Fire' and ‘Enterprise.'

“Every season, I have a different favorite,” she says. “Right now, it's foxgloves. In a few weeks, it will be Oriental lilies.”

Looking at the serene vista across the two properties, Csikari says, “You can't be in a bad mood when you're out here.”

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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