Jean Nonna’s Fairytale Garden in Pleasantville

Though her property is no larger than one-and-a-quarter acres, Nonna’s lush gardens are packed with a wide variety of carefully curated plants.

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Jean Nonna is a patient woman. She and her husband, John, moved into their Pleasantville property on Thanksgiving, 1986, knowing she wouldn’t be able to gear up into gardening mode for at least four years, when the youngest of their four children started school full-time. But the moment the time was right, she dug in with gusto. The result is a deftly syncopated landscape chock-full of little wonders. Indeed, Nonna prides herself on the diversity of her collections—but she couldn’t have done it without hitting Oliver Nurseries in Fairfield, Connecticut, when prices are deeply slashed. Rather than making frequent forays throughout the season, she patiently waits for the sales before swooping in and filling (and sometimes refilling) her car with botanical beauties. “It’s amazing what I’ve tucked into my one and a quarter acres over the years,” she says.

The daughter of an ardent northern New England gardener, Nonna always knew that she’d follow down her mother’s path to play in the dirt someday. Their property had good “bones,” as the previous owners had terraced and peppered the plot with a thoughtful selection of grand trees that have spread their limbs. To those trees, she added several notable connoisseur additions such as zelkova and stewartia—worthy additions for a suburban scene. And while she can thank the original owners for the masonry hardscape, Mother Nature gets credit for the stunning rock outcropping that runs as a ledge about a foot or so below the soil’s surface. As for the backyard’s steep slope—some gardeners would be less than grateful for the irregular grade, but Nonna saw it as having “character.” When she was ready to tackle the landscape in earnest in 1992, she took those “givens,” embraced them all, and whipped them into shape. What she composed was a radiant success, partially because she was sensitive to the site. “The topography tells you what to do, you just have to roll with the flow,” she says, waving off compliments.

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