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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Nonna insists that working with her slope is “easier than navigating a big, flat palette.” And she has a point. Rather than scratching her head and searching for defining features to insert, she just filled in the blanks. But still, buying time also brought insight. She knew the light patterns around the house intimately by the time she was ready to start planting. As a result, she was an informed shopper and when the plant sales came up, she aimed her shopping wagon directly at the shade plant section of the nursery.

At first, love may be blind. But when you’ve lived with a landscape for a while, you know its—shall we say—weak points. Nonna realized early in the game that the substantial house perched at the summit of the property needed to be anchored. Vines perform the “grounding” function even more efficiently than foundation plantings. Nonna enlisted tried-and-true climbing roses such as ‘New Dawn’ to soften the vertical lines of her house, integrating outdoors and inside with grace and romance.

Not only is she simpatico with the scene, Nonna also knows herself well. When she decided to take on the landscape, gardening pretty much took over her life—and she saw it coming. Plant-driven pursuits swallow up the bulk of her time as her plantings encompass the entire property—and we’re not talking about large expanses of grass. In fact, the landscape minimizes lawn, except for paths and segue areas that serve as frames between the plantings and guide the flow of foot traffic through the many venues. Nonna readily confesses that she devotes 40 hours (or more) a week to the garden—and it shows. Many annuals, such as zinnias and marigolds, are started from seed under fluorescent lights before the growing season starts. Even in the height of summer, the garden is clearly adored and groomed with an attentive hand. It’s one of those rare instances where a collector works with each plant to shape perennials as well as shrubs and trees into performing at their ultimate potential.

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