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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In all aspects of her craft, Jean Nonna is a focused gardener. Rather than proceeding willy-nilly, she created themed spaces. She has a fern garden, a conifer garden, a rock garden, an Asian garden, and a chartreuse and purple space. When she heard that white gardens were a Victorian favorite, she figured, “I can do that.” And of course, she nailed it. Not only does the white garden blossom with hydrangeas, anemones, irises, pure white columbines, white daisies, zinnias, snapdragons, and ‘White Swan’ echinacea (“Which seeds itself in and comes in drifts”), but she also uses silver foliage to tie the bloomers together and fill gaps when blossoms pause. Color has become one of Nonna’s favorite themes, starting with the backdoor lavender-hued garden populated by spiraeas, asters, and lavender autumn crocus. Further afield, there’s an orange area with marigolds, chrysanthemums, black-eyed Susans, and dahlias supplying their monochromatic punch. But, in many parts of the garden, green—in its many manifestations—commands the stage, especially as you move down the hill into the secluded dining area swathed in a grapevine arbor and container-grown tomatoes within picking distance.

Listening to her, you might imagine that the garden simply fell into place. Not so. She was confronted by plenty of challenges along the way. Deer were a major issue, as they put the chomp on many of the plants that she would love to have included. Alas, tomatoes and herbs (grown in containers) were the only option for food crops, due to the four-footed visitors who are apt to bound in. And, even though she devotes 40-plus hours a week to gardening, she finds that some areas are so high maintenance that they defy even her fervent dedication to the landscape. The moss in the Asian garden is an example. It requires “two fisted weeding,” Nonna admits. Is it imperiled? Definitely not. “Some things are worth the effort,” she’s quick to explain.

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