2009 Garden Showcase

A love affair with life extends to the garden

A cheerful mixture of yellow daisies and purple coneflower anchor a garden that features an array of flowers and colors. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

Gardening is part of Maryann and Nicholas Hatala’s love affair with life, as well as with Nature.

Ten years of marriage. Ten years of gardening together.

And it’s part of their philosophy of life.

“We love it. We cherish it,” Maryann says, speaking for both of them.

Maryann and her mother had lived in the Brighton Heights house for about 20 years; Nick was living in McCandless while they dated. After their marriage, Nick moved to the house that had been surrounded mostly by grass and was wide open to view of passersby.

The “garden” contained a few low hedges and a vegetable area.

“We dug everything up and started off little by little, adding some more every year,” Nick said. “And each year, we try to make it a little better.”

Maryann described how “The neighbors thought that we were starting out on some construction project when we began working in the back yard. They asked us, ‘Why are you digging up all of that beautiful grass?’ Well, we left some, but we also brought in countless containers of some good soil to mix with the clay that we have here. We had three dump trucks loaded with good soil, and we moved it in, bucket by bucket.”

The ranch-style home is now surrounded by flowers visible to those driving or walking by, but the Hatalas particularly enjoy a rectangular plot to the back of their home. A friend called it a secret garden; they call it their meditation garden. “Nobody sees it as they drive by because the hedges and flowering pear trees have grown. It’s our tranquil little sanctuary,” Nick said.

The land surrounding the house is more than what is found around most of the homes on this street, but it’s small compared to the full acre at Nick’s previous home, from which he transplanted forsythia, hostas and cone flowers, among other plants.

“He won Garden-of-the-Month” from the Ingomar Garden Club,” Maryann mentioned.

Early to mid-July is peak bloom season for many of the plants. But the Hatalas know to trim back daisies, pink, purple, white phlox, coreopsis and other perennials that will produce a second blooming, and there also are the several chrysanthemums waiting to flower in September.

In addition to the plants mentioned, there are variations of day lilies, ostrich fern, hostas, bee balm, variegated sedum, along with stella dora, salvia, blue balloon flowers and Russian sage.

In many ways, the garden has an old-fashioned appeal: no exotic plants, no elaborate features. But it appeals to the Hatalas, as well as to the many “friends” who visit it daily.

Maryann notes the attraction power of the many cone flowers -- yellow, white, purple -- spread throughout their “secret” garden. “The finches especially love them. And they attract the bees and butterflies and other birds. It helps to make our garden a home for all of them,” Maryann said.

Nick has worked as a plumber all his life, self-employed for the past 21 years. Maryann retired from her former job and now runs his business from their home, doing all of the secretarial work. Both agree that they grew up enjoying being in nature, no matter what the setting.

“There’s no such thing as an ugly plant,” Nick said. “Just like people. They’re all unique and beautiful in their own way.”

Maryann plants some annuals -- mostly impatiens -- in containers placed around the patio. She also plants her vegetables in containers: lettuce, parsley, basil, beans, peppers, tomatoes, all grown from seed, with an Italian plum tomato grown from seeds harvested by Maryann’s grandfather.

Demonstrating a true gardener’s care, Maryann described how she and Nick empty the crocks and boxes each autumn and scrub them to avoid any root fungus developing through the winter.

Over the years, the Hatalas have not followed a plan. Every day, they do what they think will work for the garden.

“Maryann has the ideas. I do the digging,” Nick said.

“We do it as a team,” Maryann corrected. “We make a good combination.”

“Everyone tells us that we work so hard on our gardens, but when you enjoy what you’re doing, it’s really not work,” Nick said. “When you’re in your garden, it becomes your therapist, your psychologist. It balances life out. The weeding, the edging, trimming. It’s like raising a family. All of the plants get equal attention, and we keep our eye on all of them.”

“Other people enjoy watching TV. We’re happy doing our edging, weeding, trimming,” Maryann added.

Beginning in October, little by little, the Hatalas take the garden down, leaving all of the clippings to compost over the winter.

“It goes to sleep,” Nick said. “It’s sad to see everything go each autumn, but we look forward to them coming back each year.”

But it never returns in the same form, because the garden changes from year to year -- plants divided, some moved to other spots in their garden, some given to friends.

Building upon a philosophy that he has learned from a lifetime of gardening, Nick said, “We’re never settled on things. When you’re satisfied with life, you’ve come to the end of life.”

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