BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — If you’ve ever craned your neck to sneak a peek at a neighbor’s beautiful garden, the Soroptimist International of Schenectady’s annual garden tour might be the perfect way to spend your Saturday.
The tour, which this year includes 11 gardens in Schenectady County, gives each visitor permission to shamelessly admire strangers’ florals and foliage, and even smell the flowers. In fact, Jean Versocki, who cultivates her Niskayuna garden alongside her daughter Judy, insists on it.
“This is our oasis back here,” Versocki said recently, when she gave Your Niskayuna a preview of what’s to come during tours. It’s Versocki’s first year as part of the tour, though she bought a ticket herself last year to see what it would be like.
She came to the conclusion that nobody’s garden looked like hers, but that was more than OK. Besides, it’s for a good cause: The tour is the Soroptimists’ main fundraiser each year, and the proceeds from tickets go to fund scholarships and grants for women and girls in the community.
Versocki’s garden, decidedly a unique offering, has a whimsical flavor, with statues of playful children tucked in among the coral bells and peonies.
Three fat koi swish leisurely through cattails and pond lilies in the back corner of her yard, while native New York plants shade a hand-painted ceramic mushroom and a delicate fairy village, complete with tiny houses peeking from under a waxy green leaf.
“My daughter made the boxes,” she said, showing off Judy’s woodworking skills in the front and back yards. “We built everything back here.”
A long pergola connects the back-corner pond with a shed painted lavender and decorated with chairs, to look like a tiny house.
“This is supposed to be a friendship path,” she said. “Two people can walk together.”
From raspberry bushes to wild ginger and lady slipper shaded by a handmade canopy, Versocki said she and her daughter only sort of planned the garden. It had a mind of its own.
“It’s not even that you choose it,” she said. “It just happens.”
Showing what you can do
Not so at Tim and Diane Brennan’s house. Their Niskayuna backyard is restrained, manicured, and looks like the cover of a home magazine. A khaki-colored pergola filled with cushy outdoor furniture and a nearby fire pit beg for a buffet of fussy cocktails and messy s’mores.
He leans down to a garden that edges a pool with an artfully wavy border and plucks out a barely visible weed.
Tim Brennan owns Brennan Landscaping in Schenectady, so he’s more than a little bit of a perfectionist. But he said working on his own backyard has been a pleasure.
“It is fun, just getting your hands dirty and not worrying about business,” he said. “I like to do everything.”
Brennan used to own an old farmhouse on this lot, but a few years ago, he had it demolished and started from scratch. The pool, around which the backyard garden is focused, went in two years ago. His vision for the landscaping around the water feature finally came together just a few days before the tour.
“It’s a good opportunity to show people what you can do,” he said.
In their own ways, the Versockis and the Brennans each craft their rainbow petals and disciplined greens into something that distinctly expresses their personalities. On the other side of town, near the Lisha Kill, Anne Singer chooses, instead, to simply coax nature into a better version of itself.
Around the home she and her husband have owned for twenty years, set deep off the road in a cradle of mature trees, Singer said she particularly likes to focus on greenery. Whether they are blooming or not, the former art teacher wants her plants to complement each other, so she spends a lot of time thinking about leaf texture: this one’s lacy; that one’s lush. The flowers are more of a bonus.
“I like to have gardens to look at from out our windows,” Singer said. The house is surrounded by windows, so it’s also surrounded by gardens.
“The garden really begins at the driveway,” she said. There are ferns and other greenery planted all along the entry path.
Since she’s lived in the house for two decades, the gardens have evolved over time. In view of the back deck is the inaugural garden, designed to attract hummingbirds and butterflies with its colorful flowers. A very zen-looking dry riverbed, deceptively natural-looking, runs along the lowest part of the property, with water-loving forest greenery lovingly tucked in alongside it.
The newest introduction is a tiered retaining wall along the side and back of the house, which was just recently completed. Singer said she had a few finishing touches to put on, and then each pocket of the expansive yard, from the Japanese Maple to the dogwood tree, would be ready for visitors.
Not that she’d stop there.
“There’s always weeding,” she said.
Tour is June 13
The Soroptimists International of Schenectady’s annual garden tour will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 13, rain or shine. Tickets cost $15 in advance or $20 on the day of the event. Tickets may be purchased from the following vendors: Experience & Design, Faddegon’s Nursery, Inc., Felthousen’s Florist, Kulak’s Nursery & Landscaping, Oliver’s Cafe, The Open Door Bookstore, The Petal Pusher, and Scott’s Hallmark, Glenville. Raffle tickets will also be sold at each garden.