By Hannah Wente | Photography by Shanna Wolf
Marla Rybowiak comes from a long line of gardeners, including her grandmother, a Polish immigrant, her mother and siblings. In 1996, she and husband Jeff Deacetis moved to a home in the Westmorland neighborhood with an established garden. It also had a small patio and lawn.
“We wanted less lawn and more plants to have a better impact on the environment,” says Rybowiak. “We also knew if we planted smartly, we wouldn’t have to do a lot of replanting or watering.”
She worked with landscape architect Peter Nause of Second Nature Landscapes to design a larger patio surrounded by hardier plants, shrubs and trees that all require less water.
“All we have to do now is sit back and enjoy,” explains Rybowiak. “Take a chance on not using fertilizers and chemicals — you’ll feel better about what you’re doing [in your garden].”
Rybowiak and Deacetis spend many hours and even full days out in the garden, sometimes pruning plants — but mostly embracing their surroundings.
“Throughout the seasons, it provides us with different pleasures,” Rybowiak explains. “In the spring, there’s nothing better than seeing your bulbs open up, and all of the beautiful greenery of the hostas. We have a weeping larch that changes colors and drops its needles. Then, lilacs bloom and the bees come. In the summer, it’s wonderful when the trees are in full bloom and provide shade. Our Japanese maple changes into a dark burgundy every fall.”
Rybowiak doesn’t plan to slow her gardening ambitions any time soon.
“It’s an addiction,” she says. “There’s always an idea of going and finding new varieties of hostas to stick somewhere.”
When something fails, pivot, says Rybowiak. The couple tried a Japanese maple in the same spot three times, and it didn’t thrive. So, they’re going to try PeeGee hydrangeas there instead this year. It’s trial and error, she says.
Her advice to new gardeners is to observe the space you have and be thoughtful about what you want before making any decisions too quickly. She also advises sharing plants, ideas and challenges with friends and neighbors “to bring joy to your gardening.”
Today, Rybowiak’s garden is filled with plants from her mother, a tribute to her family’s love of gardening.
“People stop by and say, ‘Your mom’s garden is blooming,’” says Rybowiak.