One is a sprawling four-acre paradise, replete with wildflowers, white pines and daylilies. The other is a compact, tidy suburban backyard, bright with the blooms of lilies, hostas, cosmos and delphinium. But these two gardens share common ground in their gardeners’ passions for making something from nothing, finding the beauty in someone else’s castoffs.
Acclaimed architectural photographer Balthazar Korab’s Troy acreage is a grand-scale wilderness grown over what was once farmland. All of its rolling hills, its rock walls, even its towering evergreens, were wrought by Korab, in a project that even after 30 years is never really finished.
Accenting the landscape are Korab’s roadside finds — wood and rocks nobody else seems to want.
“Typically, I pick things up on the road and make something out of it, what America throws away,” he says. He paints the pieces barn red, symbolic of the farmland that once was there.
After an ice storm took down several trees on the property, Korab arranged the cut logs into a serpentine dinosaur that peeks out from under a grove of hemlocks.
Stones from the foundations of old farmhouses went to make a rock wall, which is now surrounded with flowering plants. Korab collected them from the field that was once across the street.
“In those days (1970), rocks were not fashionable,” he says, laughing at how things have changed. At today’s prices? “I have probably $10,000 worth of rocks!”
And most recently, when the city of Troy enlarged the road at the corner of Korab’s property, he convinced officials it would be cheaper to pile the excess dirt on his lot rather than haul it away. His prize? Three curving berms, each about 15 feet high, that will be planted in grass and wildflowers. “The shapes are very studied,” he explains. “When you drive by, you always have a passing peek at what’s beyond.”
In addition to found objects, Korab’s garden uses mainly native plants, such as orange daylilies, white pines and hemlock, to minimize the need for care and to enhance the natural setting.
“I didn’t do any long-range design,” he says. “It was all a piecemeal operation.” And, like life, an ongoing project.
For painter Marlene Adelman, gardening is like oil painting, because if you don’t like how something looks, she says, you can easily change it. That philosophy applies not just to the flowers and perennials she plants, but to the found objects she uses to accent her garden and provide additional visual interest.
In her back garden, which is focused on an evergreen-topped berm, an old oak burl tabletop represents a tornado that barely missed the house back in 1976. A dramatic doorframe and transom is a relic from an old florist shop. A broken birdbath lies in ruins near a cracked urn.
“A lot of this stuff is from people’s garbage,” says the unabashed trash-picker. “Can you believe someone would throw this away?”
Nearby, a steel-blue shutter leans against Adelman’s tidy house, a cool background against the hot colors of bright pink rose campion and orange rudbeckia flowers.
“I love van Gogh. I try and learn from him, the way he contrasted colors,” she says, pointing out wild color combinations achieved through contrasting the color of objects with the colors of flowers.
She frequently adds the pieces in early spring, before the plants have started growing, to give the garden a bit of color. “I just have fun with it,” she says. “My neighbors think I’m absolutely insane.”
Especially when they see her carting home the stuff they leave out for big trash day. One neighbor walked by with her husband and noticed the burl tabletop, says Adelman. “She said to him, ‘I told you we shouldn’t have thrown that away’!”Alisa Gordaneer is MT features editor. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org