Three years ago, Anthony Pontecorvo's Parkwood Road backyard was just a typical lawn. Today, it resembles a botanical garden alive with color, fragrance and decorative garden ornaments in numerous flower beds and several relaxing outdoor "rooms."
"Basically, I just plant what I like," said Pontecorvo, who enjoys texture and color in the blossoms and leaves. His gardens contain roses, clematis, hydrangea, hosta and other perennials.
Pontecorvo's green thumb and hard work have paid off. He was awarded first-place honors in the Home Landscaping (entire property) category of the 26th annual Pride in Our Homes competition, sponsored by the Greater Fairfield Board of Realtors.
Two other Fairfield homeowners also were singled out for their attractive properties: Debbie Rogart finished first in the Curb Appeal category for the appearance of her front yard at her Beach Road home, and Ian Parmiter won for Outdoor Living (sanctuary space) for his Winton Road home.
Parmiter said he plants a flower bed each year on his property, so there are 12 garden areas with a number of perennial flowering plants, shrubs and trees, each selected for their contrasting and complementary colors. He has also arranged plants in his gardens to create visually attractive places year-round.
"There's always something happening, from early spring to late fall and even winter. I want something going on all the time. That's the challenge, to have a four-season garden," Parmiter said.
His gardens include mini hydrangeas, hostas, Russian sage, yews, ornamental grasses, dogwoods, lilies and an arbor covered with wisteria and trumpet vines. The plantings are strategically placed to create outdoor living spaces, he said. "The idea was to create an outdoor room surrounded by plants. Instead of using hard structures like fences or walls, you're using plants to create the illusion of a room," Parmiter said.
Pontecorvo said his garden design was inspired in part by his dislike of grass. "I'll dig ditches, but I won't cut a lawn," he said, adding that he did a lot of digging and earth-moving to create walkways from one section of his gardens to others. "I dug the paths myself. They are 76 feet long, a foot deep and three feet wide." He also did the stone work on the paths. "I guess it's the Italian in me," he said.
Twenty years ago, when Rogart moved to her house, the yard was "old and overgrown." She got help with the basics from a neighbor who is a landscape architect. Rogart took over from there, moving some plants, snipping others and adding some plantings.
Rogart said she works three to four hours a day in her garden for enjoyment and relaxation. "For me it's exercise, fresh air and creativity." Rogart said it is also a nice balance to her volunteerism in a hospice. "It's a nice way to relax and be quiet and regenerate the energy to connect with people in that setting," she said.
"I love the creativity of it, the colors, the smells. It's very meditative and you meet wonderful people because you're outside," she said.
Neighbors appreciate the result. She gets compliments from people walking to the nearby beach, and it was a neighbor who nominated Rogart's yard for consideration.
Cathy Van Tornhout, secretary of the Greater Fairfield Board of Realtors and chairwoman of the competition, said there were about two dozen nominations this year, about half the number of past years. She suspects the unseasonably warm spring, which forced some flowers to bloom early, may have played a part in the decreased numbers.
Teams of real estate agents visited the nominated properties and narrowed them down to the finalists. After that the professionals took over, Van Tornhout said. The judges were Eva Chiamulera, who has a degree in landscape architecture, and Ron Johnson, whose degree is in landscape design. "They understand things that we amateurs don't," Van Tornhout said.
Van Tornhout said the competition highlights Fairfield's civic pride. "Everybody takes such pride in their homes," she said.
Winners, plus second- and third- place homeowners, received gift certificates from Oliver Nurseries on Bronson Road, Colonial Gardens on Bronson Road and Ganim's Garden Center on Kings Highway Cutoff. Promotion for the contest was provided by Hearst Connecticut Media.