Friday, August 20, 2010

Go ask Alice

Go ask Alice. About her gardening that is
By Sheryl Popp

Garden Tour 2011 spoiler alert: Next year, the gardens of Alice Iaquinta will be part of the Gardens of West Bend tour. But when I visited with her recently, the focus was really on what she had to say about herself and her yard. Generally speaking, people favor gardening interviews with me mostly in July or August. This year, many gardens are past their peak, although I haven't been anywhere that some vivid colors spots don't remain. So our chat in Alice's cozy backyard was most pleasant.

Alice made time for me on her last vacation day before returning to her teaching job at Moraine Park Technical College. There she teaches ethics, interpersonal communications and marriage and the family courses - a pretty full load. In 2006, Alice earned a masters of divinity degree from St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee. After that, she was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest through a movement that is gaining momentum in the church, despite the Vatican's official position. Part of her course curriculum for the degree was in philosophy and ethics, so that is why she was asked by MPTC to teach the course. "It's really perfect for me," said Alice. "But it is gut wrenching to teach ethics in today's world. I need my sanctuary here." Her career does create time conflicts in spring and fall, but more on that later.

Alice moved into her Villa Park area home in December of 2000. There were five crab trees and a blue spruce in the back yard, and a maple and purple plum in front. Some tiered garden plots had been constructed in the front of the home, between the house and driveway. "The grass was nice," said Alice, "but it was my goal to reduce it." That winter was pretty blizzard-intense, Alice recalled, and she spent a good deal of time dreaming of how she would like her space to be someday, and drawing sketches. Alice has always gardened, and inherited her love of growing things from her Italian grandmother, Dominica. "She was a wonder with her gardens," said Alice, "but flowers were secondary to vegetables. I think she would relax in the evening by watering her flowers, especially phlox. So my phlox garden is sort of a tribute to her. She taught us how to suck the nectar out of phlox, and she had an enormous snowball bush. We would pick the flowers and have snowball fights with them. My grandmother would still spade by hand, in her house dress, when she was 78." The first summer in her new home, Alice was determined to carry out her plans, convinced a woman could handle the workload. She began rototilling the first flowerbed on July 4, 2001, and is currently putting the finishing touches on the last one.

There have been some obstacles, One summer, Alice became ill after a huge load of mulch was delivered. A man and his son from her church appeared on her door step and moved the load to the rear of the home, so she could place it when she recovered. "One funny story was about a lot of trees," said Alice. "I shopped at Trees for Less to buy two to three foot trees, because they have a root ball I could carry. I drag everything home in my convertible. When the truck delivered them, I had all the holes dug, but the trees were all six to eight feet tall! The driver said the owner of the place was making me a gift of the bigger trees for the same price. I asked the driver if he could place them next to the holes, and he said they didn't do that. But, when he learned I was moving them by myself, he did place them for me. So I enlarged the holes, and watching me kick, pull and push those big root balls into them must be been pretty funny. But I'm proud of myself for it." Then there was the time when it all just become too overwhelming for Alice. I had asked how she managed to keep everything so nice with her teaching schedule. "I have learned I have to ask for some help," answered Alice. "That was hard for me. That summer I was ill, I was thinking about giving up the house because I was so worried about the work. I ran into Mary Steiner and her friend Kristine Brundl, and told them that. They just looked at each in perfect agreement, and then they came to my house several times and cleaned up the yard. They were wonderful. They truly turned me around."

In the back yard, there is the phlox garden, and one on the property line that is more of a cottage garden. Looking in that direction, Alice enjoys seeing the taller flowers, shrubs and trees abut the skyline. She has one flowerbed devoted to antique Buck roses. These roses grow from the root up, and are not grafted. "I needed something that didn't need to be covered," said Alice. They bloom at various times, providing consistent color. The backyard has both gazebo seating to one side and a cozy patio to the other side. Alice places a great deal of value on enjoying each spot as it peaks: the early spring sea of yellow digitalis (foxglove), a cloud of purple flowers on her redbud tree, a circle of parrot tulips in a front bed. Flowering shrubs in the front yard provide six weeks worth of aromatic delight, a double mock orange, then ruby weigela, and lastly Jedi viburnum. Alice's favorites are whatever is currently blooming, although because of her schedule, she doesn't have fall blooming flowers. "My goal now that the last bed is in," said Alice, "is just to maintain. I feel like I've done everything I set out to do, and proved that a woman can do a lot on her own, although I must say the rocks I move have gotten smaller over the years. But I created the ambiance I wanted to, and I feel like that's part of living a full life. I love to entertain here now, and the gardens give me the opportunity to replenish, refuel and nourish myself. Also to pray. It's easy to meditate when you're pulling weeds."

Alice's tip. I hate dividing hostas, so I really thought this was a good idea. Alice buys her hostas at end of season sales, and immediately divides them into pieces. Then the plants can grow and fill into their spaces. It also saves her a wad o' cash.

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