Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Fusion Garden...Italy + Japan = gorgeous!

Bill Barnes (right) at Colibraro Nursery in Horsham, Pennsylvania (suburb of Philadelphia)--Mike Colibraro (the manager) standing between Bill and Acer rufinerve in spectacular fall color!
The modest fellow in the center of the picture above is the Fusion artist: lifelong gardener and manager of a magnificent nursery filled with treasures, Mike has a secret garden at home that represents a lifetime of love and plantsmanship. My wretched pictures, taken in late fall, hardly do justice to Mike's remarkable fusion of Japanese-style garden techniques with his Italian sensibility (he was born and reared in Calabria before coming to America). Mike is one of the most sophisticated (speaks English, Italian, French and Spanish fluently), erudite (reads and thinks voraciously) and gentle, kind souls I have ever met. I know he will squirm at my pictures and putting his garden on display (he does have a lot of visitors, so it's not TOO much an imposition). I've visited twice now--in late winter and fall. I yearn to see the garden in high spring and summer next (and yes, in winter too!). It's a gem.

If you persevere through my mediocre pix to the end, I think you will still manage to gauge the magnitude of Michael's accomplishment. He has not only blended Occidental and Oriental modes in his garden, he has employed every trick in the book to magically transform a small city lot into a vast wonderland of never ending garden art.
Near the entrance
Right off the bat I was flummoxed by this variegated vine...which Michael informed me is actually an espaliered Cornus Kousa "Gold Heart"!

Extravagant succulent container
Succulent containers are all the rage--but have you ever seen one like this? In a marble container, with all the plants just so?

Another succulent extravaganza....
Puto and boxwood
In this corner the garden waxes more traditional, the sort of garden you'd expect from an Italian immigrant (although the Tinantia erecta popping up on the right hand corner adumbrates something unique)...

A closeup view of said Tinantia erecta
I was surprised to see this popping up here and there all over Michael's garden: a plant I have always thought of as subtropical. I saw it in several Potomac Valley gardens the following week--it's apparently hardy in the Mid-Atlantic states, despite its Central American origins. Something to learn every day!-
Tovara (Polygonum) virginiana in a wonderfully variegated form
The happenstance of self sown gems in the cracks everywhere (always the best forms) are a hallmark of stellar gardeners. I'd never seen this extravagant form of our underappreciated native knotweed.

Pot whimsy
You have to get that this is a rather compact garden: the numbers and varieties of containers artfully tucked everywhere make the garden seem vast however. The run the gamut from these amazing pewter colored sculptures...
Aroid and ferns
To this simple gray stone-like container brimming with perfectly contrasting foliage forms.

Clerodendron trichotomum v. fargesii
Despite the masses of fragrant white flowers in summer and these riveting seedpods in autumn, this glorious Chinese shrub is still little seen in gardens.

Some pots don't NEED flowers in them...

I've seen many a hypertufa trough, but never would have thought to perch them on an Ionic column...and use them to show off such a lovely piece of driftwood (one pot you never have to worry about watering!)
Talinum paniculatum 'Kingwood Gold'
I have a hunch this lovely Talinum jumped out of the pot and now persists from self-sown seed in the cracks of the walk (one could do a book on Michael's "crack" plants)

A longer glimpse
Although the Colibraro garden is chockablock full of gorgeous vignettes, you do get long views from many vantage points. Michael had not planned on my visiting at all this day, so he would be abashed that I show the garden before he'd "picked up" and readied it...I thought it looked perfect nonetheless..

Begonia evansiana
This is far from rare in Eastern plantsmen's gardens, but I only know of this at DBG here in Colorado where I established it years ago. I need some for MY garden!

Asarum splendens
Another popular ginger on the East Coast that's proved challenging in Denver (we're a tad colder than Philly perhaps. Isn't it beautifully grown here?

Rustic stone pathway
Although on a modest lot, Michael the Magician has made it seem vast by compartmentalizing, capitalizing on every square inch of space, and different paving materials in each garden room.

Intimate garden rooms
Compare the paving in this space--which is designed for showing off bonsai, outdoor eating and barbecues.

Streptocarpella 'Concord Blue'
Many house plants enjoy growing in the garden during the growing season.

Another plant of the Streptanthella
 You can always tell that a gardener loves a plant: there are always replicates around of the faves!

The bonsai speak for themselves!

More bonsai, and a bowl full of glitter...never know what you find.

The white flowered pelargonium makes a fine contrast to the stolid olive and conifers.
Pelargonium cv. closeup

A demonstrative echeveria helps demarcate two garden rooms. Note the different paving materials.

A small hosta wonderfully showcased.

Obviously, Michael was not aware we were coming--I suspect he'd be mortified that I photographed the pots doing obeisance to the Buddha, but I rather liked the idea...

Japanese painted fern nestling under a pot with a sedum groundcover.

If I'm not mistaken, that's a Japanese umbrella (Sciadopitys verticillata) pine with a toad lily at its feet.

Closeup of the toadlily (Tricyrtis)
Quercus dentata 'Pinnatifida'

Begonia grandis (evansiana) 'Alba'

Green rooflet

MORE bonsai

More container plants and sculpture

Chamaecyparis bonsai

Bonsai corner

Daphne odora (variegated) and ferns in a corner

Container on a high

Vistas galore

Vista and vignettes..

Arachnoides standishii
I love this fern: I wonder if it would be hardy for me? I also love the dramatic contrast with Asarum europeum on the left and the Hosta on the right.
Begonia evansiana (grandis) pink
In the Ground...

Begonia evansiana (grandis) in a pot

Pelargonium cv.
Perhaps not the rarest plant--and an annual to boot--but what a color! Michael doesn't deign the common if it is special in some way.
Elegant wood
Even the stems of plants seem more graceful here than usual...

Ledebouria socialis
What delightful staging on a small plant of this South African Scilla: I'd give it a prize!

Camellia cv.
Somehow, when I think "Philadelphia", Camellia doesn't leap to mind. Isn't this a stunning color?

Every corner seems to have something nifty tucked into it: what is that white flower anyway?

Agave victoria-reginae in a very brightly variegated form.
It may be small, and in a plastic pot, but even this young succulent seems to already have a bit of a canter and attitude--it knows it's in Colibraro land!

Variegated American agave mounted upon a glorious Ionic column: makes my Achaean heart beat a tad faster!

Wonderfully shaped Juniper on the wall

Most people don't fill their hell strips with interesting perennials, nor do they place their mail boxes in an attractive rusty armature with a pot enclosed.

Michael is one in a million--a gentleman, scholar and gardener extraordinaire. I feel privileged to have visited his garden twice. Can't wait to get back again!


  1. I think I like Mike’s garden because it reminds me of my own garden. I like how Mike has tried to make every tiny corner count. It is a definite contrast to the more institutional garden at the North Carolina Arboretum.

  2. He does maximize every square inch! I shall not drive through Chicago again without dropping in on your's (if you're willing that is): I may blow through several times this coming year, so watch out!

    Don't be too hard on the NCA: they mean well: I've uploaded a jillion pix of it--enough for two more blogs will I'll likely get to in the next few months. It's really grandiose--and if they hired and empowered a plantsman (maybe you) it would quickly rise to the top in the field. But let's not hold our breath...

    1. When you visit I will take you to see our local natural areas. They are much more impressive than my little homestead garden.

      If I worked at the NCA, the first thing I would do would be to cover the bare concrete walls. It looks to me like they are crying.


  3. I'm not usually a fan of crowded gardens but I love this one! You have taken us on a well-illustrated ramble through it. --Pam in Golden


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