by Connie Oswald Stofko
Three-quarters of the space in Sue Tronolone’s small backyard is taken up by the garage, driveway and above-ground pool, but you should see what she does with the space she has left.
Tronolone shared her landscape on the Black Rock & Riverside Tour of Gardens during both the daytime tour and the Starry Night Garden Tour. Both events were held on Aug. 6. It was the last garden walk of the season.
The focal point of the yard is the patio, which serves as an outdoor living room and dining room. The backyard is always sunny, so a carport is used to shelter the seating areas. The walls are cloth shower curtains, which can be opened and closed as needed to keep the sun out.
“I use shower curtains because I don’t want them to get moldy,” Tronolone said, “and they are machine washable.”
There’s also an electric fan, “but nothing cools me off like that does,” she said, pointing to the pool.
Garden beds and plants in pots surround the patio to bring the feel of the gardens to the living areas. Tronolone likes to share the area she calls her secret garden with her grandchildren. It has small decorations, such as an owl, that you might not notice on first glance.
“That’s the point of a secret garden,” she said. “There are secret things there. You have to take the time and look.”
Another point of interest is her two elaborate fairy gardens that are displayed on a wrought iron tea cart set on the patio. Tronolone has dedicated the gardens to her niece, Ryan Kiblin, who died at age 33 when she was 33 weeks pregnant. Kiblin was supervisor of grounds, gardens and landscaping at Chautauqua Institution.
“She was my go-to person for gardening,” Tronolone said.
Visitors ask Tronolone where she got the beautiful trays that the gardens are planted in. She explains that they’re just cardboard boxes that she covered with fabric using Mod Podge, then coated with shellac to make them water resistant.
The fairy gardens use some small plants that are grown especially for miniature gardens, such as a coleus called ‘Mini Red Maple’ that looks like a maple tree. Other trees in her fairy garden are just a clover-like plant, which would be weeds elsewhere in the yard.
A figurine of a bunny in an apron is one of several items that are actually Easter decorations.
“All year long, you have to think outside of the box,” Tronolone said.