In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
August, 2007
Regional Report

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The Zen entrance path welcomes the visitor to an eclectic garden.

Asian Fusion Eclectic

Even a small garden can have the appeal of an estate garden, says Michael Colibraro of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. From serene to whimsical to bold, his 50-by-125-foot slice of paradise is always changing. People who admire estate gardens can adapt what they like to any size space, Colibraro insists. "If you capture the concept of an idea, regardless of how large or small the property, you can use the it."

Visiting Colibraro's garden rooms is an enchanting spin around the world -- from Asia to Italy to the Caribbean. The Zen entrance nestled in soft moss sets a peaceful Asian tone behind a suburban driveway. Well-tended and trained bonsai -- a cascade-style Hinoki cypress, a forest-style Metasequoia grove of 15 trees, a dwarf Metasequoia bonsai, a native hemlock (Tsuga canadense 'Minuta') and more sit high on stone pedestals or low to edge the path.

Looking south, a hand-built wooden pergola with cushioned rattan chairs catches the eye. Two tall, white columns with crossbar stand east. From his small grass lawn, Colibraro calls this "the meditation area" where Asian and European elements meld as Asian Fusion. "I carried through the classical motif using columns, European style, from the classical, geometric front garden."

An eclectic, lush mix of tropical plants and small or bonsai conifers surrounds the structures: Rhus 'Tiger Eye', Canna 'Tropicana' underplanted with Gingko 'Chi Chi', Japanese umbrella pine (Sciadopitys), Abies 'Silberlocke' with white/silver undersides of the leaves, and a Japanese maple.

"I don't believe that gardens are just plants," says Colibraro. "There are a lot of memories here, lots of plants given by friends, smooth or jagged rocks that you find, found objects unearthed, the gift of a terra cotta urn on pedestal from Thailand." Large stones become benches; found items, objects d'art. Flowing water soothes from a quiet fountain.

"I break the rules," Colibraro smiles. He sets a fine-leafed, chartreuse Sumac against the bold, red/purple-striped canna foliage and blue-green, lobed-leafed gingko. "Most of the combinations are serendipitous. After so many years gardening, I don't think, I just do. I like exuberance in the garden. I don't believe in permanence."

Sitting in the pergola, he muses. "No matter where you sit, there's a different view. The whole idea is not to see the garden all at once. I have little rooms and surprises."

Every plant is his favorite. Yet some momentarily strike his fancy more than others. "Right now sitting here, that Carpinus japonica [Japanese hornbeam] is my favorite tree in the garden. Nice, striated bark. Ridged, textured leaves. The way the light hits it. The light green, lantern-like hops linger into winter. In the early spring time, the Acer palmatum 'Katsura' is a wonderful transformation of colors -- for a whole month it goes from chartreuse to orange to yellow to green."

Colibraro enjoys his garden year round but advises any gardener to consider when she or he spends the most time there and select plants accordingly.


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