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Nine gardens featured on Shelter, Inc. tour

July 6, 2012
By DIANE SPEER - News Lifestyles Editor , The Alpena News

It is celebrated American poet Robert Frost who wrote the immortal lines, "Good fences make good neighbors."

His poetic observation could easily apply to next door neighbors Joe and Carolyn Szatkowski of 1006 S. First Ave., and Nancy Mead and Gay Palmer of 1012 S. First Ave. Avid gardeners, they have turned their two backyards into unique garden spaces separated by a wooden slatted fence and outfitted with a castoff door for easy passage back and forth.

But theirs are not just any ordinary door and fence. The Szatkowski side is rustic in appearance and speaks to Joe's affinity for all things farm-related and Carolyn's love of art and roosters. Their neighbor's side of the fence is painted a cottagey white and their handpainted side of the door reflects their more whimsical sense of style.

Article Photos

News Photo by Diane Speer
Several varieties of coral bells are offset by the rustic wood fence, painted windows and colorful rooster figures scattered in this small area of Joe and Carolyn Szatkowski’s gardens.

Both gardens are featured on the 13th annual Shelter, Inc. Garden Walk taking place this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $10 and allow for admittance into nine different gardens.

Though the Szatkowskis' house fronts First Avenue, their gardens are accessed from 212 Baldwin Street through an arbor constructed by Joe. The couple likes the fact that the backyard stretches across a lot that once served as the old Baldwin School playground. While digging up different areas for flower beds and other installations, Joe has come across many marbles, old bottles and red bricks, all presumably from the yard's former playground era.

Joe, a true do-it-yourselfer, harbors plenty of warm memories of fun childhood times spent at a farm in Posen once owned by his grandparents. Those memories have contributed to some of the landscaping decor chosen for the gardens, including the rustic barn that started it all. Carolyn, along with her partiality toward art and roosters, had envisioned more of a park setting.

"I wanted a barn theme and Carolyn wanted it to look more like a park with artwork," said Joe. "So we thought, let's just combine the two."

Their combined vision has paid off as their garden is replete with perennials and shrubbery selected by Carolyn, nearly 30 birdhouses constructed by Joe, about 100 of Carolyn's rooster figures in every size and shape, and various farm implements, antiques and decorative pieces the couple purchased and repurposed from garage sales or antique shops.

Every corner of their backyard is filled with their finds that are tucked in among their flowers or mounted on unique items like a pitchfork or a wagon wheel. Also starring in their yard are many old windows that have been painted with outdoor scenes or flowers and to please Carolyn more roosters. Many of the windows have been painted by Joe, while others are the creative efforts of various family members, friends and their neighbor, Nancy.

"We've done some swapping back and forth," said Joe. "Nancy has done some painting for us, I've put up their swing for them and helped build stuff for them."

On their side of the fence, Gay is the long-time gardener, having been at it since she was a young child. Nancy, on the other hand, is the artist who works in acrylics, and has designed the layout of their beds and dotted them with many of her creative touches. They consider their backyard to be eclectic and whimsical, but with a bit of humor tossed in for good measure.

"I gotta have humor," said Nancy, who succeeded on that front with horticultural-type signs to which she has added her own amusing twist: "Gardenitis Uncontrollius," "Plantus Unknownus" and "Twigga Mortis."

Gay is always on the lookout for more plant materials, preferring to shop at local places, including Pratt's Landscape, Netta's Nursery and Bushes n' Blooms. Like their neighbors on the other side of the fence, the two women also have found new life for many old items that now provide their gardens with added character and beauty. Among those are an old wash tub now used as a planter and a garage sale metal settee repainted by Nancy in a fetching floral motif.

All nine of the gardens featured on Saturday's tour are:



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