CRANBERRY TWP — Two outdoor gardens will be featured in this year's Pittsburgh Botanic Garden Town & Country Tour.
The tour will take place June 26 and will feature 12 gardens in the North Hills and the township.
One of the local gardens is in the backyard of Gina Bianchi, a founding member of the Southern Butler County Garden Club.
“Our garden is a combined labor of love,” Bianchi said.
Her backyard fairy shade garden, which resembles a natural woodland, takes up about 0.25 acres of space and features dozens of species of plants, including pulmonaria, primrose, European wild ginger and yellow waxbells among others.
A path takes people into the shade, covered by maple, magnolia and fringe trees to name a few.
Also in the garden are birdbaths, a running fountain, birdhouses and about 15 fairy statues.
“It's kind of a recurring theme,” Bianchi said of the fairies.
She said when people tour her garden, she gives prizes to children who can guess the number of fairies in her garden.
“No matter what number they tell me, it's going to be right,” Bianchi said.
Bianchi calls herself a “thrifty gardener.”
“I love, especially with perrenials, dividing them and planting somewhere else.”
An example of this is with her hostas, which line the stone path in the garden. Bianchi said she now has about 70 hosta plants because she keeps dividing them.
“I either dig them up for a friend or to move them,” she said.
She said she began creating the garden about 12 years ago.
However, it wasn't until the home was expanded about two years ago after Bianchi's mother-in-law moved in that the garden grew.
“I had a garden, but it was right behind the house,” Bianchi said.
She and her husband Frank ordered 12,000 pounds of flagstone for the path, about 24 yards of top soil and about 30 yards of mulch and sod.
Bianchi does not use fertilizer, but instead lets the natural properties of the soil and leaf matter take effect.
She also said her water bill was “hundreds of dollars” when she first started watering her plants.
“Cranberry Township actually called me,” Bianchi said. “They said other than putting in a pool, they don't see people's water bills so high.”
Along with the immense flora, fauna have also visited Bianchi's shade garden, including bunnies, finches, chipmunks and bumblebees.
She said the key for a successful garden is being patient and having good soil.
“The number one thing is to pick the right plant for the right spot,” Bianchi said. “If a plant isn't happy, you move it.”
Nearby on Preserve Valley Drive, Rose Romboski's terrace garden makes use of the 0.5-acre property's natural hilly slope.
The garden has 21 different species of trees and shrubs, including maples, birches and cherry trees, and about 50 different species of perennials.
Some of these include gold tide forsythia and knock out roses.
The backyard's terrace is highlighted by large rocks forming a wall and a staircase leading to the top part of the yard and a garden shed. A running waterfall also flows through the rocks, which were quarried in Butler.
“When we were under construction, I had this vision for a terraced backyard with a perennial garden,” Romboski said.
About 50 yards of mulch and “tandem loads” of trucks full of top soil were brought in to lay out the foundation for the garden.
“The soil is so heavy here it really needed amended,” Romboski said.
The rocks are also covered with wooly thyme.
“This isn't the culinary thyme,” Romboski said. “You can step on it without trampling and it 'softens' the rock.”
Romboski moved into the home about nine years ago, the same time she began work on the garden.
She was also a founding member of the Southern Butler County Garden Club.
“I just love gardening. I wanted as many planting beds around the house as possible,” she said.
Romboski said those interested in gardening should “not be afraid to try things.”
“I think people need to be more creative,” she said. “Your garden isn't meant to be perfect or judged. It's meant to be nurtured and loved.”
She also said being featured on the Town & Country Tour is an honor.
“That's really a big deal in the gardening community,” she said. “They're kind of picky about who they choose.”