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A homemade Eden

Artist Fay Krokower walks the garden path with two of her six devoted companions. Krokower’s garden began as a swath of lawn flanked by forest; 14 years later, the 1-1/4-acre property features sun and shade beds with year-round riots of bloom.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Artist Fay Krokower walks the garden path with two of her six devoted companions. Krokower’s garden began as a swath of lawn flanked by forest; 14 years later, the 1-1/4-acre property features sun and shade beds with year-round riots of bloom.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Fay Krokower’s colorful garden highlights the new Spring Bloom tour.

Fay Krokower’s garden comes with a welcoming committee.

There’s a joyful, six-member dog brigade, a beatific ceramic gatekeeper dubbed the “Jewish Buddha,” and two incongruous rusted giraffes to oversee all who enter.

“They make me smile. They’re so inappropriate,” Krokower said. “Who doesn’t need a metal giraffe in their backyard, I ask you?”

This weekend, up to 500 guests will experience Krokower’s hospitality as they stroll the paths and beds that she and her husband, Bob, have constructed over the past 14 years in residence in their Grand Avenue home.

Krokower and four other island artists make up this weekend’s first Spring Bloom tour, a drive-it-yourself excursion designed on a smaller scale than its July counterpart. The tour will showcase not just gardens, but the artists who made them.

The park-like qualities of the wooded, 1-1/4-acre property appealed to the Krokowers as soon as they saw it. In their arid, former Southern California locale, where Krokower said you could stick a plant in the ground and forget about it for years, cultivating a green thumb never occurred to her. She said the act of gardening consisted of “writing the monthly check” to the lawn service.

Here, the climate encouraged the couple to experiment. They pulled up the lawn one section at a time, negotiated their design preferences and proceeded to bungle everything.

“You have no idea,” she said. “We made every mistake.”

Over the years, nearby construction and minor disasters played a large role in the garden’s evolution and offered opportunities to re-create.

A septic system failure left space for new beds. A downed tree necessitated the removal of a hedge that the Krokowers and their next-door neighbor discovered they both hated anyway. A consultation with local plant pathologist Olaf Ribeiro determined that much of a failing cedar had to go; the remainder now acts as a woodpecker’s favorite haunt.

“Everything is an opportunity,” she said. “Nature is forgiving, and things grow back.”

Krokower calls herself a “hog for color” with a romantic sensibility. Her summer garden has dahlias and hollyhocks; her back shade garden includes stands of hellebores. She gets on plant kicks and buys loads of a single type; one season it’s spirea, later alliums, and then lilies.

“I’m kind of a greedy gardener,” she said.

While Krokower “loves to play” with color and plant matter in her garden, what’s more important are the memories that permeate its paths.

She points out the spot where the chuppah stood for each of her children’s weddings; a white rhododendron, “the wedding rhodie,” bloomed riotously during both ceremonies.

She also points out two fuchsias that began as cuttings from her sister’s garden. Her sister survived cancer some years ago; every time Krokower looks the thriving bushes, she thinks of her healthy sibling.

“I can’t imagine having the garden professionally landscaped,” she said. “When I walk my garden, there are memories everywhere.”

Krokower’s pottery informs her garden, and vice-versa. In the studio at the back of the property, she creates gracefully fluted bird baths, angular bird houses and circular rings bisected by curved stems of re-bar. Those she uses to stake heavy plants and trailers.

The artist says that she “started whaling away and getting serious” about pottery after her kids left home. She began by making small, functional pieces, mainly place settings. Later she began to design with the garden in mind, and her shapes grew – a bowl became a bird bath; a vase became a planter.

Krokower has also started to experiment with pottery vegetation that stands in for what won’t grow year-round. One season brought an explosion of mushrooms that she missed when they were gone; she fashioned a patch of ceramic toadstools to permanently mark the path. And she recently threw a crop of pumpkins that she’ll glaze and set out in the fall as a bona fide pumpkin patch, which would never naturally see the light of day in her shade beds.

Krokower’s work, like her garden, is something she takes pride and joy in sharing. She won’t sell her pieces; she only donates them and gives them away.

“My favorite thing to do is sit down and think of someone serving a meal on one of my plates,” she said. When people use my pieces, my heart smiles, and I’m honored.”

Krokower’s children and grandchildren love to linger for meals and family time in the haven that’s made a gardener and an artist out of her.

“We raised our kids on eating out. And now they want to come eat out in the garden,” she said. “Isn’t that fun?”

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Budding artists

The Spring Bloom tour, featuring the gardens of Bainbridge artists Fay Krokower, Jeanne E, Ted Hoppin, Danna Watson and Cecil Ross, takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 5 and 6. The drive-it-yourself tour is limited to 500 tickets; maps will be available. For information and tickets, see www.artshum.org or call 842-7901.

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