This past month we ventured out to the charming community of Amherstburg, known for its architecture & history, stunning gardens, and vista views. As we drove along the winding bends of Front Road, towards the Pizzuto home, we were reminded of Amherstburg’s quaint vacation-town feel; families walking the streets with ice-cream cones in hand, patios buzzing and the sound of boaters making the most of a perfect day to be on the water.
We knew from the moment we pulled into the driveway of The Pizzuto Family home that we were in for a treat- waterfront property adorned with beautifully maintained landscaping. With Eugenia trees flanking every entrance and vibrant crimson Japanese Maples we were excited to learn more of this unique garden story…
Originally from Windsor, Joanne and her daughter Gelsea toured us around the property, explaining that when they had bought the land it was nothing but trees, and as a nature-inspired educator at Dr.David Suzuki school, Joanne knew she wanted to try and keep as many trees as she possibly could. In an effort to try to repurpose as many of the trees as they could instead of disposing of them, they built their vegetable garden on top of many of the trees.
As we entered the backyard, Joanne explained that they planted all of the trees, shrubs, and plants based around where the mature trees existed- with little garden beds and paths leading you throughout the yard, each telling a unique story!
As we made our way through the grass paths, we noticed that there was a statue incorporated as a focal point in almost every garden, that’s when Gelsea shared laughingly about her mom’s love and slight obsession with them.
The more time we spent with Joanne and Gelsea the more obvious it became that this garden was a family endeavour and something that they all had a hand in – although Joanne needed some encouragement from her daughter to sign up for our tour, she shared that she gets why sometimes people are intimidated by gardening or intimidated by garden shows – you think you can’t do it or that your garden won’t be good enough but it’s more so looking at it all as an experiment, that is what makes it fun.
We couldn’t help but notice numerous hydrangeas blooming in every corner, as Joanne later explained that she loves them because she gets so much use out of them, bringing them inside in the Summer, clipping them in the Fall to dry out for her Winter pots by spray painting them gold and adding some of Anna’s greenery.
Since the family kept many of the mature trees, a lot of the garden beds don’t receive much sun so hostas have been a great option. Joanne explained that when you first are starting a garden, it’s ideal to trade plants with friends and that includes these hostas in which she received from a friend’s garden bed that was overflowing with them.
An Interview with Joanne Pizutto
What does gardening mean to you?
It’s my connection to nature. I love to be outdoors and my garden helps me to relax and reflect on my day. Love that all summer long my family eats fresh vegetables from the garden.
What type of garden do you have?
Fruit/Vegetable/Herb & Perennial garden beds
How would you describe your garden?
My vegetable garden is very large and sits on a hill. When we built our home we saved so many trees in our backyard. The trees we couldn’t keep we put in a pile and this is where our vegetable garden is and why it has done so well. I also have a pond in my backyard.
How has Anna’s been a part of your garden story?
Absolutely, I love Anna’s for their vegetable plants and flowers.
How did you get into gardening?
I think growing up I was always surrounded by plants, my mother had such a love of plants that I really didn’t realize how much I had learned from her and how much I loved plants and I think also because I always was that kid that was outdoors because I love nature. So I was constantly outside loving to go for walks, so I think that is why I’ve surrounded myself with nature now because it’s something that has always been near and dear to me.
It’s your inner child coming out, I love that! How many years have you been gardening?
Oh my goodness, at least 30 years.
Do you have any resources for helping to make your garden succeed and where do you draw inspiration? (Books, podcasts, people. etc. )
So truly over the years, my in-laws have been huge with vegetable gardening and so they have truly been my inspiration for my vegetable garden now. Also because I do so much canning, there is something about when you grow something and then you can it that we absolutely love. I also believe just being interested in being in nature but going to all the garden shows that I have gone to. Amherstburg has done beautiful garden shows in the last several years which I’m hoping will come back in the future and that’s where I draw so much inspiration from. Seeing other people’s gardens and what they have in them truly is inspiring.
Knowing that the vegetable garden had such an interesting start with its nutrient-rich roots, we were anxious to see what it looked like and what the family was growing. Typically at this time of year vegetable gardens are in their fullest expressions, climbing to the sky or spreading their roots and flowering. We were not disappointed, greeted by huge zucchini plants and peeks of tall corn husks we couldn’t wait to venture in!
What is your favourite thing to grow and why?
I think my favourite thing is hydrangeas, it’s interesting because I’ve always had a love for that flower. It was the colours the way it looks, everything about it. A few years ago we went to Italy during the month of July, early July and we have never been to Italy during that time, it’s normally in August. Well, when we got there and we started to drive towards Genova where I was born, they were everywhere, so it was at that moment that I made the connection that oh my goodness it’s no wonder I love them so much, I feel like it’s apart of me. It’s like coming home. You will see them all over my garden I get so excited when they come out at Easter time because then I will have them all over my house and I’ll give them as gifts to others and of course I get them at Anna’s because they are so beautiful but yea, that’s what you will see everywhere.
What does gardening bring to your life?
Pure joy. Just truly during COVID, it was a difficult time for everyone. For me knowing I have this space that I can go out here and work on my garden and just heal, it just has brought so much joy to me. I think a lot of it is that my husband and I love to entertain so we love to have people over and part of that is sharing our garden and also I love it when I … because I grow so many things I love sharing what I can grow. That’s another part of the joy in gardening and I feel that it just….there is something about sitting outside and listening to the birds and watching the deer and the rabbits and everything that comes with being in nature is incredible, it just does so much for a person’s psyche and their soul it’s just wonderful.
What do you feel when you are gardening or sitting in your garden?
Joy, and for me, I don’t like to exercise but I love to garden so I feel that for me that’s my form of exercise. Especially when it comes to the vegetable garden and keeping that up. It’s something that I look forward to so for me it’s not “work”. My husband is funny because he will come home from work and he will say “did you play in the mud today?” because he thinks that’s why I love it so much because when I was young I loved to make mudpies and all the rest so that’s his way of being funny about it.
How would you describe your garden style?
I think it’s a little bit of everything because we’ve tried to be respectful to what was here before and tried to keep as much as we can because we know how important it is especially because we back on to a farmer’s field and there is so much nature and so many different things that live out there, deers and all the rest and I just feel it was important to respect the land and keep as much as we could and that is exactly what we did.
What is your favourite month and time of day in your garden?
Truly I love all of the seasons in my garden, even in the wintertime when I can look out and I see it covered in a blanket of snow to me it’s just as beautiful as when it’s the spring and the summer and I truly believe it’s because of how it makes you feel. It brings a smile to your face when you look out and see the first robin or last summer when the farmer had planted all that corn and the blue jays were incredible, I’ve never seen anything like it. For me, every season is just beautiful because it brings me joy.
And do you have a favourite time out here or just whenever?
I like it when I make a cup of coffee in the morning and I come out first thing in the morning and it’s early, I’m an early riser and I just love to take a walk with my coffee and see what’s happening, see what the rabbits destroyed the night before, what party happened with the deers trampling through the yard, like all of that. It is my favourite time. We do love the sunset, my husband and I love to sit at the dock and watch the sun go down, but again you’re surrounded by so much like we have an eagle’s nest that’s way at the back over there so it sits on the tall tree next door and we have ducks that come back every year and make a nest and we always try to guess where the nest is going to be because she moves it every year. It’s just things like that that are very joyful.
What inspires your choices when it comes to plants?
I think truly it is when we see them. My husband and I have purchased plants over the years from a garden show or from seeing it at a park or someone else’s home that we’re like “wow that’s really beautiful”, wouldn’t it be great to have that in our yard. Like the smoke tree that is near the pond, came from us seeing that in someone’s garden when we went through the garden show.
The magnolia is one that we planted in memory of my mother, so because my mother loved to garden and there were so many times when I took her through Anna’s that she just loved picking out plants and surrounding herself with plants. It’s nice, certain plants trigger beautiful memories.
What dreams do you have for your garden?
It’s a big dream, we’re hoping to add a sunroom that will house a lot of my plants in the wintertime so that’s the dream to add an addition to our home that’s going to be all windows and it will be where we would be surrounded by plants. I would absolutely love that, that would be something that I would love to add to my garden.
What would you say is the thing that you do best in your garden?
That’s a good question, I think for me it’s taking care of the plants. Just the harvest that I get, all of the effort that I put into my vegetable garden I reap the benefits come the fall. I feel that the amount of time that I spend really nourishing them really is what helps them to grow and why I get so much from my garden.
Like last summer we tried to grow corn and it just didn’t happen so my husband and I decided to do some research this year because I really wanted corn and we found out its the three sisters that they use where they put together the corn, the beans and the squash and that will help them to grow. And that is exactly what happened, that trial and error lessons are so important because it’s just like the cucumbers this year, that we moved and they aren’t doing well because they were where the corn was. It’s the same thing, you look at something and say okay why didn’t it work this year and then you try it again next year. That is the beauty of gardening is that no one ever judges you or anything, it’s trial and error and it’s such a good feeling when things come up like the corn this year. We were so happy that it actually did work.
Now you said that you’re a teacher, I’m curious do you incorporate any of your learnings in the garden into your job?
Absolutely, I’m very lucky because I work at Dr.David Suzuki school and it is an amazing building that has a rooftop garden and has so much space for children to be outdoors and I do a garden with the children every year. Now last year because of COVID we weren’t able to start a garden, we had everything ready, I have two huge greenhouses that the children put together and they plant their seeds and all the rest. But what I did this year was I gave the children seeds, sunflower seeds and they started their sunflowers at home. So all of the things that are left from my garden I will take the entire bean plant off with the roots and bring it into the classroom and the children will take all the beans out and will keep them and we will grow them in our classroom. We do the same with the sunflowers, I bring in the sunflowers and we do math with the sunflowers.
So I would like to think that over the years of being at Suzuki that I have played a role in some of those families starting gardens because I try to instil a love of that in children at a young age. My classroom indoors truly looks like the outdoors because there are so many plants and there are so many opportunities for children to learn about gardening and they have a part in it all. Everything from weeding the garden to starting the plants indoors to transplanting them out into the garden. Gardening has played a huge role in my teaching career because I see so much learning and I think if we start children off at a very young age then they will carry that on.
I love it because your inner child is so out, you know what I mean, your love for nature you’ve consistently carried it into your adult life and you’re doing everything you loved to do as a kid and now you’re passing it on to kids, it’s so wonderful.
Thank you, I really have. One of my dreams, when I do retire, is I want to work at Anna’s for sure, doing something that I really love because I love teaching but at the same time that part of being in a greenhouse and doing all of that. I also want to go back to school and go to St.Clair to learn about gardening and take their horticultural program just to further, because I feel like you know, when we retire it’s not an end its a new and my new chapter is going to be gardening and working at Anna’s. One of my parents, Ann Kirst works at Anna’s so I taught both of her children, and I love her so much, she is wonderful and a wonderful gardener and I would love to work with Ann.
Ann truly is so wonderful, and full of life! I think that’s it from us but if you have anything else you want to add…
No, thank you, I’m glad my daughter pushed me to do this and I guess I just want to share with other gardeners that it is important to share your story so others will get inspiration from it.