Scarsdale’s Own Secret Garden

A peek at one breathtakingly spectacular home garden.

’s Own Secret Garden

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A peek at one breathtakingly spectacular home garden.

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By Lynn Hazelwood


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An enthusiastic Scarsdale couple create an old English garden in record time.


If you stroll around Stephen Piekarski and Claire Civetta’s overflowing English-style garden in summer, you’d think it had evolved over decades. Only a close look will show that, although the brick on the walled garden is old, the mortar isn’t crumbly; the cedar beams of the pergola are not yet aged. In fact, the garden will be in just its fifth season this year—a mere sprout in horticultural terms—and the lushness of this patch of paradise is the result of Piekarski’s exuberant approach. Where the average enthusiast might buy three or five plants of a variety, he buys 50 or 100. You or I might make a flower bed five feet wide; his are 12 feet. “I’m a builder by trade, but if someone were to ask me, I’d say I’m a gardener,” he announces.


“I’m the quintessential under-gardener,” remarks Civetta, cheerfully. “I love it, but he’s much more knowledgeable.”


Piekarski, 55, and Civetta, 43, moved into their large Colonial-style house in Scarsdale in June, 2002. “We chose a house that had a lot of land, because Stephen had a vision,” says Civetta (who demonstrated her own horticultural leanings by refusing to leave her old property without her favorite tree). Piekarski’s vision was to create a garden incorporating all the classic elements the couple admired in gardens they’d visited.

“It’s a two-acre parcel, and the backyard was just an acre of lawn and a dilapidated garage,” says Piekarski of the property as they found it. There was also a kidney-shaped swimming pool that needed to be integrated. The garage was torn down and a new one with an office, designed to match the house, was built in the far right corner of the property, with antique pavers forming a motor court in front.


Piekarski hired local landscape architect Daniel Sherman to help plan the grounds. Sherman designed a walled garden with an oval end, about 65-by-40 feet, adjacent to the new garage. A large pergola runs at right angles to the walled garden. A long pebble path connects the garage to the patio behind the house.


By autumn that first year, the hardscaping was complete and a sprinkler system had been installed. The couple created 12-foot-wide beds inside the walled garden and on either side of the pathway. A long, wide bed outside the wall was to become the white garden. Yet another follows the oval end of the wall. “We cheated; we had machines that brought in truckloads of horse manure and prepared all the beds,” Piekarski says. “Then we planted up the place! It was the mildest winter ever. Claire and I planted thousands of perennials that winter, everything in groups of five and six.”


“We bought wholesale from nurseries and planted in big circles,” Civetta adds. “And we had a blast doing it.”


In the enclosed garden, ivy, clematis, and honeysuckle scramble up the walls, while beds overflowing with lady’s mantle, heuchera, thalictrum, rudbeckia, and dozens of other shrubs and perennials surround the lawn.


Variegated willow, lilies, gooseneck lysimachia, and phlox are among the varieties flourishing in the white bed facing the house; all are set off by low boxwood edging, a classic English touch.


The pebble path (which Piekarski calls an “allée”) is bordered with a profusion of purple spires of liatris, big clumps of white echinacea, daylilies, gaura, sedum, and nicotiana. Dozens of clematis make their way up the pergola. Beyond the pergola lies a shade garden, with hydrangeas and other evergreen shrubs. A carpet of bluebells planted beneath them shares the space with, says Piekarski, “hundreds of astilbes.”


A circle of yews encloses a rose garden with a large antique Italian urn in the middle. The  nearby swimming pool is surrounded by yews.


There’s more abundance on the front lawn, where the couple planted hydrangeas—oak-leaf, Annabelle, and tardiva—in three large circles, an idea inspired by the gardens at PepsiCo’s headquarters in Purchase. “Another idea we stole from PepsiCo was the chamaeciperous garden, the golden garden,” Piekarski says. In that area, the couple added dozens of gold-toned cedars.


A long sweep of arborvitae and tri-colored beech border the right side of the driveway. “The beech are maroon and white, in full color all spring, summer, and fall,” Piekarski notes, remarking that they were about 15 feet high when he received them as a gift from his brother—more instant gratification.


The other side of the drive is lined with lime-green spirea. There’s an herb garden behind the house near the kitchen door, more clipped boxwood edging the front path. In case all this doesn’t do the trick, each spring the couple plant annuals in containers. “We have easily one-hundred pots,” says Piekarski. “The whole garage is filled with pots. We get a truckload of pelargoniums, verbena, nasturtium, coleus, oxydalis, and fill all the pots. Everywhere you look, there are three or four pots. We have boxwood balls in urns, iron planters filled with stuff. The biggest clay pot you’ve ever seen is by the pool. It’s probably four feet tall and three feet wide, with a tree- form wisteria in it.”

To cap it off, dotted around are statuary, pedestals with sundials and armillaries, stone finials, and picturesque garden tools. When Piekarski declares, “We have literally everything in this garden,” it seems it may be true.


Piekarski’s interest in gardening has been burgeoning since boyhood. “I grew up on a farm in Hartsdale,” he says. “On each side of the farm were two huge nurseries, so it basically rubbed off on me. My parents were always gardening. I just liked it, and got more and more interested.”


A garden like this one requires a lot of work. But, true enthusiasts, Piekarski and Civetta do most of the gardening themselves. “The work schedule here is Saturday and Sunday from morning ’til night; that’s all we do,” Piekarski says. “After work every day, it’s a good forty-five minutes of watering. But I have a kid under my wing now who wants to become a gardener, so he helps.”


Given his ebullient personality, it comes as no surprise that Piekarski has yet another vision in mind—this time a really grand one.


“I’m planning to earn a Master of Horticulture degree,” he announces. “I’m planning to move to England, hoping to get my hands on an old estate that’s been let go and bring it back.”


Civetta shares this dream—with a slight amendment. “I’d like to maybe have a bed-and-breakfast on the side,” she says. “I’m a biz head so I sometimes need to have my fingers in something other than dirt.”


Piekarski elaborates: “My goal would be to live on twenty or thirty acres so I could have wooded areas, meadows—projects that would keep me busy. I could say, ‘This week I’ll plant fifty trees.’ I’d love to have enough to do every day that I could do it for the rest of my life and never have to worry about running out of space. Without a garden, I’m like a lost soul.”


Lynn Hazlewood is the editorial director of Hudson Valley magazine and a very enthusiastic gardener herself.



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