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Floral obsession
Milwaukee gardener dedicates summer to yard beautification


July 2007

Mary Zvaraís garden has as many memories as flowers.

"I call it a friends and family garden," says Zvara. "When I look out on my garden, I see things people have given to me."

Zvara has been planting those memories since 1994, when she moved to her Milwaukee home. She says most of the 150-plus varieties of flowers that fill both the front and back yards have been gifts, including peonies from her mother-in-law, who is now deceased. Her English roses are a reminder of her late mother, who taught her how to grow the sometimes difficult plant.

Still, she mixes it up, and the wide variety of perennials and annuals changes during the course of the year. "Itís a four-season garden. There is something always blooming there," she says.

No color dominates in what she characterizes as a roaming garden that has "as many hues as a 64 Crayola crayon box. I love color."

In spring, when her work begins, the garden contains fairly typical seasonal flowers ó traditional tulips, daffodils and narcissus, as well as lilacs and French bleeding hearts. "But, in summer, it just comes to life," Zvara says.

Thatís when her English and French lavender are in full bloom ó and the envy of passers-by. "I share the wealth," she says.

She also has primrose, poppies and bachelorís buttons, as well as a more obscure Harry Walkerís corkscrew willow, which, along with red twig dogwood, provides interest in winter, too.

And in fall, Zvaraís garden contains chrysanthemums, asters of lavender, deep purple and pink, and clematis, which covers one-third of her backyard trellis and looks like a "big white snowball."

Zvaraís venture into gardening began like most others ó by trial and error. "When itís your passion, itís not a chore to research and learn it," she says.

Her mother taught her much, too, as did courses at the University of Wisconsin-Extension. "The main source that helped me pull it all together was the master gardenerís program," she says.

Zvara says tending her garden is time-consuming ó it takes her 10 to 12 hours a week to keep it in good shape, work that begins already in April.

"Itís kind of like football ó you wonít see me until November," she laughs.

But sheís not complaining. "Itís my meditation time. Itís my time to clear my brain and replenish my heart," she says. "Iím obsessed with it."