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Dirt and sunshine—perfect therapy!

Seasoned alpine gardeners switch it up in Pompton Plains

Created date

June 21st, 2011

Joann and Fred Knapp s Cedar Crest garden is anything but normal, attracting the couple quite a bit of attention from their neighbors. Lush bursts of fuchsia, purple, orange, and yellow present a show among the usual red and green tomato plants or yellow and orange peppers. For the past 50 years, the Knapps have been totally, totally involved in horticulture and alpine plants, Joann says. According to the North American Rock Garden Society, to which the Knapps belong, alpine plants include wildflowers that originate above treeline and usually grow among rocks. Having mastered rhododendrons and azaleas at their Long Island home, the Knapps now enjoy growing other varieties of low-growing perennials and alpine plants in their gardens at Cedar Crest, an Erickson Living community in Pompton Plains, N.J. It s a brand-new kind of gardening for us, Joann says.

Exploring new terrain

For 35 years, the Knapps lived in a three-story house on Long Island, architecturally designed to satisfy their passion for alpine gardening. Nestled at the wooded intersection of two ridges, their house rested on two acres of meticulous alpine gardens. They also built an alpine greenhouse atop their roof to simulate a mountainous climate. However, in 2007, the Knapps started to realize that their house was beginning to need a lot of repairs. And it was too big for us, Joann says. Ultimately, they didn t want to see their garden falter. We felt it s better to leave while our garden was still beautiful rather than get to a point where we couldn t care for it anymore and watch it go downhill, she says. An awful lot of people say I ll move when I m ready, and they wait too long. The Knapps moved to a two-bedroom, window-filled apartment home at Cedar Crest in September 2007. There, Joann manages an indoor container garden, and Fred manages the outdoor garden space located in the community garden area. Because of differences in climate and conditions, the Knapps can finally grow a true rock garden. Among rhododendrons, azaleas, primroses, and hellebores, they grow creeping phlox, alyssum (basket of gold), Arenaria (sandwort), candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), and lewisia. The plants we grow have an extremely short growing season, so they have showy flowers to attract the insects that pollenate them, Joann says. She adds that many bloom early, even before daffodils, creating curiosity and intrigue among fellow gardeners.

Propagating plants and friendships

Through gardening, the Knapps have grown not only plants but also friendships. Upon moving to Cedar Crest, Joann began propagating coleus. I took cuttings and started rooting them. Pretty soon, I had them on every window sill, she says. Neighbors quickly learned of their green-thumbed friends and began bringing them plants. So I started with coleus, and now I have pieces of this and pieces of that, she says. Their sunroom and living room are lush with foliage. Even a three-foot-tall coffee tree stands in their living room. Aside from plants, the Knapps have also shared their knowledge with neighbors, giving lectures to the community s garden club about alpine plants and gardening techniques. People here tend to be great gardeners, Joann says. No matter what anyone s capacity is, not one person in the garden is unhappy. There is something about being out there in the dirt and sunshine that is very therapeutic. People don t realize how rewarding it is to watch something grow if you take the time to watch and learn. Aside from exploring new types of gardening, they dance three times a week, and they each pursue personal hobbies. I ve been a photographer all my life, but I m just now learning digital photography, Joann says. She also does genealogical research, creating books for family members. A lifelong piano player, Fred tickles the ivories on his digital piano, right in their living room.