Natural beauty

City girl turns gardening into art

Created date

July 19th, 2018
Sandra Stander poses with her garden

Sandra Stander has planted a tapestry of color, form, scent, and movement at Seabrook. Her garden, beloved by neighbors and visitors alike, is home to 23 rose bushes, 26 species of perennials, at least 11 types of annuals, and 1 bonsai tree.

Last year, when Sandra Stander first planted a perennial garden on the grounds of her new community, Seabrook, she was so excited to enjoy it herself that she didn’t realize how positively it would affect other people.

“It’s particularly wonderful because it’s becoming a really nice, therapeutic part of the community,” Sandra says. Neighbors have asked management to install benches and a paved path to the garden to make it more accessible. They willingly obliged, installing them this spring.

“People come and sit,” Sandra says. “Couples make it a part of their daily walk.”

Tapestry of color and shape

A kidney-shaped space situated near the center of the Tinton Falls, N.J., Erickson Living community, Sandra’s garden is a tapestry of color, form, scent, and movement that blooms like fireworks throughout spring, summer, and into early fall.

Plants climb up trellises and a pergola; sunflowers stand tall and proud along the fence at the back of the garden; 23 rose bushes fill the space with an intoxicating scent; and annuals and perennials dot the ground with shapes and colors.

Sandra, who grew up in the Bronx, brought all the pergolas and trellises from her small Metuchen rowhouse where she kept a densely planted backyard—a refreshing oasis after a life lived in the city.

“I was frustrated with all the effort the city requires to incorporate beauty into each day,” she says. “So I found a small row house in Metuchen, not far from family, and moved. There were modest areas of weedy grass in front and back and a large, sunny driveway. I wanted to look through windows and see natural beauty—open doors and step into it, be surrounded by it.”

She began digging up crabgrass and creating a new flower bed each year. She read every gardening book she could find, scoured instructional Internet sites, planted flowers, and killed lots of plants in the process. “But I learned,” she says.

Little by little, the driveway filled with raised garden beds: flowers, vegetables, and a raspberry patch. Her neighbor Harold, a fellow-gardener, introduced himself, became her best friend, rose culture mentor, and eventually, husband.

A new space to grow

In March 2017, the couple moved to Seabrook to enjoy a simpler, maintenance-free lifestyle and the peace-of-mind benefits of a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), on one condition: Sandra could plant a larger garden than the 8- by 8-foot community garden spaces provided to residents. And she could bring her beloved plants.

Like the soothing and fragrant pastel apricot Pat Austin, a type of rose cultivated by David Austin Roses. It’s a modern, disease-resistant take on an heirloom-style English rose.

She also planted a Giverny rose, a stunning climber designed for Claude Monet’s gardens. It’s making its way up one of her trellises.

Perennials like hydrangea, heuchera (coral bells), dicentra (bleeding heart), silver lamium, and hostas rest in the shade. Meanwhile, clematis, iris, lilies, veronica, liatris, phlox, hibiscus, dianthus, echinacea, anemone, salvia, and heliopsis, among others, soak up the sun.

At the center, a miniature bonsaied pomegranate tree sits in a bird bath, anchoring the space.

Simply flourishing

Just as Sandra’s plants have adjusted well and have begun to blossom in their new home, so, too, has Sandra.

She and Harold chose a one-bedroom Ellicott-style apartment home which faces north. Its full wall window has become home to her collection of 30 orchids.

“Learning how to keep them alive and reblooming has been fascinating, and I care for them early mornings,” says Sandra.

The apartment opens to a wooded courtyard. During the winter, she enjoys bird watching, plans for her spring garden, and raises seedlings under grow lights. “I wake each morning bathed in light feeling as if I’ve slept outdoors, my first sight being orchids and trees,” she says.

Sandra’s home at Seabrook soothes her need for natural beauty, slowly healing decades of life without it.

“Gardening to me is a magical mixture of art, design, and science. All the hours I spent in museums studying the great masters, in classes learning color theory, creating satisfying combinations of color and form in my own paintings come together in my garden,” she says.

Not much of a joiner, Sandra says Seabrook suits her well. She can be as involved or not as she wants to be.

“I spend lots of time on my own or with Harold and our two cats, though I have found monthly Crystal Bowl meditation sessions mind-blowingly wonderful,” she says.

But her happiest socializing is with neighbors, their family members, caregivers, and staff when they come to visit the garden. “We chat, talk plants, the wonderousness of nature, and just enjoy sharing the experience.”

She has a calming enthusiasm about her garden and hopes that, over time, “a Seabrook community will form around the garden and that neighbors will visit, commune with nature, practice their tai chi and yoga, meditate, take photos, paint pictures, just hang out and renew. All are welcome.”