Dig It: Designer Michael Tavano Creates A Soul-Centering Garden In Upstate New York

Michael Tavano may not be an adrenaline junkie, but he isn’t afraid of a little rush – as in creating six flower beds hours before hosting a dinner party for 12. “My husband Lloyd looked at me the next day and said, ‘You know, I think I’m going to leave the gardening to your private time.’”

Tavano’s father had a green thumb, so he grew up knowing a morning glory from a petunia. But creating extensive gardens around his Columbia County home in upstate New York involved more than grabbing a few seed packets from Burpee. “When I first started doing this I was petrified,” he admits. “Give me a room and I can make it look great. But outside is a whole different world. You’re creating rooms, but rooms that have to transition through the seasons. It was a lot for my mind to absorb until a dear friend and neighbor said, ‘If something’s not working, you just dig it up and move it.’ Just like a chair. If the chair doesn’t work where you put it, pick it up and move it somewhere.”

A self-taught designer with an appreciation for the bold gestures of Dorothy Draper, Tavano educated himself garden-wise with visits to such places as The Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley in Surrey. “We’re often there at Christmas, and looking at the different grasses that are still up and the bark of the various trees made me start to think more about my garden in winter, so I added willows that turn yellow that time of year, and bushes that go red.”

Gardening is never done. Not only does every season bring its chores, but every year nature alters the landscape in some way. And like the artist who cannot resist adding one more daub of paint just there, a gardener is always tweaking his canvas. Tavano’s most recent project was the addition of a kitchen garden, enveloped by golden privet and white hydrangeas, with seating to enjoy a glass of wine in the evening. Up next? “We recently cleared three-and-a-half overgrown acres which will expand our vista,” he affirms. “I’m going to try a wildflower field that you can see from the house. From what I’ve read, wildflower fields are not the easiest thing to get going, but hey, I’ll try anything.”

The willingness to take a chance – to try and fail – is essential to any worthwhile effort. And for Tavano, who finds that gardening “always calms me down and centers me,” suffering the whims of nature is a price he is willing to pay. “One of the big things gardening has taught me is patience. And that I have no control. I love symmetry and it is virtually impossible to get symmetry in gardening. So, I have grown to appreciate that imperfect reality. My advice to anyone thinking about taking up gardening is, dive in and have fun with it. And try to make peace with the rabbits.”

Photography by Rick Lew.

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