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Three Decades Of Care Reclaims A Rocky Ledge



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Three Decades

Of Care Reclaims

A Rocky Ledge


By Nancy K. Crevier

Dedicated to the memory of “a wonderful woman named Rosie,” Joe Viola has created his own Eden of terraced gardens that sweep down the hillside leading to his home near Lake Zoar. Thirty years in the making, “Lions Ledge,” as Mr Viola calls his property, is a thoughtfully planned out arrangement of hemlocks, rhododendrons, forsythia, boxwood, and Alberta spruce marching down the steep ledge, each level marked off by low stone walls that Mr Viola has painstakingly built himself from rocks on the property and even rocks brought to him by friends.

Interspersed among the greenery are the statues that give the property its name — more than two dozen cement and porcelain lions. Perched on the railings leading down to the 75 by 40-foot deck surrounding his home, the mortar felines guard the walkway. The big cats stand watch over urns of flowers, and peering out from behind thick spruce and airy foliage they add a royal presence to the garden display. Even the entrance to Mr Viola’s home is framed by cement lions, each more than two feet tall.

The lions are not the only statuary that he has collected over the years, though. Gods and goddesses, as well as numerous cherubs have their place in his garden, as well.

The statues are a combination of antiques acquired when he was a partner in the Golden Thistle Antiques in Kent and New Milford, and others that strike his fancy when he is out shopping.

“When I see statuary that I think will work well here, I’ll buy it,” said Mr Viola. He has reincarnated a worker’s wash basin from an old Newtown manufacturing plant into the base of a fountain, and an old horse trough now overflows with potted flowers and carefully pruned spruce. Years ago he started collecting the lions, and the pride has continued to grow.

He is proud of the gardens that sprawl downhill from the edge of the road and along the entire length of his deck, calling them a “labor of love.” The property has come a long way, said Mr Viola, since he bought it in the 1970s.

“It was a real eyesore,” he recalled. “People used it as a sort of community ‘dump’ and I would find abandoned cars and  couches. Whatever people didn’t want seemed to end up on my property.”

The property cast its spell over him, though, despite the constant battle with careless dumping, and he was able to visualize what the grounds could become under the guidance of a patient hand. He finally resorted to fencing to define his land, and the dumping ceased, he said. He has seen an overall improvement in the Sandy Hook neighborhood since then, Mr Viola said, adding, “I’m very proud of this area now.”

The former art and creative director for Ormand shops until he switched to the antiques business, Mr Viola is now semi-retired and spends anywhere from 10 to 15 hours a week tending to his gardens. Watering the dozens of potted flowers alone takes him nearly two hours every day when there is no rain.

“I am most relaxed when I am in the garden. I could spend hours and hours weeding or taking up leaves and be happy,”  he said, although he admitted that he has slowed down in recent years.

The potted plants change with the season. As September gives way to October, yellow mums brighten the landscape. In spring and summer, geraniums spill from containers around every corner, he said. It is the hardiness, the ease of maintenance, and the year-round color that makes him favor evergreens for the majority of his plantings, though, said Mr Viola.

“I love nature and I love gardening. I’ve put a lot of effort and love into these gardens,” said Mr Viola. “It brings me peace.”

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