Above: Joel Adler has a thriving summer vegetable garden behind another frog statue.
“Appreciating the plant kingdom is a path to the love of G-d,” Aish.com says. Wasn’t Adam given mankind’s first mission, to tend a garden?
We recite blessings over inhaling the aroma of flowers and trees. Maimonides teaches us to focus on the wonder of creation and what one seed can do to transform into beauty.
Visit with three Jewish backyard enthusiasts who believe that, like plants, people with strong roots below ground show the most strength and have the most fun doing it.
An Oft-Toured Wonder
Joel Adler, a retired oral surgeon, discovered his green thumb at age 7 in Mississippi when he helped plant a victory garden to send produce to U.S. troops overseas.
Adler, who does “a little bit of everything,” is modest when applying science and effort to one of Buckhead’s most frequently toured gardens: Brandeis, the Atlanta Botanical Garden Tour, the Connoisseurs Tour and Art in the Garden have shuffled through hundreds of admirers.
Adler, often a night gardener, invests about 15 hours a week in the garden, which was initially co-designed with landscape architect Dottie Myers.
It’s hard to absorb it all on one visit. There are so many areas of interest: row upon row of vegetables and unusual flora.
Jaffe: What are your more unusual things?
Adler: I grow Emerald Isle eggplants that are green when ripe. I once called Harrods of London (known for its eccentric British gardening department) to see if they would sell them if I shipped to England. It seems the public is not used to anything besides the dark-purple skin, though these are equally delicious.
Have you ever had Clemson spineless okra?
My unique Harry Lauders walking stick (named for a British entertainer in World War I who had a crooked cane) beechnut tree is even more architectural in the winter with its exposed branches.
The Wolf Eyes dogwood is striking.
We have Brandywine heirloom tomatoes in yellow and red, cucumbers, artichokes, squash, potatoes, pole beans, Tibetan hydrangeas, rare orange-tinged irises, and several types of lilies. This rose bush was selected by my daughter 38 years ago.
My wife, Toni, makes wonderful squash casseroles, which we freeze and enjoy year-round.
The most unusual tomato here was acquired from the University of Florida — had to make a donation to get it — reputed to be among the best tasting. I’ll let you know in a month or so.
Jaffe: Tell us about your statuary.
Adler: My native bottle brush or horse chestnut tree, Aesculus parviflora, sits in front of the concrete eagle. Adler in German means eagle.
This two-piece marble sculpture is by Henry Grady’s grandson Grady Black. I collect Sibley sculpture as her theme is cascading water lilies … usually in someone’s hair.
Jaffe: What advice would you give to others?
Adler: Plant the right plant in the right spot. Don’t just grow to grow. Grow to know what they need.
Jaffe: I see your sense of frivolity.
Adler: I cherish my signs: “Garden of Weedin’ ”; the compost heap reads, “Rot Damnit!”; and the best, “Gardening: The art of destroying weeds and bugs to grow flowers and crops for animals and birds to eat.”
On the giant frog statue, when we have a tour, I play music with speakers hidden behind the violin to the tune of “I’m in Love With a Big Blue Frog.”
And look at my “raised flower bed.” (Laughing) It’s an authentic metal head- and foot-board bed frame.
I left with a cucumber and goodbye quote Joel offered from Cicero from more than 2,000 years ago: “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
Vinings Garden of Eden
Leon Sokolic, a self-taught gardener, looks out on a scenic lake in his Vinings preserve among fruit trees and their protective netting. When I visited Leon, he was tinkering with his 1929 British Small Arms motorcycle.
Sokolic: I just like to watch things grow.
Jaffe: What are your biggest successes and failures?
Sokolic: I grew a 1.5-pound beefsteak tomato and a 30-inch cucumber. Biggest failure: Hmm, kiwis never gave fruit. Also, I’ve been watching this male persimmon tree produce nothing. I didn’t know that persimmons have males and females, so now I will plant a girlfriend for it.
Jaffe: You have several types of figs.
Sokolic: My favorite is Brown Turkey and two other types of green, eaten raw and great for jam.
Jaffe: How do the loquats thrive?
Sokolic: Loquats are grown in tropical weather on trees. Very difficult to grow in the South because the cold temperatures freeze the young fruits. I place a tent over the tree with heat in the winter.
I often read about plants on the Internet to learn what to do and not do. My blueberry and blackberry bushes are quite delicious.
Jaffe: The lake is so peaceful.
Sokolic: I call it a big pond. It’s half an acre and collects rain runoff.
Jaffe: What advice would you give to other gardeners?
Sokolic: It’s called trial and error.
I always admire a man of few words.
Private Golf and Swimming
Golfers Bonnie and Moe Negrin installed five holes in their backyard putting green — one for each grandchild. Now a sixth is on the way. Each hole bears the name of a grandchild.
“The sand trap especially has helped with our short game,” Bonnie said. “The best part is that when not in use, we load it up with 30-year-old yellow toy trucks for the grandkids to play in a sandbox. That’s double duty.”
The Negrin oasis is filled with rhododendrons and roses. The hot pinks make a wonderful contrast with the apple-green lounge furniture. The rock structures were brought in from Arkansas on a flatbed truck by a farmer who placed them himself.
The pool has a black-bottom finish by Pebble Tec. It’s a luscious, inviting aquamarine connection of pond sections.