LGBTQ Living: How does your garden grow?

In Gary and Phil's garden.
In Gary and Phil’s garden.

By Susan Jordan

Gary Hallinan and Phillip Benier: From the city to the suburbs

Gary Hallinan and Philip Benier had a large garden with water features when they lived in the city on Prince St. Mary Chao once did an article about it for the D&C. In April 2015 they moved to East Irondequoit, bringing many of Gary’s favorite perennials with them to a more suburban area.

Their new home has a huge backyard and an original large assortment of perennials, but the garden had become much overgrown. Gary said, “We installed three water features, one with a gargoyle waterspout we had on Prince St., and we added more perennials – one of our neighbors said, ‘You have good bones here.’”

Phil added, “The house was built in 1955. We cleared out a lot of overgrowth and created two new gardens – my herb garden and an Asian garden.”

He said that the greatest challenge they faced was “Getting it organized.”

Gary Hallinan and Philip Benier in front of the rock cherry. Photo: Susan ordan
Gary Hallinan and Philip Benier in front of the rock cherry. Photo: Susan ordan

Gary said, “Clearing it out and deciding where we wanted to put things.”

“The back garden is nice soil, probably backfill,” Phil said. “But the front yard is clay – try to put a shovel in it and it comes back to you.”

“We had dirt brought in for the two new gardens,” Gary added. “The Asian garden was a totally overgrown area and we had to re-construct it.” They added a Chinese dragon statue, bamboo, etc. He continued, “I hope we’re done removing rocks – we have black marks on our hands from re-arranging the many rocks that were here to create our new gardens. The previous owner had so many concrete blocks they were choking the plants. We’ve just been lugging rocks and stone all over the place. I hope from now on it’s just weeding and watering! But I do want to add morning glories on poles…”

Phil said, “We’ll rotate things in and out. You don’t want the same thing all the time.”

Gary laughed, “We have a battle – his herbs vs. my perennials!”

Phil is the family cook. He said, “I make infused oils, and vinegars with tarragon, thyme or any of the herbs. I also make my own hot sauce. It’s fermented red peppers. They ferment for six months, then I mix them with vinegar to stop the fermentation. I make vinegar with red peppers. If I don’t get some perspiration it’s not hot enough! I have a Scorpion pepper – triple X! It’s nice to make things rather than going to the store.”

Gary said, “I prefer the perennial garden. I brought a lot from Prince St. and they’re like old friends. I sit by the firepit and the water feature with the gargoyle, and just look at my plants. My other favorite thing is the big rock cherry – it gets covered with beautiful flowers in spring. It’s like a cherry tree, but no cherries.”

When asked what advice they have for gardeners, Gary said, “Mulch is Number One!”

Phil said, “Getting a feel of where you want to put things and how much sun do they need. I think also how you lay it out – I tend to crowd my herbs together to save space. You need to know the height the plants will reach and what other plants they get along with.”

They are assisted in the work by Thunder, their Shih Tzu/Bichon rescue dog. “He supervises – literally!” Gary said.

Gary and Phil’s favorite garden store is Cases on Norton St. in East Irondequoit. “Less money, mom and pop, but good quality and great variety,” they say. Other favorites: Garden Factory in Greece, Sara’s in Brockport and Wayside near Lollypop Farm – one of Thunder’s former residences.

Charlie Lytle
Charlie Lytle

Charlie Lytle, garden professional

Charlie Lytle works at Grossman’s Garden Store, Rte. 250 in Penfield. He has worked there in retail sales for a year and a half – “Since I retired – this is just part time fun!” he says.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s Charlie had retail florist shops in Scottsville, LeRoy and Batavia, including a greenhouse in LeRoy. He said, “I used to hang out at my uncle’s landscaping business in Pittsford in the ‘60s – I learned a lot.”

At Grossman’s Charlie uses his knowledge of colors and plants to help people who come in seeking information. His advice for beginning gardeners is, “Start small, maybe with a small container garden. I just worked with a woman who has a very small yard in the city, and she got started with containers. The only thing to be aware of is how much sun your space gets and when.”

What common mistake do people make? Charlie said, “They don’t fertilize or water! Fertilizing depends on the plant. I recommend Osmocote. It’s time-release. Just sprinkle it on and it will fertilize for three months – but won’t burn the plants.”

One of Charlie’s irises.

Charlie himself lives in the city. “We have a small lot,” he said, “but our whole backyard is almost all garden. I like the English country look. My favorite plant is flowering tree peony – and for shade, I like hostas and ferns. Last year I put a small water feature in the garden. We have Michelangelo’s David in the middle of the shade garden, and also have a pair of brass cranes and a gazebo. But the gazebo roof has disintegrated and now we have ivy growing up it – eventually the ivy will form a roof. That’s where we have chairs and a table.”