Rocky River Bright Spot garden rooted in family tradition
By Sue Botos
Driving along Lake Road in Rocky River, it’s hard to miss Thomas Savoca’s front yard. A virtual kaleidoscope of colors spills from large urns, flowing into a border of more flowers circling a manicured lawn.
This was the vision that earned Savoca a place on this year’s list of Bright Spots, the Rocky River Beautification Committee’s program recognizing residents who have gone the extra mile to make their front yards attractive. But like the secret garden of literary fame, there is more to be discovered than meets the eye.
“I learned at age 11 that when my dad said to do something, you did it,” Savoca, 84, stated during a recent tour of his property, where he has lived for 60 years. One of those fatherly requests was for the younger Savoca to serve as “general contractor” for the building of the family home in August 1955, as well as upkeep of the 4 acres of grounds.
Savoca noted that the more than 4,500 colorful plants gracing his property are annuals, rather than perennials, which come back every year, but have a limited blooming season. “Perennials only last so long. These have color May through November,” he noted.
The nine huge planters bordering the front yard, Savoca said, weigh 880 pounds empty and are new this year, drawing attention to the recent addition of a planting bed on the eastern edge of the front yard, accented by blue spruce trees from Oregon. “I’ve been doing business with Dean’s Greenhouse (in Westlake) for 25 years, and this is the first time they’ve done the planting,” he stated.
He also noted stakes with garlic at intervals throughout the yard, which he said help with deer control.
Following the serpentine drive to the back of the tile-roofed home, Savoca pointed out lampposts that once illuminated Cleveland’s Public Square. “(We) found them in a dump 25 years ago,” he stated.
A formal garden accented by statues, some of which were given an antique patina, greets a visitor directly behind the house. Savoca said he has added 17 pieces to his collection this year from a company in California. He noted a sculpture of three children sitting on a bench, the middle one holding a bird in her hand. “I saw that statue in Florida and had it shipped here because it reminded me of my twins and their older sister,” Savoca recalled. He and his wife, Dolores, who passed away five years ago, had five children. The Savocas had been married for 58 years.
Continuing through a hedge guarded by “Hunter and Huntress” sculptures, the visitor enters what Savoca calls “the necklace,” an oval of lawn bordered by a rainbow of flowers and dominated by a three-tiered fountain. A statue of a young girl holding a tray of flowers bears Dolores’ name.
Savoca explained that the initial plan for the yard was laid out by the owner of Lakewood Nursery in the early 1960s, who also taught landscaping at The Ohio State University. “He would bring busloads of his students here to view what he considered one of his greatest designs,” Savoca recalled. He called attention to the garden’s four patios, each offering a different view.
He pointed to his favorite spot, which offered a panoramic view of the yard. He urged a visitor to have a seat and listen. “It’s so peaceful. You can’t hear traffic or anything,” he added.
Each week throughout the growing season, the yard is mowed twice weekly, taking a worker about four hours. Flower beds are weeded and edged once a week.
Opening a gate in a stone wall at what appears to be the rear of the property, a visitor steps from the formal gardens to the “rustic area,” which resembles the Metroparks, with tall trees and a small wooden deck overlooking a brook.
“My kids always liked to play back here,” Savoca recalled of his three girls and two boys.
Savoca said his children and four grandchildren will play an important part in the garden’s future. “My wife and I made up a trust,” he explained, adding that this would ensure the property will always stay in the family.
Noting that the gardens would make the perfect backdrop for a party, Savoca said he is often asked if he likes to entertain. He looks thoughtfully over his land, stating, “I do this because I’m selfish. It makes me happy. When someone comes in and sees it, that’s the icing on the cake.”
For a complete list of Rocky River Bright Spots, go to www.rrcity.com.