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A 'slice of heaven' wins the 2020 Best in Show Garden

Lorna Cheknian with her husband Oscar Venegas of Dingmans Ferry stand with their dogs in a portion of their garden that won Best in Show from the Milford Garden Club’s annual garden competition. See the related photo gallery. Lifestyles photo by Katie Collins.

By Katie Collins


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DINGMANS FERRY - Before fall began, the Best in Show from the Milford Garden Club’s annual garden competition presented floral displays of color and imagination for all to see.

Lorna Cheknian with her husband Oscar Venegas of Dingmans Ferry placed first in the competition that showcases the gardening skills and creativity of many in the region.

A love for gardening begins

Cheknian’s love for gardening stemmed from her time working on irrigation systems for a landscape company, but were later enhanced when she moved onto designing and working at a garden center where her husband designs gardens for customers.

Today, the couple continue to work at Stonehouse Nursery in Bergen County where Cheknian enjoys being outdoors, working with the plants and helping people and Venegas is a yard manager, focusing on trees.

Husband’s interest discovered

Cheknian’s passion for gardening triggered her husband’s interest, where she went on to teach him about perennials and identify other flowers. Now, Cheknian said Venegas is “totally a gardener” since they started their nearly acre sized garden 11 years ago. Each shares their individual skills, such as Venegas building a pond and together something new is added every year. As of now, the garden is 60 percent cultivated, but Cheknian said, “there’s more to go.”

The plants vary from a selection of Japanese maples to hydrangeas with various cultivators, Jack maples, evergreens that include an umbrella pine or flower trees such as the ginkgo and kousa dogwood.

‘Something cool’

After years of gardening, the random plants are derived from wanting to “see something cool” said Cheknian, with the ginkgo being one of the oldest trees on earth. Then, there’s the difference in size of a ginkgo chi chi to a ginkgo biloba. The plants, Cheknian acknowledged, are not common in most gardens.

Cheknian said it's the “odd stuff” that she appreciates because each varies and offers something special to the garden, since some like the stewartia is a full seasoned tree that blooms later than many other trees and has “beautiful bark.”

Because of their immense love for gardening, the couple looks at each aspect of the various plants and trees, whether it be the bark, berry or flower, they consider what they may enjoy because then too, there’s the question of the tree making fruit for birds since Cheknian considers herself to be a “big birder.”

Although she doesn’t eat all of the vegetables she grows, Cheknian said she grows some just because she thought it’d be “cool” and something worth trying since they tend to be the less common vegetables such as kirby or lemon cucumbers.

Performance matters

Every year new flowers are planted, based on what Cheknian knows will perform best, such as the SunPatiens this year that need a lot of water, but are still “beautiful” she said. Despite the chore of watering, Venegas said ideas are already in mind for begonias next year.

A section of the Best in Show 2020 garden in Dingmans Ferry. See the related photo gallery. Lifestyles photo by Katie Collins.

Grows with time

The garden didn’t start at their present home, but it has grown with additions such as a fire pit and hosta garden. The growth of the garden, Cheknian explained as the “first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps and the third year it leaps” since it takes about three years for a garden to become “established” and look good.

Often at work, Cheknian discovers new plants that she must have since she had never seen it before. Venegas said the couple learn about new flowers “all of the time” because there are new cultivars every year since geneticists continue to make new plants using the strongest qualities so plants are smaller and fit landscapes.

Weather is biggest challenge

The weather, Cheknian and Venegas said, are the greatest challenge to gardening because of varying temperatures. Deer aren’t a big issue since their garden is well fenced. Then, there’s the matter of water because the garden needs watering every day, unless it rains.

Seasons don’t matter

Gardening doesn’t end in the winter for the couple, because of the many plants that create their own “jungle” in their home, said Cheknian; leaving their home to smell like a greenhouse added Venegas.

Despite the ongoing hard work needed to maintain their garden, Cheknian said watching the plants grow, the many flowers and seeing the birds brings her joy and makes it all worthwhile. Once able to take a walk through the garden with a glass of wine in hand, together they can enjoy their own “little slice of heaven.”

For more information about the Milford Garden Club visit http://www.milfordgardenclub.com/newsite/.

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