Featured Client Series

The Kral’s

The start of this story may seem like it has nothing to do with Jerry Kral’s remarkable garden, but I promise, we’ll get to that. As I sat down with Jerry, I realized that starting at the very beginning was an important (as well as entertaining) way to learn what brought him to his little slice of heaven On Winton Rd.

Jerry first brought Broccolo to his garden in 1998. We started helping him with some treatments for Gypsy Moth, Horticultural Oil sprays and dormant pruning. It was one of those properties that you had to earn the right to be scheduled on that job for the day. I started at Broccolo 22 years ago, and I won’t forget the first time I set foot there. This place remains to be the most unsuspecting surprise of a landscape that leads you through winding paths in what feels like a dream. Jerry was kind enough to share the story of how he came to his passion for plants and landscapes, please join me in his journey.

The younger years

Jerry’s love affair with gardening started on a farm in Pike NY, a small town with about 1000 people, just outside of Letchworth Park. Being the eldest of seven children, he was no stranger to hard work, from helping raise the younger kids to daily chores that make a farm run.

Jerry mentioned that while his family was considered low income, he never “felt poor”. The family provided themselves with 60-70% of the food required to feed a family of 9 by growing and raising all the vegetables and animals for meat, dairy and eggs. Jerry was naturally drawn to the gardens and quickly became their caretaker. The farm sat on 168 acres, which gave ample space for the kids to explore, but more importantly, space for growing food and a special little space for cut flowers. This garden began as Jerry mothers’ area for growing her flowers that she would bring to church for colorful splashes along the altars. She would grow your common varieties such as gladiola, iris and lilies. Once Jerry started to gain control of this little garden, it not only began to grow in size, but it grew with unusual varieties and colors. The one year that Jerry started ordering seeds of his choice, it came as a huge surprise to his mother what appeared! At first, she was shocked and perhaps a bit worried at what people at church would think, but as time went on, the bouquets became more and more exotic and unique, with new and interesting colors and different materials, and they received more and more compliments.

Jerry’s cleverness in the gardens became more known, as he was trying to figure out what to do with the enormous pile of wet hay that was not fit for feeding the animals. As he was spreading the hay under all of his tomatoes people would stop in their cars to ask, “what are you doing?”. This is when mulching in your plants started becoming popular. Jerry’s comment was “I think I was mulching before mulching became a craze” The hay held in soil moisture, kept soil temps lower, keeps weeds down as well as creating a barrier from soil born pests and diseases. Jerry’s mother was pleased that her crops never looked better!

Moving up, moving on

Jerry excelled in school; he graduated high school 3 years early at 15 years old with a 100 average and Valedictorian of his class. Although his parents didn’t want him to leave, he made his way to Cornell University. His major was education, which may or may not have been influenced by his HS biology teacher, who Jerry may or may not have had a crush on (wink wink). She relied on Jerry to help set up labs and run lectures in tenth grade (at 14-15 years old). With his background of being the eldest of seven kids, when it came to teaching his take was, “they couldn’t pull anything on me that hadn’t already been tried”.

When Jerry was at Cornell, he realized that his fellow classmates and professors were nothing like what he’d expected. He said ” these characters wouldn’t last 10 minutes in a public high school” It turns out, that this program was specifically for prep schools for NYC, Hudson Valley and Long Island. So, Jerry changed his major and started some classes on Botanical and Biological drawing while he thought about what would come next for him.

Jerry bought the farm, Literally…

This leads Jerry to the next chapter of his life, which was to take out $100,000 loan and purchase a 100-cow dairy farm! Jerry learned very quickly that it didn’t do a thing for his social life, “the lesson here is to marry before you buy a farm”

This wasn’t going to be how Jerry settled, so he started at Geneseo to finish his education degree and get his masters. At that time, he was milking the cows and attending school by day, then working at the Perry Knitting Mill by night. I asked when he ever got the chance to sleep, “I would get 3-4 periods of a couple hours throughout the span of a day”, which sounds exhausting. It’s a wonder to think back on how we ever managed to do what we did when we were young.

The Perry Knitting Mill became a well-known manufacturer when they produced the popular night garments called Nitey Nights. His father also was working at the mill and developed the colorfast red on cotton and was presented an award from the American Chemical Society for his feat. They became the most popular PJs in the country after that! It is no secret where Jerry inherited his work ethic…

The ‘Karen’ chapter

Jerry decided to sell the cows and the farm and get a teaching job in Savona NY. Much like Jerry’s upbringing, this was a very small town with a one building School that housed K-12. It was here that Jerry kept bumping into the ‘3rd grade hippy teacher from California’ This, of course, was Karen who became Jerry’s wife. Sitting across from him as he described this part of his life, I saw his face light up. He said, “I had my radar on and spotted her instantly. It may sound trite, but that was when I met my soulmate”. They truly are the sweetest couple.

While taking the job in Savona may have been a great move for his personal life, he was fired from his teaching job at the end of his first year. Claiming his rooms were “too messy” as he was teaching every type of science under the sun. Interestingly, school board members so happened to be the parents of eight of his students. As I mentioned earlier, Jerry didn’t take crap from students, who surely went home to complain to their parents that the mean ole teacher actually made them do their schoolwork! After they took his final exams, it was clear that Jerry was an effective teacher because his students produced the best scores there had ever been. The principal sheepishly came crawling back, asking Jerry to continue teaching. Jerry did not accept.

Jerry took a job at Hilton School District., He and Karen were going on dates to the drive in and dinners often. They married and a few years later and bought a house on Dewey and Lyell Ave. This is finally where Jerry had a space to rediscover his love for gardening. This house was right next to the old Rochester subway and had terrible soil, while digging, a giant hunk of 10x 20 plate of iron was discovered. It is then he started creating raised beds, lugging wheelbarrows of soil up from the subway tunnel. It only took around three years for the tours to start, he was one of the only people in the neighborhood to have a nice garden. He started impressing people by covering the chain-link fence with pretty vines and flowers like clematis. At that time, Jerry was doing most of his plant shopping at Sarah’s, which if anyone loves plant shopping, you will likely be familiar with Sarah’s now located in Brockport. Jerry was impressed with this nursery as they offered unique and different perennials.

It was here that he started ‘Karens Rose Garden’.

Karen has a deep family history in plant hybridization and propagation, specifically. Armstrong Nurseries in California hybridized many of the Armstrong roses including Charlotte, John Armstrong and Double Delight Charlotte and John were named after Karen’s Maternal grandparents. In fact, Charlotte won the award for the best hybrid tea rose in the world! On a side note, we at Broccolo have always left ‘Karens Rose Garden’ alone, personally I would not be able to live with myself if I made an improper cut and am relieved that their care remains to be with Karen and Jerry.

The beginning of the great garden

In 1993, Karen and Jerry decided it was time to make their next move when they noticed there was a certain ‘lady of the night’ frequenting their front step. This is when they settled on Winton Road. Karen was looking for a home with charm, Jerry was looking for the right soil and a property that would be ideal for his garden. Jerry said as soon as he put the shovel in the ground, “he knew right away the soil was right and it would be amazing.”

Some of Karens roses came with them, and they did keep the existing arborvitae and rhododendrons, but this is when the entire property would be re-designed. Initially, Jerry planned on a formal brick pathway through the back yard in a sort of ladder layout. The cost of the brick was out of his budget, and the material didn’t feel right. Jerry discovered RT Masters right down the hill in Webster. They had inexpensive pallets of stand-up bluestone that were left over from the square pieces that were cut. This is what would become the whole framework for the landscape. It ends up, that the “path dictated the garden bed design”.

The paths through the garden are over a half mile in length and were constructed over the course of 25 years and connect to over 50 different outdoor ‘rooms’ even including a green roof on an outbuilding that can be seen as part of the journey through the garden.

In total Jerry has personally set over 500 pallets of stone including ‘The Great Wall of Kral’ which is a 400-foot stone wall surrounding half the new garden area that ranges from 3-8’ in height and it’s 3-4’ wide. It took 150 pallets of stone and one and a half years to complete. It truly is a marvel!

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of the experience, Jerry’s home sits on North Winton Rd. The front yard being rather small, as most city homes are, the landscape starts there with Karens rose garden, several pockets of completely unique evergreens and a lovely little sitting area. You will see a columnar sugar maple that is 50 feet tall yet only two feet wide.

There is a plant called ‘dead man’s fingers’ which looks exactly like the name. There are several varieties of clematis that have found their way in and around many of the shrubs and adorns them perfectly. Jerry wrote an article for the conifer society called, ‘It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got bling!’ This is Jerry’s way of referring to the clematis as botanical jewelry adorning his plants or ‘bling’. Love it.

The back yard is indescribable, but I’ll do my best. It has a meandering natural stone path that leads you through magical gardens, carefully curated art greeting you around every turn, intricate stone walls, sculptures, fish, ponds, waterfalls, colorful glider chairs, a sunken secret garden, plants that look like they may come from mars, and it all looks like it was always there and always meant to be. I learned that the property is actually entirely flat, yet you would never know it. Jerry is also a magician, abracadabra! You step up and down throughout and he has ever so slightly graded things just so that you feel you are moving up and down a slope.

Jerry is a collector of rare and unique plants; you likely won’t recognize anything on his property as being commonplace. The garden is home to over 700 plant Taxa, including 200 conifers cultivars and 500 different deciduous trees, shrubs and perennials. His is the most visited private garden in Rochester, at times he’s had more than 600 visitors in one season. Broccolo is now partnering with Jerry more and more as the years go by. We will come in and ‘spruce things up’ before each of his tours in addition to his typical spring and fall clean ups…

I should be able to recall the year, but I suppose it was about 10-12 years ago Jerry expanded and purchased the lot next door. This 12,000-sf rock garden became known as ‘the new garden’. It is also the area that houses Jerry’s favorite plant called ‘fairy hair’, it’s a rare Japanese maple whose leaves are so fine that when they detach in the fall, they stick to the branching and look exactly like Spanish moss. He uses this as a trick for his tours, making people think he’s somehow figured out how to grow the tropical plant in Rochester.

When asked if there was anything Jerry would have done differently, his wish was that he had the electrical lines buried from the start. He did get a recent quote to have this done and it would cost more than the value of the home, yikes. That being said, RG&E has treated Jerry like a very special customer over the years. About 2 years ago they had to come in to replace their poles with newer, taller ones. This could have been a disastrous project for Jerry, as they have the easement and could have come in with equipment and dug up a substantial amount of Jerrys masterpiece. Instead, they did this work by hand, and a project that would have taken them 2 days took weeks. They know and respect him and I’m impressed with how they have gone to great lengths to protect his property.

As I walked through the back yard with Jerry, we discussed the different plants and how so many of them require special treatment and have their own needs. My yearly list of fall clean up instructions reads like a book. Some plants get left alone, some are cut back, some get burlap, some get tucked in with leaves, some tree guards put up on their trunks. We occasionally let out a collective disappointing sigh when we see the rabbits have won a battle or two and the young bark of some rare maple has been chewed straight through. We also chuckled at the sight of a random coffee mug sitting on the arm of one of the gliders adjacent to a gate leading to the neighbors yard. Jerry lets them pop in and enjoy themselves at their own leisure.

You will also hear a sigh about the sprawling London Plane tree that decides to drop its leaves well after our final clean up. However, this garden would lose it’s identity without that tree. In theory,,. the London Plane was meant to be all along, as it doesn’t leaf out until late each year. Last year, it was July 15th when it leafed out. This gives many of the dwarf conifers the light needed in the early spring to push growth and the shade needed later in the season when the sun gets hottest. There is also a large honeysuckle climbing up the London Plane, which is companionable since the vine doesn’t twine and strangle the tree.

While Broccolo partners with Jerry for the clean ups, bigger pruning jobs and removals, he still tackles the fun stuff like specialty pruning and design. This is his most recent addition, a unique stone sphere that was constructed over a month’s time using 12 pallets of stone. He will have water that drips over the sphere to keep it wet, which will do the work for him and grow beautiful mosses. There are also some pockets for lights and for tucking some plants in.

I’m certain that there will be more new plants, stone, sculptures and things we are unfamiliar with yet to come. Part of the beauty of Jerry and Karens garden is that it’s ever evolving. I like to refer to Jerry as cutthroat often times when he just tells me ‘Off with its head!’ when referring to removing a plant that is getting in the way of his vision. In fact, some of his ‘obstructions’ have found a new home in my own yard.

Although Jerry retired from being a schoolteacher in 1993, he has continued educating and partnering with just about every gardening group I can think of. He was director of the American Conifer Society for many years, president of the Greater Rochester Perennial Society, involved in North American Rock Gardening Society. He’s been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, Fine Gardening, Upstate Gardeners Journal, and a great piece by WXXI on Rochester’s secret gardens. Broccolo brought local news to his home 6 years ago to get this interview about fall garden clean ups. Click Here to view news story

Jerry and Karen actively support Cornell Cooperative Extension, which Broccolo has also always partnered with and received recognition from regarding our standards and practices. They also support The Rochester Civic Garden Center and the Dutch Connection at the George Eastman house., If you’ve never been, is an incredible display of Tulips in February when us Rochesterians need color the most!

To wrap up this story, I hope that I’ve conveyed my own personal love as well as Broccolo as a company of the Kral’s property.

We feel privileged to have had the incredible opportunity to work with Karen and Jerry over the many years and be witness to the ever-evolving landscape.

I’m sincere when I say I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Written By:

Jessica Demasio

General Manager

Broccolo Lawn and Landscapes