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Outdoor spaces: Donat Sadkowski's secret garden

Like other seasoned gardeners, Donat Sadkowski knows how to plant a garden that offers endless color – from the yellow daffodils in spring to the pink plumes of Filipendula rubra in early July to the white climbing Clematis paniculata that blooms in September.

“It looks like snow,” Sadkowski said.

Different varieties of coleus change color as the season progresses. Long-blooming ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum has flowers that go from pink to rust. And his Quick Fire panicle hydrangea – perhaps his favorite plant of all – first blooms white before turning pink and, come fall, dark pink.

“I like it so much I bought two more,” said Sadkowski, 91.

And that’s just the beginning of what one neighbor calls a “secret garden” in the back of this home.

Azaleas, daylilies, viburnum, roses, hostas, ornamental grasses, Japanese maple, burning bush, lantana, rhododendron, boxwood and more are found here – all inside a fence in the backyard.

But visitors come to see it. Sadkowski, who has three grown children and six grandchildren, is a regular participant in the Samuel P. Capen Garden Walk, which takes place in the neighborhoods of the University District of Buffalo, Eggertsville and Amherst. (The 17th annual Capen walk was held July 14.)

He plans to host a backyard barbecue for friends and family this weekend.

Sadkowski said he works in the garden from one to 10 hours a day, with breaks. While he has a lawn service for the front and side yards, he cuts the grass in the backyard himself, carefully maneuvering the mower around the large curvy beds. Soaker hoses, as well as ring and oscillating sprinklers, keep things watered.

Sadkowski is a self-taught gardener. He has read books and developed this strategy for plants: “If they don’t like the way I take care of them, they’re gone,” he said.

Donat Sadkowski under the pergola he built. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

In addition to gardening, Sadkowski is passionate about photography and is an award-winning painter.

His interest in watercolor and oil painting crosses over to the garden.

“To me gardening is like painting, only you do it with plants,” he said.

In the garden, he points out how he fills in spaces void of color with potted plants – coleus, New Guinea impatiens and other colorful annuals. He overwinters potted geraniums, one of which is 10 years old.

“I take them out of the soil, put them in brown paper bags and put them in the cool, dark basement. In spring, if there is new growth, I re-pot them,” he said.

Sadkowski worked as a mechanical designer and loftsman at several local companies before being hired as an editing supervisor in various capacities at Sierra Research. He retired in 1992.

He plays tennis once a week and enjoys a game of nine-hole golf. He has a wood shop and has done many woodworking projects, including building furniture, the backyard swing and, at age 73, the pergola.

Plans also are in the works for making some changes in the garden, such as moving around plants and having a Russian olive taken down.

“I’m already planning next year,” he said.

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