Word getting out about Westside’s Secret Garden
“The Secret Garden” is a romantic novel about a little girl who restores a neglected garden.
The Secret Garden on the Westside is an actual garden created by a grown man.
Unlike the girl in the book, Steve Muzzipapa didn't have any heart-rending reasons for starting his garden at 420 S. 19th Street - he's just always liked growing things, and the soil there is terrific.
Also, as mundane as it sounds, the garden is a business for him, and he hopes it will be quite profitable some day.
But that's not to say Muzzipapa's creation lacks a romantic side.
He envisioned the westerly part of the property, a dumping ground when he bought it, as a lush oasis where parties could be held and marital vows exchanged. “On one of my worst days, I found a wedding band,” he recalled. “I looked on it as a good omen.”
In keeping with the book, he deliberately made the entrance to his Secret Garden a little hard to find, narrow and strewn with vines.
“It's very much like the book,” said Muzzipapa, a Mitchell High School graduate who grew up on a New Jersey dairy farm. “It's hidden. You come through the arbor into a different world.”
At first it's just the greenery that the eyes take in. Then it becomes clear that the types of bushes and trees are not totally familiar, nor are they arranged in straight lines. In a walk through his roughly 1-acre property next to Fountain Creek, the viewer meanders from one little secluded area to the next - Muzzipapa calls them “garden rooms” - wondering at the fountains, statues and ponds, not to mention such exotic life forms as the deodora cedar which is supposedly not hardy enough to survive in this climate, the dawn redwood that drops its needles in the fall, the columnar maple that doesn't spread its branches and different types of “weeping” trees.
“My specialty is the unusual plant,” he said, “the kinds of things that make a garden scream that it's not same old, same old.”
The property is in two parts. He's owned the easterly part, which is more like a nursery in that it's thickly grown - with well over 1,000 plantings he's put in - since 1988. The westerly lot, which he only bought in the last few years, is more open, with a broad fountain, pavilion, a pumped-through stream, a bridge, some plantings and grassy area. This is Muzzipapa's “event site,” as he describes it, which he especially markets for outdoor weddings.
Muzzipapa credited family influences for his eclectic gardening tastes. He has Italy on his father's side and Newfoundland on his mother's. He praised his grandfather and mother for their green thumbs. Talking about his New Jersey youth, he said, “If it wasn't for my mother and her garden, we'd have starved.”
His first garden was at age 9, and it's been “my passion” ever since, he said. He's worked as an arborist, and, over the years, traveled the world, looking at botanical gardens and picking up ideas. A key inspiration came in New Zealand, seeing what could be done with a small amount of ground.
Choosing a Westside location for his dream was an easy call. Fountain Creek flowing by was nice for more than just aesthetics. “This is excellent, creek-bottom soil,” he said. “The water table is just nine feet down. The drought doesn't bother the plants.”
His latest project is building a wine garden on the property, as an “option for ceremonies, receptions or business luncheons where people want an outdoor setting to relax in.”
The business is open as a nursery from April through September, but for events year-round.
It may not be long before the Secret Garden is not such a “secret.”
Westside Pioneer article