A swallowtail butterfly rests on the cup plant’s yellow flower. Another flutters nearby, then another and another. The foursome’s orange and black markings shimmer in the sunlight.
Below the tall cup plant’s deep green leaves grow golden yarrow, white cone flowers, and ornamental grasses. Nearby are clusters of purple hyssop and lavender joe pye weed.
Thom Mrazik planted his meadow garden with perennials and wildflowers to attract pollinating birds and insects.
A lawn separates the meadow from the more formal garden beds behind the home in Worcester that Thom shares with his wife, Mary Jane. The beds are bright with red zinnias and bee balm, white and pink phlox, and more grasses in hues from blue green to beige.
Thom and Mary Jane started dating in high school in Trenton and married in 1977. After raising four sons in Drexel Hill, they purchased the two-story house with the stone façade and front porch in a new development in 2015. It features a bedroom and bath on the first floor so the couple can age in place.
Mary Jane, a retired school nurse and serious cook, got to design her dream kitchen in the new home. There are shelves in the chestnut-stained cabinets for her cookbooks, and an oversized island provides an ample workspace. Her collection of 60 teapots is artfully displayed in the dining room and study.
When the Mraziks bought the property, Thom created his dream garden in the backyard, which adjoins a woodland preserve.
Thom became serious about horticulture after retiring in 2013 from a career in medical and regulatory affairs with Johnson & Johnson in Fort Washington.
He enrolled in Penn State extension courses to become a master gardener and completed the three-year Barnes Arboretum Horticulture program. He also became a disciple of Piet Oudolf, a Dutch garden designer, whose naturalistic public gardens such as the High Line in New York have become renowned.
While inspired by Oudolf’s ideas about structure and scale, Thom’s garden is family-friendly.
The three oldest of Mraziks’ four grandchildren played Wiffle ball on the lawn in front of the meadow when they visited from Seattle last year.
In September 2020, Thom and Mary Jane hosted a wedding reception in the backyard for their son Kevin and his bride, Samantha. A tent was erected on the lawn for 40 guests, and a bar was set up in the patio.
Mary Jane assembled bridesmaids’ bouquets from florist’s flowers and plant materials from the garden. At the bridal shower, guests made arrangements from flowers and plant material she cut from the garden.
Mary Jane, who leaves cultivation of the garden to Thom, benefits from its bounty. Besides arranging fresh-cut blooms, she dries small flowers and leaves to craft greeting cards for friends and family. She puts up jars of plum tomatoes and cooks with peppers, lettuce, chard, kale, spinach string beans, garlic and herbs that Thom grows.
While he has been successful with deer-resistant plants in the meadow and flower beds, Thom had to protect the vegetable patch from rabbits with wire mesh.
There are some critters in the garden that will not munch on plants. The Mraziks’ sons gave them metal cutouts of two sheep and a lamb for the lawn. A copper hummingbird won’t compete for nectar with real birds.
Some garden sculptures are religious. Crimson celosia and orange day lilies frame a lovely stone Madonna.
Under a cluster of bee balm, a statue of St. Fiacre depicts the seventh-century Irish priest pushing a shovel with one hand and holding a bucket of blossoms with the other. Legend has it that Fiacre, the patron saint of gardeners, miraculously cleared a field by uprooting trees and tangled briers with just the end of his staff.
Thom’s hard work and planning, not a miracle, created his gorgeous garden, but he still considers it to be a spiritual place.
Thom, who also cares for flower beds and prunes the crepe myrtle at his parish church, St. Helena’s in Blue Bell, believes gardens should be a place to “sit, pray and observe in harmony with nature.”
When Mary Jane described hosting a wedding reception in the garden in the middle of the pandemic, she said, “God knew we needed this space.”
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