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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Growing season over, gardens have lessons for future

Ciro Di Fiore of Garden City South with

Ciro Di Fiore of Garden City South with the 8-foot cucuzza squash he grew this year. Photo Credit: Margaret Di Fiore

Now that the growing season is behind us, it’s time to evaluate our successes and failures, and make plans for the future.

It’s always helpful to check in with our fellow green thumbs for inspiration, so here’s a peek over the garden fence into your neighbors’ beds and borders. You just might find yourself growing something new next year.

CIRO DI FIORE, Garden City South

Ten children were born in a small town in Naples, Italy, with the surname of Di Fiore, which translates to English as “of the flowers.” The name reveals the skill of agriculture that was passed down from generation to generation, as this family earned its income by farming and selling carnations. From an early age, each child had to perform his or her share of work by tending to the flower farm.

Although a labor of love, farming was often not enough for the family to make ends meet. As several of the children reached early adulthood, they moved to America, hoping to build a better life for themselves. Three Di Fiore brothers — Ciro, Giovanni and Antonio — have lived on Long Island for more than 20 years. Although these men have supported their families by working in trades such as plumbing and construction, their passion for farming has remained in their hearts.

Each sibling maintains a home garden that covers the entire area of their backyard space, with every patch of soil claimed by a fruit or vegetable plant. Every summer, the brothers compete to see who can grow the largest tomato or longest cucuzza squash. Although no monetary prize is won, the victor assumes the reward of bragging rights.

In 2013, my husband, Ciro, 64, won the family competition with his supersized squash that measured more than 7 feet long. This year, he continued to break family records, with his 8-foot-tall cucuzza. When asked what his trick is for growing such long squash, with his Italian accent he replies: “I’mma no gonna tella you my secret!”

— Margaret Di Fiore

JOE MEGLIO,Farmingdale

My husband, Joe, has created a masterful garden, complete with colorful flowering plants and a wide variety of vegetables and herbs. The spectacular focal point is a Koi pond garden with a mesmerizing flow of fish surrounded by magnificent flowers and a dwarf Japanese maple.

Joe is a talented woodworker who builds one-of-a-kind birdhouses, created without following plans or instructions, which I paint and decorate.

Joe is 86 years young. He was born and raised on a family farm in West Hempstead and later settled in Melville. Gardening is his passion. His hard work and dedication have created a masterpiece of peace, tranquility, joy and brilliant color.

— Dolores Meglio

NICHOLAS SERLIS, Lake Grove

As a boy in Greece, my dad got his love for gardening from his grandfather, who had a farm. Even with tough times during World War II, they were able to live off the land.

Coming from the city, my parents always wanted to move to Long Island. In 1968, they had a house built and, yes, there was room for a garden!

Other than his famous tomatoes — he grew a 4-pounder last summer — my dad cherishes his gardenia, which is more than 40 years old, and his golden chain tree. He makes his own organic compost for everything he grows.

He loves sharing his veggies with family and his very kind neighbors.

My parents still live in that house, and my sister and I always refer to our dad as the “mayor of the block.”

My dad, who’s 84 now, had some health issues a few years ago, and we believe the garden was great therapy and sped up his recovery. Thank God it worked!

— Amy Serlis

MARY JO POLDINO, West Babylon

Poldino, 72, has been tending her garden for 40 years, adorning it with trumpet vines, lily of the valley, echinacea, fuscia, daylilies, hydrangea, perennial hibiscus, Montauk daisies, Veronica, Knockout roses and springtime bulbs.

“The Knockout rose has been wonderful all season, every year, but after a winter, any flower that shows up is exciting,” Poldino says, adding that the first lily of the valley is among her favorite harbingers of spring.

Poldino’s husband, Vinny, grows vegetables, figs, grapes and wisteria, which “drive us crazy but are beautiful.”

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