" />


Embracing nature’s chaos

Newsday Staff Writer

October 26, 2006

There’s little method to the madness of the 1.3-acre “woods garden” of Northport resident Jim Fry–and that’s what makes the property and its thousands of rhododendrons and azaleas so charming.

A steep drop into a thickly treed gully at the end of a culdesac, the Fry property is a study in leaving nature to its own devices.

“I moved in and just decided you have to kind of go with the flow – you can’t make too many changes,” says Fry.  But the flow can be overwhelming at times.  “The trouble with nature is it keeps growing,” he says helplessly.

Fry, a former president of the American Rhododendron Society’s New York chapter, became so interested in the evergreen shrubs that he decided to buy out the entire stock of a Pennsylvania nurseryman several years ago.  Wherever he could find room on his heavily wooded property, he put down small hoop-houses to accommodate the 4,000 rhododendrons and small-leaf azaleas that were in various stages of growth, and plant them in any available space.  “My strategy?  Wherever there’s a hole, fill it,” he says.

Walking along the overgrown paths on a recent rainy October day, Fry, in an Indiana Jones fedora, leads the way and points to varietals that he labeled with engraved aluminum tags (to prevent the squirrels from ripping them out).

Beneath the high canopy of trees, the rhododendrons and azaleas lend the property the feel of an Amazon jungle as the natural paths lead deeper into the woods, around a greenhouse, and then up the steep-terraced side of a hill.  There, Fry has laid out several long steps of rhododendrons beneath a clearing that appeared one day after a very large tree came down.

The jungle ambience is sometimes jarringly augmented by Fry’s giant insect sculptures.  Located strategically around the property, they give the place a Jurassic Park feel.  Fry says he started making them from spare parts, mostly old propane tanks, when business at his Mineola machine shop was getting a little slow. (He sells them on his Web site, jimscreatures.com.)

The stocking up of rhododendrons and azaleas grew from Fry’s fondness for the plants (he’s a self-proclaimed “nut” for azaleas and a “rabid rhododendron grower”) and a retirement plan.

The plan is to grow the plants in pots until they are large enough to sell informally to garden clubs, friends and others to supplement his retirement (he’s 61).  “I had this idea: Retirement is approaching, wouldn’t it be a great hobby-business to sell plants?” he says, noting others had done it and, “they seemed to be having such fun.”

Then came the potting, and the repotting as his stock grew, and the repotting again.  “I don’t know if you ever had a hobby come back to bite you in the behind,” Fry says, describing the effort now as “80% work and 20% fun.

While everything is green this time of year (and rhododendrons generally stay green through the winter), the place comes alive when they blossom in late spring.  Fry isn’t particularly concerned about the colors of the flowers – he just likes the plants and their sense of independence.
“Once you get them established, you really don’t have to fuss with them much,” Fry says.

Standing on his front porch as rain drenches the property, Fry seems a man very much at home in the natural chaos that surrounds him.  Asked about a sign behind him that brands the place, “Fry’s Crumbling Acres,” he’s not about to deny it, though he won’t take credit for the sign. “My wife did that,” he says.


Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.