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Blank canvas

Nan Miller’s colorful garden is a botanic art gallery

Art dealer Nan Miller has been in the industry for almost fifty years. She owned and operated the Nan Miller Gallery in Pittsford until 2017, and her work has taken her to art fairs around the world. She championed the careers of some famous artists and has been involved in organizing art shows and fundraisers for many worthy causes. In recent years, Miller has brought her love of art to her yard. 

“My garden, to me, is just a blank canvas,” she says. She brings a true appreciation of visual art to her outdoor space, considering not only color and plant types but texture and depth as well. Because of this and because the garden features sculptures and artistic installations, Miller’s garden was designated the Artful Garden in last year’s Bushnell Basin Pittsford Kiwanis Club Garden Tour.

“I’m constantly switching plants around,” she says, moving items to where their height or color could optimize the effect she’s looking for. She does all the gardening herself, although watering systems help maintain part of the garden in the summer. Her husband assists with some of the hand watering. 

Miller started by installing good soil and multiple levels in the garden, with steppingstone-indented areas so visitors can look deeper into the gardens. Then the large rocks and trees were installed. The plants came after that. “I had a ball,” she says, as she designed and planted the garden. She turned an ugly sunken drain area into an attractive dry stream rock garden, turning an eyesore into a beautiful accent. Her garden is very colorful—she is not, she says, someone who wants a monochromatic garden. It’s “an explosion of color.” 

The garden is “organized but abundant.” To create more texture in the garden, she likes to use plants with contrasting foliage, often with variegated leaves. The main garden is filled with perennials, but the border is annuals, and she likes to use dahlias as accents, which she digs up year after year. The garden is always in flux, Miller says—she can’t walk through a plant nursery without buying something and loves finding spaces for new acquisitions. 

One of Miller’s favorite areas of her yard is the fairy garden, which she created soon after moving into the house, to the delight of her granddaughters, who were “babies when we moved in,” twelve years ago. The girls enjoy arranging the fairies and decorations, and there are small plants growing alongside them, including ferns and miniature hostas. “We usually get new fairies every year,” she says, and they all enjoy shopping for these treasures. Miller has also involved the girls in trimming back daylilies and other garden tasks and enjoys passing on her knowledge of plants. She also has a large turtle sculpture created by the artist Romero Britto, whose wife is from the Rochester area. 

Miller and her husband winter in Sarasota, Florida, but they come back in plenty of time each year to start uncovering the garden to “see what little guys are coming up.” She loves to throw big garden parties in July, when the garden is at its peak, inviting clients from the art gallery to view the space. 

Miller and her husband have enjoyed getting involved with the Kiwanis Club and seeing other people’s gardens, as well as organizing the garden tour. People are typically thrilled to have their gardens featured, she says. Miller enjoys giving away plants to neighbors and friends. She and a friend also redid the entrance to their subdivision so that it would look nice when the garden tour came. 

Miller says she feels calm when she is gardening and that it is a “sanctuary” for her. “If I’m feeling sad about something or upset about something, I can drive out to a greenhouse,” she says. Walking through greenhouses makes her feel invigorated and excited, she says. “Inevitably I come home with a plant I don’t need.” She loves many of the garden centers in our area. Mayflowers Nursery in Canandaigua is a favorite, and Oriental Garden Supply has been a great source of ornamental plants like unusual conifers. 

In terms of future updates, Miller would like to add some climbing rosebushes to the area by her fireplace. 

Upon waking in the morning, “I check out all my little babies to see who needs weeding and who needs pruning,” she says. “It’s like a ritual.”

This year’s Kiwanis Club Garden Tour will be Saturday, July 27, 11 a.m to 4 p.m. There will be five gardens featured, including Jed Fox’s garden in Pittsford, two gardens in the Allen Creek area, and two gardens next to each other in Pittsford. Admission to the tour is $18. Additional information can be found on the Kiwanis website:

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