Fort Worth dentist adds polish to his yard with painterly touches

FORT WORTH, Texas — There’s a famous painter whose name is known by all, the impressionist Claude Monet, who despite all his innovative and highly valued paintings, pronounced, “My masterpiece is my garden.”

The gardens of Dr. Robert Usseglio, at his home in east Fort Worth, reveal him to be a kindred spirit to Monet, for both men designed their gardens like a palette. Despite the changing days and seasons, color remains constant.

[One way] I plan is like a painter,” Usseglio says. “I go inside and look out my window and decide what kind of a painting I want to see outside the window.”

He photographs the planted beds and studies their composition to determine if a plant is too tall, a color too faded, or if there’s too much blue, for instance, and he will tweak it until it’s right.

Using the color wheel and choosing plants with complementary colors, Usseglio often groups cool colors together and warm colors together. “And any color you use, if you put a little white in there, it will help [the whole composition] stand out,” he says.

In early spring, pink-splattered Encore azaleas billow across the foundation garden beds, while ribbons of pink phlox flow at their feet. A purple Chinese fringe flower on one side is balanced by eggplant-colored oxalis and magenta dianthus on the other.

In late spring/early summer, warm-colored plants succeed the pink parade. Creamsicle-hued dahlias with coral centers pop next to swaths of airy Texas betony. Digiplexis, with its fuschia spikes of golden-throated bells, cavorts nearby. Usseglio cools the heat with purple butterfly bush, blue pincushion flower and plumbago.

Waiting to take the stage in a month or so are daisies, coneflowers, Asiatic lilies and mums.

Other thoughtful combinations include purple larkspur, lavender bee balm and purple heart mingling companionably in the shade of a crape myrtle, with a hot shot of orange in their midst from kniphofia.

Out back near the pool, waxy, maroon-leafed cannas play nice with wispy pink spirea, cherry red salvia, hot pink phlox and stately coral and apricot roses. Usseglio cools this mix with cascading white candytuft.

“I’m partial to red, purple [and] orange,” he reveals.

As an Air Force colonel, Usseglio traveled the world, exploring the gardens of Europe and Asia, absorbing the lessons each could teach. The effect of dappled shade, gleaned from Japanese gardens, guides Usseglio’s planting. His yard — a blank slate when he and his wife, Glenda, moved in 13 years ago — now boasts eight or nine Chinese pistache trees, withlong, pinnate leaflets that create perfect dapples and allow the flora to thrive.

He thins the trees’ canopies to keep the dapples just right, and he cuts back vitex and other shade providers.

About 10-12 inches of crumbly soil provides the gardens’ lifeblood. “If you can stick a regular shovel in to the haft, that’s the goal,” he says, accomplished, of course, with the addition of compost, peat moss and mulch. He raised his beds for better drainage, installing brick pavers as retaining walls for the soil.

Usseglio’s painterly gardening utilizes one other principle. Eschewing a wall effect, he wants to look through his plants into the distance, and texture makes this possible. Near the street, for example, two large, feathery agastache plants center a bed, surrounded by other lacy, airy — but shorter — plants, such as scabiosa, moonbeam coreopsis and bearded tongue. Clumping plants armeria and blanket flower lay low.

In these gardens, everything is well-manicured and there are no empty spaces. With his artful consideration evident — obvious in the whale-shaped boxwood topiary and subtle in the interplay of light and shadow, color and texture, and height — Usseglio has created a garden masterpiece.