by Lou Mancinelli
On bright blue afternoons the late August light off her 19th-century Victorian home in Germantown is a masterpiece. Over a decade ago, the same late summer light would have lit up the yard much the same, but instead of the rich tone it has today, there would be a sense of decay, a depressing past shaped by junked cars in front of a badly bruised and broken home, with vines over the roof and a pool with trees growing in it, as though the wild was taking something back.
For years the home was owned by an elderly man. It had gotten away from him. At least that’s what his neighbors thought. They wondered if it would ever get fixed up. “It was hard to tell that there was even a house there,” said Nicole Juday, 45, during a recent interview.
Then in 2010 Juday and her then-husband, who had lived across the street from the rundown property for 12 years, bought the huge eyesore with seven bedrooms for $125,000. Hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of labor hours later, Juday is poised to complete the final rehabs, two sections of porch railing out back. (Juday requested that we not include her address in this article or even the name of the street.)
In August of 2013, the New York Times documented the transformation of the home where Juday now lives. The photos of its interior show a home that looks well kept, well designed and welcoming. They show bright rooms, sweeping windows, evocative stained glass. Exposed original brick on the chimney. Gone is any notion of decay, replaced with a vibrancy and spaciousness.
When Juday moved into the house, it was full of stuff. A good deal was worth restoring, like her 12 19th-century dining room chairs, which she reupholstered in vintage Scalamandré fabric. There were also lamps, tables and paintings.
Fixing the house required rebuilding from the studs out and redoing the insides of the home with new wiring, plumbing and roofing. Historically accurate windows and millwork. The dying old house was given a new life. Juday’s husband moved out halfway through the project.
For a time she wondered, with her oldest daughter away at college and her son soon to go, if the house was too big to live in alone. But not any longer. This October she will remarry and go on living in the now-stately Germantown property.
Contributing to local beauty has been a thread running through Juday’s life. Now the horticulture education and programs manager at the Barnes Foundation, Juday previously worked as landscape curator and horticulturist for the Wyck Foundation in Germantown for eight years.
Raised on a tiny farm in rural Illinois (“tiny for the Midwest,” she said), Juday first came to Philadelphia in the mid-’90s for a graduate degree in textile design at Philadelphia College of Textile and Science (now Philadelphia University). As an undergrad at Hampshire College (1992) in Massachusetts, she had studied painting.
“But I didn’t really have the temperament to be an artist,” said Juday, who moved to Germantown in 1997 with her then-husband.
It was around that time that she became much more interested in horticulture and eventually started HortusOrtus, her own garden design company, which she ran for six years. Then she joined Wick in 2007 and began freelance writing.
At the Barnes Foundation, she is in charge of organizing the school’s prestigious Arboretum School. It’s well known that Dr. Albert C. Barnes was one of the major collectors of the world’s 20th-century impressionist pieces. Less well known is the fact that his wife Laura was herself an avid collector of rare and fascinating plants.
Laura started the school in 1940, making this year its 75th anniversary. Generations of horticulturists have been educated there and gone on to work at various public spaces around Philadelphia, like the Azalea Garden near Boathouse Row.
The three-year program meets once a week and is separated into three parts: learning about a plethora of plants, from bulbs to trees— how to identify them, their cultural preferences; learning the science of the plant: about soil and pathology and, lastly, design.
“I think that plants can be a medium the way words can be for a writer or the way paint can be for a painter,” said Nicole.
More info about Barnes Foundation Arboretum and Horticulture School at barnesfoundation.org/education/horticulture