A Life in Bloom at The Hill: Sabina Gatti

When Sabina Gatti moved to The Hill in June 2009, it was solely on her own initiative. She took great pride in the fact that the move to The Hill was the first big decision Sabina made as a single person. She had done thorough research about the best place for her to move, and she was drawn to both the benefits of life at The Hill and the improved quality of life.

Just a few years prior, she had lost her husband of nearly 50 years, John Gatti, and was abruptly forced to learn how to live on her own for the first time in her life. The Hill was Sabina’s first home that she lived in by herself, the first big financial decision she made by herself, and the first time the mother, wife, and homemaker had only her best interests to consider.

“She had to learn how to become more independent; she worked really hard to remake herself and become more confident,” said her daughter, Lou Gatti. “My mother was a product of the 1950s; women were second string to men then. She was always so amazed by my independence and my career. I was very proud of her courage and determination and how quickly she was able to make this new life for herself.”

It was life at The Hill that helped Sabina feel more empowered about her independence; she decorated her own apartment and filled it with her favorite pieces of art, hosted cocktail parties, attended various lectures, and loved the live music series at The Hill. She also took advantage of the proximity to Philadelphia, as she was born and raised in Northeast Philadelphia and enjoyed the energy of the city.

“Mom was a city girl at heart. She enjoyed everything city life had to offer–most of all patronizing the arts,” Lou said. “She had season tickets to The Philadelphia Orchestra and was a supporter of the Philadelphia Zoo. She also loved the fine dining and shopping that Philly has to offer, especially at Christmastime. But sometimes she just loved to walk around the city.”

Sabina was also an avid gardener and lover of nature, so it’s no surprise that she also played an active role in volunteering for the Morris Arboretum & Gardens. For years, she served on the organizing committee for one of the arboretum’s biggest annual events, Moonlight and Roses, and got to know then-executive director of Morris Arboretum & Gardens Paul Meyer and his wife, Debbie Rodgers, quite well over the years.

“Sabina and I really had a chance to get to know each other during a trip to New Zealand that was organized for members of Morris Arboretum & Gardens,” said Paul. “Debbie had to leave the trip early, and I ended up being partnered up with Sabina for a kayaking outing. She thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it–her enthusiasm was infectious.”

“I had actually met Sabina about 30 years ago, at a surprise party for Lou,” said Debbie. “The party was at the home Sabina lived in with her husband, John, and she was lovely. But she really started to light up in the years after moving to The Hill. She really relished her independence. That trip to New Zealand was the first time she and several other women had traveled without a spouse. It was wonderful to watch.”

When Sabina passed away in 2021 after 12 happy years at The Hill, it was Debbie and Paul who first recommended planting a grove of trees in her honor to Lou and several of her closest friends. Everyone loved the idea and agreed to make a donation to facilitate the purchase and planting of the grove.

“She had to learn how to become more independent; she worked really hard to remake herself and become more confident. …I was very proud of her courage and determination and how quickly she was able to make this new life for herself.”
– Lou Gatti

“Paul and I have historically planted trees to commemorate births in our families or in the memory of those who have passed,” said Debbie. “We wanted to plant trees that would blossom around the time of Sabina’s April birthday each year, and the eastern redbud tree was the perfect choice.”

Eastern redbud trees are bright, inviting, and vibrant–just like Sabina. The name is a bit of a misnomer, since the flowers are not red at all; they are a pink-lavender color.

“I served as a liaison to the Landscape Committee at The Hill,” said Paul. “And when Debbie suggested planting the trees, the timing couldn’t have been better. Planting a grove of trees was very much in alignment with what we were planning; it just hastened the process.”

Lou was on board with the idea immediately. Lavender was Sabina’s favorite color, and the blossoms are a wonderful reminder of who her mother was. Lou noted that the eastern redbud tree “is delicate but strong and very resilient–just like she was.”

“They are planted on the left, near the top of the road leading to the main entrance to The Hill, welcoming visitors,” Paul said. “This is also a nod to Sabina. She was always very much a hostess and known to welcome new people to The Hill.”

Sabina is the first resident of The Hill to have a legacy of a grove of trees donated and planted in her honor, and Lou is certain that her mother would be “over the moon about it,” especially since she loved being a trendsetter.