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Restoring an Heirloom Garden

Updated on December 24, 2014
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Yvonne writes about and photographs flora and fauna of Louisiana, sharing the knowledge she learned through study and personal experience.

Heirloom Garden Flowers and Plants

We are still working to completely restore our old-fashioned garden to it's true glory, and we thought that some of the gardeners out there might like to hear about how we began. Each time we pulled the weeds and vines away from a beautiful flowering plant it was like discovering living buried treasure.

By saving the mature old-fashioned and native trees, shrubs and perennials, all we had to do was add more plants to fill in the holes in the landscaping. After ten years of work, right before Hurricane Katrina hit, we had everything just like we wanted it. Of course, now we are back to square one, but that's another story. We hope you'll enjoy the story of the beginning of our on-going garden restoration project.


Small Brick Cabin

Small Brick Cabin
Small Brick Cabin

Cabin in the Woods

When we were making plans for our retirement, number one on the list was to get out of the city and move to a larger piece of property in the country. We wanted a place that was on or near water, too. If it had a little house (or even a trailer) on it where we could stay when we visited on the weekends before we retired, then that would be great. We chose Covington, LA to begin our search because Al had visited each parish in Louisiana as part of his work and St. Tammany Parish was the most environmentally sound, with very few (if any) factories and the air and water were measured as being the best in the state.

Our real-estate agent, Linda Larocca, is a local girl, who was referred by a friend. She sent us print outs of property that met our requirements and price range and we would pick out the ones that we liked and visit them on the weekends. When we read the description of the place that would become our home, it was so perfect that we couldn't believe our eyes.

It said: Cabin in the woods - Tchefuncte River frontage - very convenient to everything. This old homestead-nursery is a perfect spot for a prospective home builder future retiree. Home to be sold "as is" value is in the location. Azaleas, Camellias, Dogwood, tons of landscaping material and bulbs, trees, and edging plants. The peace of the area would be welcome to anyone investing in land for retirement or even a first time homeowner who is willing to "fix-up". Convenient to schools, university and highway.


Azaleas Along the Drive

Azaleas Along the Drive
Azaleas Along the Drive

Love at First Sight

When we pulled into the circular drive of the overgrown garden, a hummingbird darted across in front of us and started to sip nectar from a patch of native Indian Pinks. Only the area immediately around the driveway had been attended to, so the landscaping was very weedy, but you could see blooming trees and shrubs everywhere.

The agent immediately started apologizing for the condition of the house, but we hardly heard her because we were both transfixed by the hidden treasures that we could see peeping out from under vines, dead branches and Chinese Privet.

Tchefuncte River
Tchefuncte River

We began to explore immediately and found an ancient Mulberry tree, full of ripe berries by a small pond.

As we began to walk down the small, primitive road that led towards the river, our agent kept telling us that we had to see the house. We said that we were more interested in the land and the plants and were going to try to see if we could get to the river. We didn't make it all the way to the river that day, because there had just been a gully washer and the road was covered with water in several spots, but we saw enough to know that this place was on the top of our list. All the tall pines and the woodland habitat reminded me of where I grew up in North Louisiana and Al liked it because, not only did it have a pond and the river, but also had a stream running down the east side of the property.

Old Pond

Old Pond
Old Pond

Against All Odds

After looking at several properties, we decided that this was the place for us, so we began the tedious process of buying what would be a second home until we retired. Both of us desperately wanted this property for many reasons including it's woods, river, running stream, bass pond and landscaping, but most of all because we love nature and its wildlife.

This property would allow us to establish one of the largest and most productive Backyard Wildlife Habitats that (at the time) the National Wildlife Federation would ever register. We met the neighbors on either side - one has 12 acres back to the river; the neighbor on the other side has 10 acres, neither hunt and both love wildlife. In effect, we are in the middle of a 31 acre tract bordered by the highway in front and the Tchefuncte River in back - sort of a communal wildlife preserve. One after another stumbling blocks were cast in our path, but after 8 months of negotiations, the deal was finally made and we signed the papers in December during one of the coldest winters in South Louisiana since the early 1980s. What a great Christmas present, though. We couldn't wait to spend the weekend in our new place so that we could start sprucing up the gardens. But alas, because of the record cold weather, other things took precedence over the garden. Things like heat, running water and a fully functional bathroom had to be dealt with first.

Gardening is one of the oldest, and richest, of our Southern folk arts.

Southern Heirloom Gardens

The Southern Heirloom Garden
The Southern Heirloom Garden
Everything you'd ever want to know about heirloom plants in the south. We used this book constantly to identify many of the hidden treasures that we found in our overgrown heirloom garden.

The Work Finally Begins

They say that if you are unhappy with the weather in Louisiana, all you have to do is wait a day and it will be different. The cold spell lasted a couple of weeks and by the time most of the house repairs were done, the weather was pleasant for outside work so we tackled the vines and invasive plants that were choking out the beautiful garden which the previous owner had spent 30 years developing. Massive Chinese Privet, Smilax, Poison Ivy, Blackberry brambles and saplings of a variety of trees were removed. We did all the clearing by hand and in the beginning left many shrubs that we weren't sure about for identification later. We methodically worked in small areas, working on one bed until we uncovered the beautiful treasures that lay buried beneath at least 10 years of uncontrolled growth.

Since this garden featured many native plants and loads of old-fashioned heirlooms, it survived the long period of neglect, quite well. We worked on the gardens almost every weekend for five years until we retired and after retirement it became a full time occupation to revitalize the beautiful old garden that we had been so lucky to find.

Circular Driveway Lined with Bulbs

By the end of our first year there, with almost every weekend spent in Covington, we had cleared most of the brush, weeds and scrub trees from around the original plantings and restored some of the beauty of the landscape that Mr. DelBuno created during the 30 years that he lived there. We kept detailed journals of weather conditions, birds and animals, the areas that we had completed and the plants that we found.

Oriental Azaleas

Many of the native azaleas and camellias that were injured made a strong comeback. We found that many of the plants that were in pots from the on-site nursery business were still viable and we were able to replace things that had perished during the time of neglect.

Entering the Circular Drive

After clearing out the central bed, we planted colorful caladiums and annuals to spruce up the front.
After clearing out the central bed, we planted colorful caladiums and annuals to spruce up the front.

Al cleared the trees and underbrush so the road extended all the way to the scenic bluff overlooking the Tchefuncte River. He then began cutting a bike and Jogging path in the woods along the perimeter of the property.

Road to the River

In the fall the leaves of our native blueberry bushes (Vaccinium spp.) turn shades of red.
In the fall the leaves of our native blueberry bushes (Vaccinium spp.) turn shades of red.

Large White Oak Tree by the River

Some animal, probably a raccoon or opposum is using this hole as a den.
Some animal, probably a raccoon or opposum is using this hole as a den.

During the spring and summer we put up several additional feeders and the birds and animals gradually began to return. We found out that before we bought the property, many destructive things like wildfires in the yard and excessive fireworks and gunfire had occurred that damaged the yard and frighten away the animals.

But by the end of the first year, the birds were less shy about coming to the feeders. There were hummingbirds everywhere all through the summer into the fall. We also had (and still have) several raccoons that visit the compost pile. The Wood Ducks and Quail even began to come a little closer to the house. We planted a bag of wild game seed in the backyard and along the edge of the road through the woods so we've seen more rabbits near the house. We also heard some wild turkeys and have seen some tracks.

Pine Warbler at Suet Feeder

Draw Up a Plan

Sketch out a map of the existing garden, then use tracing paper over it to plan the new plantings.

Progress Continues

During our second year in our paradise which we named, The Little Tchefuncte Hummingbird Hill Habitat, we had a record year for rain in the South. Pruden Creek widened from 6 feet to 20-25 ft. in spots. Erosion from the creek brought a giant Loblolly pine down with the top 6 feet hitting the roof of our house in Covington. Luckily there was no damage to the house. Two large pines were struck by lightening as we watched our TV pop and fry during a spring thunderstorm.

The neighbors had their land (some of which is on our side of the creek) logged so we had about 20 large pine trees (the 2 that were dead from the lightening strike and others which surrounded the existing bass pond) cut and we sold them so that we could enlarge the pond. Al spent long hours trying to cut and burn the tops of the trees that the logging company left. He said it looked like Viet Nam in 1966 and it remained that way until the bulldozer could dig the new pond and finish cleaning up the mess. For the next few months, all of the landscaping work was concentrated on areas away from the prospective pond site.

National Wildlife Certification

River Turtles


During our third year, our place in Covington was certified as a National Wildlife Federation Backyard Wildlife Habitat during the summer. By the end of the year we had seen many animals including: a red fox, wild turkey, great blue heron, quail, box and river turtles, snakes, spotted salamanders, prothonotary warblers, wood ducks, kingfisher, many owls, hawks, raccoons, rabbits, deer, 15 different species of butterflies, and various song birds. We hoped that the larger pond would attract more wildlife to the area around the house and we were right.

Many of the photos of some of the plants and animals that live in our 9 acre habitat are available on our Zazzle Naturally Native Creations Gallery:

Winter Robin


Raccoons Near the River

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Gulf Fritillary on Passion Flower Vine

Cottontail Rabbit

After months of hard work clearing and burning the tops of the trees that were cut down and draining the old pond, we were rewarded in November when Doc's Dozers finally came and dug the pond in Covington.

Burning the Pine Tops After Logging

Digging the Pond

The story of the building of the pond is a long one and probably deserves its own lens, so we will not elaborate on that. After it was finished, we soon completed several hummingbird and butterfly gardens adjacent to the pond. We worked to landscape the area around it with fruit and ornamental trees and shrubs that attract birds and animals, but this is an ongoing project.

Rio Relaxing by Daylilies

By the end of the third year, most of the clearing and uncovering of the old garden was completed and we were beginning to clear new areas in the front yard to establish new gardens with the plants that we brought from our old place. We sketched out a map of the original plantings and were able to place tracing paper over it to plan the new gardens.

Flowering Dogwood

Dogwood Drupes

Many birds eat the red drupes.
Many birds eat the red drupes.

The Hidden Treasures We Uncovered

We found so many beautiful heirloom and native plants that the entire list of wonderful plants contained in this old garden is too long, so I'll just list our most favorite ones. Rather than descriptions, I've provided some pictures and will add more photos, links and maybe a short description at a later date.

Trees and Shrubs

Flowering Dogwood

Native Red Bud Tree



The flowers of the mimosa tree attract both hummingbirds and butterflies.
The flowers of the mimosa tree attract both hummingbirds and butterflies.


Grancy Graybeard Tree

Grancy Graybeard

Tulip Tree, Japanese Magnolia

Japanese Magnolia

Fruit Trees

Red Mulberry

This native tree attracts over 30 different species of birds and many animals.
This native tree attracts over 30 different species of birds and many animals.

Red Mulberry

Service Berry Flowers

These flower clusters attract many pollinators.
These flower clusters attract many pollinators.

Service Berry

Service Berry Fruit

The fruit is a favorite of eastern bluebirds and other songbirds.
The fruit is a favorite of eastern bluebirds and other songbirds.


The Satsuma is a delicious type of Mandarin orange.
The Satsuma is a delicious type of Mandarin orange.


Citrus Trees


This pear tree was on the property when we bought it.
This pear tree was on the property when we bought it.

Pear Trees

Mexican Plum Flowers

Plum Trees

Green Mexican Plum

Southern Crabapple Flowers

Crabapple Trees

Southern Crabapple Fruit

Italian Fig

Fig Tree

Azaleas and Rhododendrons

More Hidden Treasures


Native Azaleas

Native Deciduous Pink Azalea

Flame Azalea

Red Oriental Azalea

White Azalea

Oriental Azaleas


Old-Fashioned Camellia

Camellia Sasanqua

Camellia sasanquas bloom in the fall of the year.
Camellia sasanquas bloom in the fall of the year.


Cape Jasmine, Gardenias

Heirloom Roses

Heirloom Roses

Old Dark Pink Rose

Louis Phillipe Rose

Huckleberry, Wild Blueberry

Wild Blueberries

Blueberries and Huckleberries (Wild Blueberries)

Lantana and Gulf Fritillary


Mock Orange

Mock Orange

Yucca filamentosa




White Passion Flower Vine

Native Crossvine, Bignonia


Native Yellow Carolina Jessamine


Carolina Jessamine


Indian Pink

Indian Pink and daisy fleabane flowers.
Indian Pink and daisy fleabane flowers.

Indian Pink


Stokes Aster


Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis

Blue Lobelia

Blue Phlox

Early Blue Violet, Viola palmata

Sweet Violet




Orange Double Daylily


Formosa Lilies

Red Spider Lilies, Lycoris radiata

Red Spider Lilies

Louisiana Iris

Plants for American Landscapes

Plants for American Landscapes
Plants for American Landscapes
This is a fantastic book with descriptions that give growing conditions, uses, height, etc. so that you can make accurate decisions on the placement of plants. There are also 800 color illustrations.

LA Iris

Dafodils, King Alfred

Rush-Leaf Dafodils

Passalong Plants

Passalong Plants
Passalong Plants
Many of the plants in my garden were passed along to me by family and friends. This book tells about heirloom plants.




Apple Blossom and Red Amaryllis

'Elizabeth' Crinum




Dax Kitten and Impatiens


Pink Petunias



Spring Quiet

Christina Rossetti

Gone were but the Winter,

  Come were but the Spring,

I would go to a covert

  Where the birds sing;

Where in the whitethorn

  Singeth a thrush,

And a robin sings

  In the holly-bush

Full of fresh scents

  Are the budding boughs

Arching high over

  A cool green house;

Full of sweet scents,

  And whispering air

Which sayeth softly;

  "We spread no snare;

"Here dwell in safety,

  Here dwell alone,

With a clear stream

  And a mossy stone.

"Here the sun shineth

  Most shadily;

Here is heard an echo

  Of the far sea,

Though far off it be."

Keep a Gardening Journal

By writing down the climate conditions and the plants that you put in, you can keep track of what does well in your climate and later, you can read over happy garden memories.

Green-Apple Morning

Mary Graham Bond

It's a green-apple morning,

Polished with sun,

And here in the orchard

Mist is spun.

The sun's red crayon

Paints the hill

While orchard trees stand


I run to the edge of

This new day,

And the green-apple morning

Slips away.

The Future

Our garden is constantly changing. We believe in happy accidents, so we let unusual seedlings grow until we can determine what the plant is. We have become experts in seedling identification (especially the invasive plants like Chinese Privet and Tallow Trees). We collect and store the seeds of our favorite native plants and grow many other butterfly and hummingbird plants from seed.

Some of the plants that we grow from seeds are:

Cypress Vine

Red Morning Glory



Salvia coccinea

Black-eyed Susans and other Rudbeckia spp.

Stokes Aster




Monarda (Bee Balm, Spotted Horsemint, etc.)

Many native plants

Most vegetable plants

In my garden there is a large place for sentiment. My garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful.

— Abram L. Urban

The kiss of the sun for pardon,

The song of the birds for mirth,

One is nearer God's heart in a garden

Than anywhere else on earth.

— Dorothy Frances Gurney, "Garden Thoughts"

© 2008 Yvonne L B


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