Restoring an Heirloom Garden
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Gardening is one of the oldest, and richest, of our Southern folk arts.
Southern Heirloom Gardens
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.
Entering the Circular Drive
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
Large White Oak Tree by the River
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.
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
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:
Raccoons Near the River
Gulf Fritillary on Passion Flower Vine
Burning the Pine Tops After Logging
Digging the Pond
Rio Relaxing by Daylilies
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
Native Red Bud Tree
Grancy Graybeard Tree
Tulip Tree, Japanese Magnolia
Service Berry Flowers
Service Berry Fruit
Mexican Plum Flowers
Green Mexican Plum
Southern Crabapple Flowers
Southern Crabapple Fruit
Azaleas and Rhododendrons
More Hidden Treasures
Native Deciduous Pink Azalea
Red Oriental Azalea
Camellia Nuccio's Pearl
Cape Jasmine, Gardenias
Old Dark Pink Rose
Louis Phillipe Rose
Huckleberry, Wild Blueberry
Blueberries and Huckleberries (Wild Blueberries)
Lantana and Gulf Fritillary
White Passion Flower Vine
Native Crossvine, Bignonia
Native Yellow Carolina Jessamine
Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis
Restoring American Gardens
Early Blue Violet, Viola palmata
Orange Double Daylily
Red Spider Lilies, Lycoris radiata
Red Spider Lilies
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.
Dafodils, King Alfred
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
Dax Kitten and Impatiens
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
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.
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
Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table
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:
Red Morning Glory
Black-eyed Susans and other Rudbeckia spp.
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.