Redbuds blooming in Central Louisiana herald the coming of spring. Cenla gardeners everywhere anticipate the unfolding beauty of the season. In the words of the English poet Dorothy Frances Gurney, “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.” Gardening nourishes the soul, engages the senses and provides bucketfuls of positive physical, mental and emotional benefits.
Dr. Wilton Guillory of Alexandria in Rapides Parish, an accredited national judge for the American Orchid Society, says gazing upon the splendor of his orchids gives him a sense of well-being. “It takes your breath away, these orchids are so beautiful,” Guillory notes with a touch of wonder in his voice.
On a trip in 1994, Guillory went to the St. Louis Botanical Gardens. There he discovered a real interest in orchids and found out about the Central Louisiana Orchid Society in Alexandria. “I attended one of the meetings, and in walked one of my patients. She showed me her greenhouse. We ended up getting married,” Guillory says with a smile.
To train as a judge, Guillory attended training seminars once a month in Dallas for six years. “Orchids are one of the largest families of plants with about 25,000 different species of orchids. They are such an exotic and interesting plant,” adds Guillory. Once a month in Shreveport, orchid juried shows are held. In 2004, Guillory earned the highest award possible for an orchid entry with the First Class Certification of a white orchid he cross-bred. “With that honor, I got to name the cultivar name. I named it ‘Stephen’s Pride after my son,” Guillory says. He has about 30 different orchids in his greenhouses now that he has cross-bred. Waiting for an orchid to bloom from his cross-breeding always fills Guillory with such anticipation. “It’s all part of the miracle of gardening,” he adds.
Lori Garton, the director of the Good Food Project for the Food Bank of Central Louisiana, has a passion for organic gardening. In the fall, she planted an organic garden on the one-third acre plot located adjacent to the Food Bank on Baldwin Avenue in Alexandria. Recently, a modular building was constructed on the property to offer workshops on organic, sustainable gardening.
The Good Food Project will allow for the creation of community gardens across Central Louisiana and will provide fresh, locally grown produce for area residents in 11 parishes while teaching the importance of nutritious foods for good health. The project, a 5-year program, is being funded through a $1.1 million grant from Keller Enterprises of Alexandria, established through the Central Louisiana Community Foundation. On March 3rd at 10:00am, a spring planting workshop will be held at the Good Food Project building, and on March 16th at 3:00pm, a free workshop will be presented on homemade and organic fertilizer. “Right now, we are harvesting about 100 pounds of produce each month, and much more will be planted by the spring,” Garton says.
A “hoop house,” a low-cost greenhouse, has also been built on the garden site. Beside the vegetable garden, fruit trees of all kinds have been planted. Plans are in the works to build a chicken coup, a gazebo, and to add fencing and irrigation to the site. “Sustainable gardening means you are doing things in the way that the land will forever be viable. You are saving the soil, not depleting the nutrients. I love producing for people not only nutritious and healthy food on so many levels, but that the fresh fruits and vegetables are grown with no chemicals. There is such a sense of purpose and good energy,” Garton says, adding that more workshops will be offered this summer.
Rapides Parish resident Harold LaHaye of Alexandria has been gardening for more than 50 years. As an eighth-grade student, LaHaye first became involved with gardening as a project for his FFA club. His mother served as his gardening teacher. After graduating in forest management from Louisiana State University, LaHaye worked for 25 years for the state forestry commission service. Later, he worked as a staff forester in rural development. Both a vegetable and flower gardener, LaHaye says he has picked up several pointers for novice gardeners. “You need that morning sun to have a good garden,” notes LaHaye walking around his big backyard.
Compost piles are essential to good gardening, LaHaye adds. He also recommends that gardens be as pesticide free as possible. “If you keep your plants healthy with water and nutrients, the less susceptible to disease they are. You have to look at your crop every day to determine the needs,” LaHaye says. He has planted a plethora of vegetables in his gardens. “Nearly everything we eat comes from our garden. That gives you a good feeling of gratification for producing it,” LaHaye says.
For Rachel Bailey, an 18-year-old Pineville High School senior, gardening has made a positive impact on her life. For about five hours on Saturdays, Bailey works in her own garden at the home of her mentor, Pat Moore. “Learning to garden has been such a rewarding experience. It has taught me so much about life,” Bailey says.
Moore, a landscape architect, has taught Bailey about compost piles, water conservation, planting and harvesting. Her garden recently has yielded a bounty of strawberries, broccoli, lettuce, onion and garlic. Pulling weeds, mixing fertilizer, preparing soil and planting the vegetables has taught Bailey responsibilities that she can apply in life, she says. “I plan to always have a garden, even when I am on my own,” she notes.
Cynthia Flanders of Mansura in Avoyelles Parish has been a Master Gardener since 2006. “I never had time to garden until I retired, then I jumped into it head first. I discovered that I was a lady that liked to play in the dirt,” laughs Flanders. She likes to plant anything that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. “Cross vines and cigar plants seem to really attract hummingbirds,” Flanders says. Walking by her compost pile one day, Flanders discovered a passion vine. “It is a host plant for butterflies,” she notes, adding that she has another passion vine in her yard that is an evergreen.
“I love gardening. It is a miracle of dirt. You put a seed in the dirt and inside the seed there’s a program that God put in there. The seed becomes a whole plant that in turn does things. It’s just awesome the way God created it,” Flanders says. Last year, Flanders established a festival for the Cenla Master Gardeners. This year’s festival called the Bicentennial Lagniappe Festival will be April 21st at the greenhouse behind the Daisy house in Mansura. There will be gardening vendors and workshops.
Pass-along plants grow profusely in Ruth Anderson’s Natchitoches home flower gardens. “When I walk around in my gardens, I look at the pass-along plants and think of the people who gave them to me. There’s precious memories attached to every one of them,” Anderson, a Master Gardener, says about her butterfly ginger that her grandmother handed down to her and the roses from her mother.
Botanical heirlooms, pass-along plants have survived in countless gardens for decades by being handed from one family member or friend to another. “Anyone can buy plants at a store, but there is sentimental value to the pass-alongs,” Anderson notes while gazing at a cane lily her husband’s father brought to his grandmother in the early 1900s.
Passing along a plant to another is a strong Southern tradition, and Anderson says Master Gardeners are “really good about sharing” plants. Nestled on a country club golf course, Anderson’s home boasts curved flower gardens amidst the pine trees. Irises and earth-kind roses are in abundance. Her favorite rose is a shrub rose called “Belinda’s Dream.” “Everything has to earn its place in the yard,” laughs Anderson, adding that the shrub rose does not have to be pampered. “It’s my favorite rose. Belinda’s Dream is a big, fat pink rose with a wonderful fragrance.” The rose is durable and easy to care for, she says, making it a good landscaping rose for even the beginner gardener.
“You don’t have to have a green thumb to start a garden. I recommend starting out with easy to care for plants, like the Belinda’s Dream,” says Anderson, adding that gardening has become her passion. “I use the time in the garden to clear my mind. I lose myself in the garden, and forget about my problems. Any stress just melts away,” sighs Anderson.
Anyone interested to learn more about gardening is invited to attend the Natchitoches Parish Master Gardeners’ sixth annual Natchitoches Noisette Garden Symposium on March 31st at the Natchitoches Events Center.
Paul Dowden, president of the Vernon Parish Garden Club, became a gardening enthusiast when he retired in 2003 after working for 27 years in a civil service position at Fort Polk. His wife, Alicia, suggested he take up gardening as a hobby to keep him occupied. “Once I got into it, gardening became a passion. I got into hybridizing day lilies, and I got hooked,” enthuses Dowden, adding there are about 75,000 registered cultivars of day lilies today.
This year, Dowden has blooming seedlings that are his sixth generation of day lilies. He has seventh generation day lilies in the ground planted, and eighth generation seeds in his refrigerator. “I will put the eighth generation seeds in cups in March. When they grow about 6 inches tall, then I’ll put them in the ground. I try to plant them by the Farmer’s Almanac,” Dowden says, adding the day lilies should be in full bloom by mid-June.
He and his wife sell the day lilies from their home. They have six 6’ x 125’ long day lily beds. “Whenever my seedlings are blooming, I cannot wait to get up in the morning to see the first bloom. I’m the first one on earth to ever get to see that day lily bloom. That is extremely gratifying. Hybridizing is part art and part science. Sometimes you have to wait one to two years to see what you created. That’s why keeping accurate records is real important,” stresses Dowden. At present, Dowden is hybridizing cascading unusual form day lilies. He has roughly 4,000 seedlings in the ground.
A flower and vegetable gardener, Sharon Beauregard of Colfax thinks her garden offers her a tranquil haven. “Gardening enriches my life. I’ve got an old-timey garden. It’s not organized or landscaped, but I lose all track of time when I’m gardening,” smiles Beauregard.
Besides her vegetable garden and fruit trees, Beauregard says her yard is a collection of flowers and plants that people have given her, which makes them special to her. After retiring from working at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Beauregard and her husband moved to rural Grant Parish. “Gardening gets you in touch with nature. It’s great exercise and I enjoy seeing the fruits of my labor. I give a lot of things away,” Beauregard notes. She cans the vegetables, makes jellies and jams from the berries she picks in her yard, and bakes cobblers. Her suppers lately have consisted of the purple and green cabbage, carrots and onions picked straight from her garden. Scraps go into her compost pile. “I love gardening. Nothing blooms as pretty as something you planted, and home-grown food just tastes better,” adds Beauregard.
Gardening is creative therapy, according to Master Gardener Mary Beth Lewing of Many in Sabine Parish. “I love being outside. A garden feeds your soul. There’s nothing like being outside on a beautiful sunny day, hearing the birds sing, the bees hum and seeing all of nature’s glory,” Lewing says.
After working for 20 years as a medical technologist, Lewing retired and became an active gardener. She went through the LSU AgCenter’s extensive training, and has been a Master Gardener for the last 10 years. Currently, she and her husband raise poultry and cattle on their farm, Shady Hills. “I love everything about gardening. In the spring, I can’t stop planting,” Lewing says. Her gardens boast an array of colors with flowers, blooming trees, fruit trees, shrubs and evergreens. She plants muscadine, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries, to name a few. “I can, make pickles, make jellies and put up peppers. A lot of that is a lost art, because hardly anyone does it anymore,” notes Lewing.
People do not need a large backyard or a green thumb to benefit from gardening, Lewing says. With very little space or even with containers, beginners can start. Lewing says one of the best ways to get information about gardening is to strike up a conversation with a neighborhood gardener who belongs to an area garden club.
For more information about what plants flourish in the Louisiana climate, nursery workers will be available at the Nursery Festival in Forest Hill March 16th through 18th.