A Garden in the Sicily Island Hills

Posted: September 8, 2009 in Homepage

Were it possible for me to design a garden on my own acreage within the Sicily Island Hills, it would be a garden for all the senses and a garden for memories. I would build my homestead along the eastern base of the Sicily Island Hills to catch the morning sunrise.  Amongst towering oaks and pines my house would have an open floor plan with glass walls so that I would feel as if I were part of the landscape, rather than apart from it. Screens would control privacy and the heat of summer sun.

In a large open field I would plant daffodils by the multiple tens of thousands for fond remembrances of  Herman Butler of Dubberly, Louisiana.


Next to a “Browns Red” Camellia  japonica  I would plant a Bletilla striata also known as  hardy terrestrial orchid,which would replicate my mother’s flower bed by the front door of the old homeplace.  I would plant Asparagus, Daylilies (Hemerocallis), a ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ Peony and keep a hive of bees to remind me of my father. Longleaf pine trees (Pinus palustris) along the road would be just like the view I had growing up as a kid on Sterlington Road.

Wild azaleas are a special treat in woodlands and the honeysuckle azalea (Rhododendron canescens) would be a perfect choice. My grandfather would pick bouquets of this azalea and give them to a little girl who would later become my mother.  An American Holly (Ilex opaca) would be planted along the drive near the house, just like the one at my grandmothers. To connect with my friends Robert and Frances Rhone I would plant several varieties of Magnolia, especially the grandiflora type. Seattle,Washington would inspire me to plant a Rhododendron and numerous  ferns. With respect to Rhododendrons growing in North Louisiana, when I was a much younger man, there was a Rhododendron growing on a Park Avenue property not far from J.W. Cunningham’s pharmacy. Dutch amaryllis ( Hippeastrum ) planted in fall and winter indoors would delight my ole buddy John Buis.  We could remember the good old days of  sitting at the kitchen table enjoying a laugh or two and  finishing up yet another large order to Langeveld Bulb Company.

Speaking of indoors, I couldn’t help but have some great indoor plants such as bromeliads and foliage plants to commemorate all those deliveries from the Featherston brothers of Claiborne Parish. One of my favorite indoor plants would be a fine specimen Schefflera (Schefflera actinophylla).A tall magnificent Schefflera grew outdoors in the landscaping at my buddy John’s place down at Melbourne, Florida. Something I have always wanted was a tall incredibly sized Ficus Benjamina, and with the care of Hu and Vista White I could finally keep one alive. I never said I was great at growing indoor plants, but I sure was good at selling them. Of course many of the indoor plants would be adorned with baskets from Ryan Rommel of Vast America. Perhaps Allen Dunn could help me re-create the beautiful ancient looking Bougainvillea bonsai that my father grew.

A garden of a hundred named varieities of azaleas would be just about right to honor Gerald Don Coker. In a woodland area I would plant Indian Pinks (Spigelia marilandica) to think of Beth Erwin and the Kalorama crew. A big splash of Fall Mums and Hardy Hibiscus ( Hibiscus moscheutos )would be a perfect tribute to Freeman Nursery of Simms, Texas. Gomphrena also known as Batchelor Buttons (not Centaurea) in a solitary planting and once again I would be thinking of Pittman Nursery of Magnolia, Arkansas. Large flowering Purslanes overflowing in containers would be in honor of my ole buddy Raymond Hoggatt.

A grove of Gingko biloba  trees, so golden in the Fall,  would take me back to the annual fall pilgrimage to Layton Castle on South Grand in Monroe. Another of my many favorite bulbs is the Red Spider Lily (Lycoris radiata). I wonder if the empty, grassy block on Riverside Drive in Monroe is still loaded with hundreds of spider lily blossoms each September?

With the huge plant world that R.Dale Thomas opened up to me there wouldn’t be enough native plants or wildflowers to represent his influence on my life. But by planting Gordonia (Gordonia lasianthus), Showy Evening Primrose  (Oenothera speciosa) and Titi (Cyrilla racemiflora) in strategic locations, I think even the premier botanist of the South would be impressed.

The hummingbird garden full of Cypress vine, Lions ear ( Leonotus leonurus), Malvaviscus or turk’s cap, Penstemons, Rose of Sharon (Althea), dozens of varieties of Salvias,  Swedish ivy baskets, and  Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans), to name a few, would amuse Bob Rickett. Gary Miller would smile at the sight of the yellow blossoms of thistle of niger (Guizotia abyssinica). I could see Gary there in the garden as we carried on another interesting conversation, as one of his beautiful wind chimes sang out in the distance. Neil Douglas would enjoy many visits to see the Evening Grosbeaks gorging themselves on black oil sunflower seeds in my bird feeders.

The butterfly garden would be a meadow resplendent with Asters, Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii), Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Lantanas,Thistles, and Zinnias.

Tiger Swallowtail Image provided with permission of Stephanie Sorensen

Photograph used with permission of Stephanie Sorensen

Not to forget the other stage of a butterfly, the larvae could feast on fennel and parsley plants plus other tasty treats.

George Peters of Shreveport would be represented by the numerous clay pots full of Hibiscus, Lantana, Pentas,  and other long blooming plants. The concrete bird bath and fountain would bring to mind all those trips to Lee’s Statuary in Minden.

Twelve different varieties of edible figs would cause me to pause to recall Tim Talbot of Franklin Parish, although a patch of sweet potatoes would probably cause him to crack a smile. Bamboo comes in many types, some with the tendencies of Kudzu. But a carefully chosen clumping bamboo makes a lovely sound as the breeze blows through it. I believe I would associate bamboo with Mimi Hunnicutt, for if I am correct, many years ago she was kind enough to give me a book on bamboo, when she knew I was researching it.

A planting of Mayhaws  (Craegatus opaca)  not far from the house and suddenly my thoughts are transported to East Feliciana parish to the property of Arnold and Lynn Baham.

If I could smile and greet visitors with the depth, sincerity, and warmth of the late John Griffin of Louisiana Tech, I think that would be the most delicious icing on the cake.

During my lifetime I have been blessed to know so many fine individuals, each one unique and wonderful in their own way. We have shared many different things but the one thing we all shared in one way or another, was a connection to the world of animals and plants.


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