Story and Photos by A.J. Heinsz-Bailey

In 1978, Charlotte Fanz found the perfect property to call home. It was a 4-acre tract with a cottage and a pasture and plenty of room for native plants, which are Charlotte’s favorites. It reminded her of the cattle ranch she grew up on. She brought her family to see the property and her dad quipped, “Well Charlotte it is almost a ranch.” Almosta Ranch has been home to native plants, rescued plants, and rescued animals.

Left to right: 1. ‘Ice Follies’ and other daffodils have naturalized in the filtered shade of specimen trees. The clumps of color brighten the woodland garden. 2. Star magnolia is an open-branched, multi-trunked small tree that grows well in an understory situation. The delicate flowers appear in early spring before the leaves emerge. 3. Arums have naturalized under an oak tree. Every spring they put on quite a show with the unique shaped flowers.

Young and enthusiastic, Charlotte began attending arboretum plant sales and visiting native plant nurseries. She selected plants that needed little care and provided food and shelter for birds. Birdwatching is her second favorite hobby. She then became interested in hummingbirds and butterflies and was guided by the Clifton’s in Abita Springs in selecting the proper host and nectar plants. The master plan for creating a haven for all began to take shape.

An apron of pink petals lies beneath the huge ‘Taylor’s Perfection’ camellia. This late blooming beauty is spectacular in February and early March.

She began by planting the trees. Armed with a shovel, Charlotte did all the planting herself. There were old white oaks (Quercus alba), several Sassafras trees, a tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), and a grancy graybeard (Chionanthus virginicus) already on the site. First to be planted was the Japanese evergreen oak (Q. acuta) and three native plum trees (Prunus spp.). Hollies (Ilex spp.) and mulberries (Morus spp.) soon followed.

The ceramic pot garden has a bench which provides close up viewing of butterflies and hummingbirds.

Next to be planted were Camellia. Charlotte’s friend Jim Campbell, a camellia enthusiast, helped her select some of the best candidates for her yard. ‘Taylor’s Perfection’ is a late bloomer with gorgeous pink blossoms. ‘Sparkling Burgundy’, a local favorite, is an early red bloomer with a peony-type blossom. ‘Snow on the Mountain’ is a large dense evergreen shrub with snow-white blossoms appearing in late November. Several other sasanquas dot the property – Charlotte calls these her twice-pretty trees: “They are beautiful once on the bush and then as an apron surrounding the bush when the petals fall on the ground.” Since every Southern woman has to have a magnolia or two, star magnolias (M. stellata) trees were added.

Surrounded by woods and small cottage styled plantings Charlotte’s house resembles a fairy tale cottage.

The fill-in work came next. Charlotte needed a spot where she could sit and observe the birds and enjoy the sights and sounds in the yard. A wooden bench surrounded by several large ceramic pots filled with butterfly- and hummingbird-attracting plants was the answer.

St. Francis is filled with shelled sunflower seeds every morning. He has many visitors every day.

Bulbs that naturalize are constantly added to the garden for color throughout the year. Lycoris, daffodils (Narcissus spp.), and Arum in different colors are planted in clumps amongst the trees. There are even a few grape hyacinth (Muscari spp.) in the mix.

Recent additions include more fruit trees and bushes. ‘Rosa’s Blush’ (Vaccinium darrowii ‘Rosa’s Blush’) is a dwarf blueberry that has pink new foliage that matures to bluish green in the summer. It is a favorite of wildlife. Oregon grape holly (Mahonia aquifolium) has been added as an understory shrub in partial shade.

Artwork that reflects the theme of the garden is displayed on the garden shed. Feeders placed throughout the yard provide a wildlife cafeteria.

Five years ago, a large garden shed was built to house garden tools and birdseed. Birdbaths and birdhouses are placed throughout the garden and according to Charlotte, 50-100 birds visit every day. 

Charlotte says of her garden, “I still have room for more. I continue to add plants sporadically. I love to observe nature in action in my yard. Sometimes I have to step in and do a little pruning but generally I do not need to do a lot of maintenance. It has been great to observe so many seasons in one special place.”

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