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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”