A one-of-a-kind refuge
Story and Photography by A.J. Heinsz-Bailey
In 1995, the Boswells discovered 43 acres with a mix of woods and cow pastures located in rural St Tammany Parish. Surrounded by sprawling horse and cattle farms, it was love at first sight. The acreage was exactly what the Boswells had been looking for to provide habitat for wildlife and a quiet refuge for themselves. Dry, wet, sloping, shade, and sun areas can all be found in this multifaceted property. A list of desired plants, structures, features, and amenities was created and then followed to completion. Starting with a clean slate allowed the creation of a personalized paradise.
“Coon Hollow,” as the homestead is named, has been thoughtfully planned and the resulting layout offers solutions that new gardeners could apply to their own situations. Sunny places were selected for the fruit orchard and the vegetable garden; semi shade for the compost bin area; wide grass pathways for access by an electric golf cart hauling supplies; and a gravel driveway that winds throughout property and connects the different sites. The house is located in the middle of the acreage (for privacy) overlooking a pond that is home to wood ducks and bullfrogs. The elevated wood frame home has a one-story breezeway underneath that is a pleasant place to sit and enjoy the pond even during the hot summer months. Large Camellia shrubs create a green screen around the open space underneath the house. ‘Natchez’ crapemyrtles (Lagerstroemia ‘Natchez’) planted on each corner of the house provide summertime color and interesting cinnamon-colored bark in the winter.
Birds and wildlife and the Boswells have all found a home in this one-of-a-kind refuge.
The Boswells created their following nature’s lead. The open grass pastures have been reclaimed by native goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), mistflower (Eupatorium coelestinum), and several Aster species that create a colorful tapestry from September to November in gold, purple, and green. The only maintenance needed is an annual cut with a bush hog in the spring. Naturally growing yaupon hollies (Ilex vomitoria) are colorful and the cedar waxwings and other birds enjoy the fruits in the winter.
The vegetable garden, with its adjoining kitchen room and greenhouse, is Loretta’s special place. Mornings working in the garden are her favorite time of day. “Fresh vegetables are a daily part of our menu. Asparagus to zucchini, we enjoy them all.” Attention to detail has made this spot a major hub on the property. Additionally, it is a great place to bird watch. The kitchen is fully functional. Vegetables can be processed, stored, and cooked without having to go back to the house. A bistro set is the place to be when the sun gets too hot and you need a refreshment break. Whimsical wrought-iron sculptures seem to sprout from the carefully tended beds, adding to rustic look of the area. There is even a year-round strawberry patch.
Grass pathways in the vegetable garden make working after heavy rains possible without soil compaction. No muddy shoes! Cut with a mower, the clippings go to the compost pile. Efficiency is everywhere. The wood panel fence keeps deer and rabbits from enjoying the vegetables. Drip hose irrigation conserves water and keeps plant foliage dry. Water lines were established throughout the garden to make irrigation easy. Wide gates for equipment access have been very helpful. A four-bin compost area is used for recycling grass and garden clippings. Leaves abound in the fall, and if they are not used for mulching, they find their way into the compost bins.
The greenhouse is located on the south side of the kitchen. Removable windows make it useable in the summer for starting cuttings and seeds. The cement floors and plant benches allow easy organizing and maintenance. The north side is an enclosed shed for storing tools and wheelbarrows out of the weather. Finding tools is easy in this well organized space. A solar panel has been added to supplement the power source in the outdoor kitchen.
Blueberries, pears, persimmons, and figs are included in the fenced-in fruit orchard. Well-spaced and mulched maintenance once again follows the theme of easy to maintain. A weed-free zone has been established around each tree. Easy to access water is important for the shallow-rooted figs and blueberries. No chemicals or pesticides are used in these gardens. “Some natural remedies work and don’t. I just keep trying different methods until I am successful,” said Loretta. Marigolds (Tagetes spp.), garlic, onions, and lemon grass are some of the plantings that Loretta uses as insect deterrents. Trap crops to control flea beetles have also proved helpful.
The forested portions of the property sustained heavy damage during Hurricane Katrina. Hardwoods and pines were replanted and the forest is recovering nicely. Mr. Boswell believes that “Mother Nature does always bats last in our yard. Living in harmony with nature has been our goal.”
Coon Hollow is a success story. Birds and wildlife and the Boswells have all found a home in this one-of-a-kind refuge. Naturalized with its surroundings, a walk in the woods and fields makes you feel refreshed. Simple and well planned it is spectacular.