Story and Photos by A.J. Heinsz-Bailey
Three years ago, high school sweethearts became a married couple and then a new house with a bare yard became a garden on a budget. Sky and Tiffany Barker are creating a great garden a little at a time by doing it themselves. Parents and grandparents are nearby for questions, help, and of course, tool borrowing. The young couple started married life by purchasing the home next to Sky’s parents. He is the fourth generation of his family living in this area. Their property is separated from his parent’s property by a tall wooden fence to provide privacy, with a gate for but easy access for visiting family. It’s a great place for bluebird houses too. “The grass really is greener on the other side, but I am learning ‘why’ by asking questions,” quips Sky.
Sky and Tiffany started the process by walking the yard and creating a five year plan. A notebook filled with yard sketches and existing features is kept for reference and failures and successes are noted. A division of the sun and shade areas is used as a guide to select the proper plants. Documenting the history of the garden has added to the learning experience. Notes are added on a weekly basis or more often if needed. Magazine pictures of trellises, birdhouses, and water features are included in the future plans section.
Temporary color for future flowerbeds has been a challenge. Inspired by nearby pastures, they got started. Mustard produces beautiful and abundant yellow flowers late fall through spring. Blue flax and crimson clover produce masses of color in early spring through early summer. The seeds are inexpensive and can be purchased at a local feed store. The local pollinators appreciate the nontraditional plantings. As a third generation beekeeper, pollen plants are an important part of Sky’s garden plans.
The front of the house has a foundation of evergreen pink azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) and is highlighted on one corner with two wooden chairs and a whiskey barrel planter. The corner stayed too wet to plant anything. The solution was the use of old wooden chairs, which provide resting places for ceramic pots filled with Begonia and Dianthus. A porch swing on the other end of the house overlooks the front yard, where a wishing well and a birdbath can be seen. Large ceramic pots of shrubs and annuals on the front porch are enjoyed by the local anoles in the summertime.
In the center of the yard, flowerbeds are filled with daylilies (Hemerocallis) and purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea). Borders of Caladium brighten the shadier beds. Gardenia are strategically placed so that their fragrance can be enjoyed while sitting outside in the summer. Milkweed (Asclepias spp.), porterweed (Stachytarpheta spp.), and pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) have performed well and attract butterflies all season long.
In summer, morning glories (Ipomoea spp.) grow along the wooden fence. They are colorful and easy to maintain and the seeds are saved and replanted each spring. The vines are cleared off after the first frost and composted – composting is one of Sky’s favorite tasks. Most of the soil in the flower beds is from the compost pile.
Two towering live oaks (Quercus virginiana) stand sentry over most of the yard. An outdoor room with a fire pit and seating area is a vantage point to view the gardens from under the shady canopy. Large ceramic pots filled with brightly colored annuals surround this area.
The vegetable garden is located in the front corner of the yard where there is full sun. Sky refers to it as “the working man’s garden” because the small size allows him to maintain it even after a long day’s work. “My grandparents and parents always had a vegetable garden when I was growing up, so I naturally wanted to have my own garden. Tiffany and I love going to the feed store to pick up baby plants. Grandpa Frank gave us some green onions. Tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and okra provided us with fresh produce all summer long. I do okay with fall crops too. Our LSU extension agent has been a great help.”
In the backyard there is a 10-acre open field where spectacular sunsets are regularly observed. (Borrowed scenery is the principle of incorporating background landscape into the composition of a garden found in traditional East Asian garden design.) The open field creates a “borrowed view” that is golden half of the year and verdant green the other half. It’s great for watching stars at night too! Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) and Virginiana creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) fill the back fence with color all year long. Tall yellow four o’clock plants (Mirabilis jalapa) fill the backyard with fragrance.
Youthful exuberancecombined with a five year plan and a willingness to experiment give this unique garden unlimited possibility. The use of nontraditional plantings adds unusual color and texture to the yard. A natural habitat that can be enjoyed by all will be the end result.