By Leslie Leonpacher

Humble Earth garden … the name doesn’t quite do this place justice. If by being humble you mean that this garden provides a sustainable, renewable environment then perhaps it is aptly named, but it is so much more. Sanctuary, nurturing environment …  however you label it, for some creatures these places are in short supply these days, unless you happen into the Certified Wildlife Habitat that Monica Soileau Boutte has created in her home garden. Monica and husband, Steve, have created a wildlife paradise near the outskirts of Lafayette. The home sits alongside a coulee that is safe harbor to a myriad of butterflies, moths, native bees, birds, and all manner of creatures that might wander, fly, or slither along the flora-laden paths throughout their property. 

Milkweed and root beer plant (Piper auritum), with the garden shed in the background.

This creation is a far cry from the couple’s previous home where the herbicide overspray on nearby soybean fields and red clay soil kept natural growth severely stunted. Their current property came with its own issues and this habitat didn’t happen without some help. It is through years of dedicated planting, soil enhancement, and research that the couple transformed the property where formerly there had been only a handful of trees and a mostly grass landscape all the way back to the coulee. 

Monica documents this garden’s journey year round. The brilliant blooms and foliage of spring, the deep heat of summer has it’s own treasures, the changes of fall and winter.

Today, the wildlife enthusiasts share their garden with a welcome array of creatures. Possums, raccoons, squirrels, birds, and insects of all colors and varieties visit and share this pesticide-free zone. But it’s more than just pesticide-free. In order to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat, the hosts must provide food, water, and shelter. That comes in the form of trees such as hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), which feeds with nectar, provides friendly flora for butterflies and other insects. It also means allowing the leaves to remain where they fall, because by doing so, Monica has noticed a significant increase in the butterfly population. 

The labyrinth, along with Echinacea, musk mallow (Malva moschata), Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), obedient plant, White Star hibiscus (H. coccineus ‘Alba’), and other perennials.

Night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) is a key player in attracting spectacular moths in the evening. A crybaby tree (Erythrina crista-galli) blooms three to four times a year. There are five different varieties of Salvia, porterweed (Stachytarpheta spp.), oak trees (Quercus spp.), four types of passion vine (Passiflora spp.) swirl and bind a tree house reading room that sometimes shelters creatures who don’t always read books. There is also wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus), three different varieties milkweed (Asclepias spp.), Vitex, holly (Ilex spp.), and evergreen Wisteria. There is also American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), Viburnum, Aster, goldenrod (Solidago spp.), Eupatorium, black cherry (Prunus serotina), roughleaf dogwood (Cornus drummondii), loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), and pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana). Careful consideration is given in plant selection for how it will provide food, water or shelter to meet the needs of the inhabitants.

A blooming “candelabra” of bowing lady clerodendrum over a garden statue.

On most days the couple makes a point of dining al fresco in the garden. To ensure they can do this as often as possible they use a Thermacell repellant device because an occasional bat may want to make a meal out of the mosquitos, sans pesticide. To hear her tell it the occasional four-legged visitor peeking at the couple taking their ease after a day is better than any television. It stands to reason that if you create paradise, you get to live in it.

Homeowner Monica Soileau Boutte

Monica documents this garden’s journey year round. The brilliant blooms and foliage of spring, the deep heat of summer has it’s own treasures, the changes of fall and winter. Amidst it all is the interesting array of visitors, who are sometimes patient enough to have their visit documented. Monica followed some tips from husband Steve, an artist, on how to take better photographs and the results are a stunning capture of her gardening exploits. Monica is also a master gardener and participates in the Louisiana Horticultural Society research studies. The varieties of plants and flowers have been acquired over time. Some of the various sources include LSU’s Hilltop Arboretum Plant fest, the Daylily Festival, Festival des Fleurs, and the Sunset Herb Festival as well as Almost Eden and Native Sun nurseries.

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