This illuminating garden is beautiful in sunlight and twilight

Story and Photos By Yvonne Lelong Bordelon

The gorgeous home and garden of Patrice and Richard Ellis is yet another example of the exquisite secret gardens that can be found hidden away in old Baton Rouge neighborhoods. This exceptional property was one of three lovely homes featured on Hilltop Arboretum’s 2017 Fall Evening Garden Tour. The well-designed and inviting outdoor living space, complete with imaginative lighting throughout the garden, is the perfect retreat for relaxation and entertaining in daylight or darkness.

Patrice and Richard stand in front of the “chicken shed,” which they built without plans. Some of their other handiwork hangs from the trees and the fence. The only chicken on the property is the metal rooster peeking out from the cast-iron plants.

When they purchased the property in 1978, there was no garden. The backyard consisted of a St. Augustinegrass lawn. Their young daughter inadvertently started the landscaping project when she planted a tiny water oak seedling (Quercus nigra), which soon grew into a large tree. In no time, the yard was too shady for grass, but was just right for the thoughtfully designed landscape that they created.

The shady front corner of the backyard is brightened by the bottle tree (a gift from their son), a stone bench, and a lovely sugar kettle fountain – such a nice place to sit, watching the birds and enjoying the view.

As you enter the backyard, you see pea gravel pathways winding through a variety of lush flora, such as Nephrolepis biserrata ‘Macho, holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum), butterfly iris (Dietes), cast-iron plants (Aspidistra elatior), walking iris (Neomarica gracilis), and fall-blooming Ligularia. Water features, including a sugar kettle fountain and an inground pond, provide the music of flowing water, attracting birds and other wildlife to the garden. A traditional Louisiana bottle tree, which was created by their son as a gift for Patrice, adorns a place of honor near the sugar kettle fountain.

Ancient live oak trees (Q. virginiana) shade the charming house that sports a new, larger front porch. Masses of cast-iron plants and azaleas (Rhododendron) border the house and the parking area.

Richard is a master woodworker and Patrice, a talented ceramic artist. Patrice’s unique ceramic birdfeeders and Richard’s handcrafted birdhouses hang from branches, shepherd’s hooks, and fences to provide food and shelter for their feathered friends. Both Patrice and Richard are also interior designers.

A beautifully staged corner in the side yard makes good use of a small space. The nesting bird wreath on the wire trellis contains firecracker vine (Manettia cordifolia) and pink Clematis. Nandina flank the two-tiered fountain. Rosemary (Rosmarinus) trails from a unique hanging basket.

The inspiration for the handsome wooden building in the back corner of the yard came from a chicken coop design that they saw in Southern Living. They built it from scratch, without plans, ordering the remarkable door hinges from a restoration parts catalog. The shed is used for storage, but a cocky metal rooster is a nod to the original coop design. 

Numerous variegated plants provide color in the landscape. The shiny round leaves of fall-blooming ligularia and the serrated leaves of miniature Philodendron ‘Xanadu’ and foxtail asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myersii’) add texture and form.

The magnificent outdoor room on the back of the house came about when a series of porch renovations caused a reoccurring leak in the roof. Because the family also needed more room to entertain company, while Patrice was away, Richard had all the old porches torn down and replaced with the great outdoor living area that is there today. 

A comfortable patio garden beside the house features one-of-a-kind stepping-stones decorated with the handprints and footprints of their grandchildren. Plenty of flowering plants, such as angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia), firecracker vine, million bells (Calibrachoa) and crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) attract pollinators.

The Heatilator fireplace, which once stood where the pergola is located, was incorporated into the new porch design and is now the central point of the outdoor room. Richard fashioned the tables and sideboard from lumber that he and Patrice’s father salvaged from historic buildings scheduled for demolition. 

The back porch has many attractive features, including the eye-catching table, sideboard, and birdhouse that were built by Richard from salvaged wood. The Adirondack chairs offer comfortable seating around the fireplace.

Wonderful weather vanes, wind chimes, and various yard art, expertly placed throughout the garden, were acquired from their many jaunts to flea markets and yard sales. One of the most prized objects is a small St. Joseph’s statue in Richard’s handmade wooden grotto. The statue was a gift from a dear friend who attended St. Joseph’s Academy with Patrice. The foliage of variegated bamboo placed nearby contrasts nicely with the other plants, but they are keeping an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t escape its container.

The lights in the pond and throughout the yard provide magical luminance and depth to the fairy-tale landscape.

The narrow strip of sunny yard beside the house was transformed into a delightful patio garden where they can sit and watch various pollinators visit the colorful flowering plants. Patrice and the grandchildren created a group of inspiring personalized stepping-stones that lead down the garden path.

At night the pergola provides a cozy place to enjoy a drink with friends or a bite to eat.

I enjoyed visiting this multi-faceted garden, which is lovely in any light. I plan to incorporate some of the clever lighting ideas and other designs into my own landscape.

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