By Yvonne Lelong Bordelon
The delightful Spanish Town garden of Lloyd Wardrip and Archie Obregon, which was one of the four gardens featured in Hilltop Arboretum’s Spring Garden Tour in Baton Rouge, is an imaginative harmony of color, texture, and form. Their extensive collection of more than 200 container plants, inground shrubs and trees, and thousands of bulbs are cleverly displayed, making excellent use of the small space.
They have skillfully designed a little paradise in this mid-city neighborhood – complete with a water feature, an outstanding entry packed with flowering plants, and a shady private backyard work area with seating. The displays on the front porch and in the garden are constantly changing as spent blooms are replaced with new plants from the “nursery” in the backyard.
Both Lloyd and Archie have green thumbs and strong gardening roots that span generations with parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents who were avid gardeners. Lloyd learned about starting seeds and taking cuttings while growing up on a farm in east Texas. He has his mother’s heirloom seed collection and continues the tradition by adding new precious heirlooms each year. Archie grew up in Acapulco and Mexico City and learned many of the same gardening skills at an early age from his grandparents there.
They are constantly adding new plants to their collection from garden centers, mail-order nurseries, pass-alongs from friends and family, and the occasional curbside rescue. Lloyd and Archie grow many heirlooms and old-fashioned plants, especially those that attract pollinators. Lloyd said, “We believe that most new gardeners wouldn’t get disappointed and give up if they grew heirloom varieties. They are amazingly hardy and give a great show for little effort and many reseed freely the following season.”
Some of Lloyd’s old-fashioned favorites include Cleome, touch-me-nots (Impatiens capensis), and obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana). This year they are growing heirloom vegetables, including ‘Cherokee Purple’ and ‘Black Krim’ tomatoes as well as baby round zucchini.
In addition to the heirlooms, they have many tropical plants that Archie remembers growing in Mexico, including tamarind trees (Tamarindus indica), papaya trees (Carica papaya), and flame vine (Senecio confusus). Some new tropicals that they’re currently enjoying are jewel orchid (Ludisia discolor), and yellow butterfly vine (Mascagnia macroptera). Last year they tried Dahlia and managed to grow one that was 12 feet high with 7-inch blooms!
The area in the back is where the plants are started and nurtured. On the ledge along the back fence are pots containing cuttings and seed starts as well as dahlia tubers (for the second round of blooming in midsummer) and hundreds of Lycoris bulbs. When the bulbs send up flower stalks, Lloyd and Archie plant them throughout the garden or use them as cut flowers.
To protect the tropical plants from the cold weather, Lloyd constructs a large temporary greenhouse each winter out of ½-inch schedule 40 PVC, contractor’s packs of fittings and glue, and clear 10-mil poly sheeting. The poly sheeting is usually not wide enough, so he uses double-sided Gorilla Tape to get the needed width. A single oscillating fan and two small portable heaters maintain a temperature in the mid 60s even when the weather drops into the low teens.
Archie is an expert in plant care and has even developed his own soil mix consisting of a general potting mix, peat, and topsoil with amendments added as needed. They successfully cultivate so many plants that they often have to take the excess to Hodge Podge Nursery at the LSU Hilltop Arboretum.
With a great deal of ingenuity and hard work, Lloyd and Archie have turned an ordinary midcity duplex into a garden showplace. They are gardeners after my own heart and true plantsmen.