Story and Photography by Yvonne Lelong Bordelon

The lovely imaginative lakeside garden of Ruth and Peter Kovacs in Baton Rouge’s Oak Hills Park is filled with many charming expressions of Ruth’s creative spirit. This unique tribute to fancifulness was one of the four gardens featured on Hilltop Arboretum’s 2018 Spring Garden Tour.

A picturesque view of the lake and the babbling brook bed. Flowers include Liatris, blanket flower, Guara, and white alyssum.

According to Ruth, “It is a silly garden, but I hope it brings a smile to everyone who visits.” This talented Louisiana Master Gardener does all the designing, planting, and upkeep herself. Each of her creations has a story, which she gladly shares with one and all.

Ruth Kovacs in her dream garden among a bed of Ligularia, begonias, Hydrangea, and hostas. Cattle trough and washtub planters add to the cow herd theme.

At every turn you see individual scenes that are designed to delight the viewer. Statuary, stones, and vintage pieces are woven into the landscape. Ruth’s “flower-pot people” creations adorn the garden. One called Flowerpot Fred is over 8 feet tall and stands guard in the front yard. He is positioned on a knoll where a giant water oak once stood, but now contains a pollinator bed. Nearby, the trunks of two palm trees (Peter’s favorite plant) form a heart when the fronds fill out, adding vertical interest to the area. 

Where plants just don’t seem to want to grow, she places something that is pleasant to view and will hopefully make you smile. One of her favorite amusing features is the large metal bluebird of happiness sculpture, complete with a nest and a large bright blue egg that sits high in an old cypress tree.

A group of containers and hanging baskets brighten up the corner by the gate. Plants include wax begonias, chartreuse sweetpotato vine (Ipomoea batatas ‘Marguerite’), Petunia, chenille plant (Acalypha hispida), mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria), and red powderpuff (Calliandra haematocephala).

The front is graced by “Big Mama,” a huge live oak tree (Quercus virginiana). The large tree roots were crowded by the existing concrete driveway and many wide cracks had formed. To help the tree and provide a level surface, the Kovacs replaced the concrete with permeable limestone gravel. This improved drainage by providing more water for the tree and the lawn while reducing storm water runoff. Ruth and Peter also enjoy the crunch that the gravel makes underfoot.

A vintage baby’s bathtub and an umbrella holder make interesting planters. Decorative watering bottles help keep the herbs hydrated, including upright and prostrate rosemary (Rosmarinus), sweetleaf (Stevia rebaudiana), thyme, pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), and nasturtiums (Tropaeolum).

A bed of Hosta surrounds the tree trunk and hanging baskets dangle from Big Mama’s branches like earrings. Ruth has a surefire remedy for getting rid of bothersome slugs in her beloved hostas. She mixes 1 part household ammonia to 10 parts water. Pour a ring of the solution in the soil around the eyes.

Big Flowerpot Fred stands among pollinator plants including yellow and white Lantana, blanket flower, Dianthus, purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), gaura, and petunias. In his t head is purple coneflower, Portulaca ‘ColorBlast Double Orange’, white snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus), and blue Angelonia.

The property was once pasture land. Since Ruth loves cows and she can’t have livestock in the yard, she painted a herd of her very own on the backyard fence. Each is named after a close friend that helped her at some point in her life. She worked a heart into each painting in appreciation of what their friendship meant to her. 

One of Ruth’s clay pot creations sits beside a bed of colorful plants near the outdoor eating area.

Mrs. Kovacs also paints with plants, as evidenced by the mostly lily “stream” that flows from the black urn along the front of the house through some creeping wire vine (Muehlenbeckia axillaris). The graceful stream of lilies culminates among the Kovacs’ koi. The babbling brook garden between the lake and the swimming pool includes three statues of salmon swimming upstream through waves of blanket flowers (Gaillardia) and white caps of sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima).

The two-story lakeside storage shed is shaded by a cypress tree and Japanese magnolias. The upper story would make an excellent kids’ hideout/playhouse or even a “she shed” for the missus.

The lake supports a variety of waterfowl, including black swans and Canadian geese. Hawks and Mississippi kites soar overhead and hummingbirds and butterflies are frequent visitors to the garden.

A stately live oak is encircled with hostas, Torenia, and creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia).

I enjoyed visiting this unique garden. Other gardeners may enjoy taking a leaf out of Ruth’s imaginative garden by adding a little whimsy to theirs.

Pollinator plants, such as wishbone flower (Torenia), million bells (Calibrachoa), mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea), and sweet alyssum provide food for bees and butterflies all over the garden.
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