“I love my garden! Can you tell?” asked Susie Sample. You certainly can. It is a vibrant, lush and calm Southern oasis filled with an astonishing variety of plants and trees.
Various textures and shades of green mixed with blooming plants line flagstone pathways. Paved trails wind past several seating areas, a waterfall, a pottery fountain, planters ranging from small to huge, hanging baskets, colorful tiles, old wood and tin.
A closer look reveals both unusual and familiar plants in a mix that is textured and rich. There are varieties of hydrangeas, ferns, trees, perennials and evergreens. Several strawberry plants at the inside of the entrance show signs of someone recently picking a snack. Nothing is dead or dying.
The garden is a 10-year collaboration between Sample and Tina Pickett, certified master gardener and owner of Gardens of Louisiana, L.L.C.
“When I found Tina, I had the yard pretty much in place, but Tina understood me very well,” said Sample, a lifelong gardener who was taught by her father, Dick Fitzgerald. “She just knew I didn’t want anything structured. We like a messy yard.”
“I would dream it up, but she could make sure it happened,” Sample said. “She added a patio. She designed and created the water feature and replaced loose granite with flagstone – she’s real good with flagstone.”
The entire garden is clean and tidy, yet not overly regimented, trimmed or formal. The plants, trees, yard decorations, hanging baskets and seating areas are beautifully arranged in natural, thriving, serene scenes and seating areas.
There are several Louisiana touches:
a small sculpture of an alligator rises out of a water garden with trickling water falling into a small pool lined and surrounded with Colorado, Oklahoma and Arkansas river rock. Two dove sculptures rest on a large rock over the falling water near a statue of St. Francis and a sundial.
Contributions from many artists and vendors contribute to the lovely and quirky atmosphere of the garden.
A wall of weathered wood and tin with a bright-green metal gate separates the potting and storage areas from one of the main seating areas. The gate combines fleurs-de-lis and geometric patterns and was created by a Santa Fe artist. Custom lighting in the trees and secluded in surrounding areas was done by Lutz Falting.
“I got the concrete outdoor pieces from Jody Haddad in Monroe,” said Sample. The concrete pieces are smooth and large. There are numerous concrete planters and benches. A large fire pit holds a huge fern during the summer. A wooden arbor is thickly shrouded in wisteria.
Pine trees tower over the garden and a palm Sample bought for around $6 when it was two feet tall has reached almost 35 feet.
“It was a houseplant that I put out in the yard, and it turned into a palm tree. It’s just huge now – as tall as some of the pine trees,” said Sample.
“There are elements of salvaged treasures and wonderful pathways that lead to lace cap and oak leaf hydrangeas,” said Pickett. “Shadeloving ligularia, fatsia, native plants and Japanese maples” make up several shade gardens in the front yard and near the water feature.
Sample’s husband, Art Sample, competes in outdoor cooking contests. He has an area shaded by a roof for his numerous barbeque pits and grills. Old wood and slightly rusting roofing tin taken from a barn on Cotton Point Plantation, the family farm in Red River Parish, form a fence and gate that separate that space from the larger garden.
“I wanted it to look real old,” explains Sample. “That’s his little corner of the world.”
Art Sample worked with Pickett on an orchard at that farm that contains fig, peach, apple, pomegranate, persimmon, pecan and pear trees and mayhaw and blackberry bushes that was started “about the same time we got started in the yard. We have about four of each kind,” said Sample.
Like any garden, it will never be truly finished. Plans are in the works to replace several photinia bushes with fragrant sweet olive bushes.
Sample is fondest of a contribution her father made to the garden years ago. He wanted to plant a lemon tree on the side of the house, and she tried to dissuade him because she thought it would never live there.
“I’ve gotten tons of lemons every fall,” she said.