Monday, August 20, 2012

our prettiest weed(?) . . .

my oh my....Passiflora incarnata

There's a wise old garden saying that goes, “a weed is a plant out-of-place,” which means that 1) all “weeds” are not necessarily weeds, and 2) sometimes a “weed” coming up in the “right place” is a good thing...perhaps even better than one (or more!) of the plants that the gardener might have originally chosen for that place.

Personally, I can't even begin to count the number of plants that I've planted and lost in our gardens, and worse, client's gardens – hundreds, if not thousands over the past 35 years. By the same token, I'd also have a difficult time remembering all of the “accidental” plants – let's not call them weeds – that have come up (“volunteered”) in gardens which ended up making a better showing than the plants that I had originally intended for said spots.

passion vine festoons our 7' X 8' swamp rose

A perfect example occurred this past summer at our place. Out of nowhere, a native passion vine (Passiflora incarnata) took root under our swamp rose. Lydia and I both noticed it at the same time. We both received it with great delight, since both of us had unsuccessfully tried on several occasions over the years to get it started at our place. I mean, what's up with that? Here we are, two professional gardeners, and neither of us can make a local weed happy at our place? Yes kids, if you have not found out already, gardening is one of the most humbling of human endeavors. . . over the years we've found out that humble turns out to be a good thing, though. . .

note the tri-lobe leaves (esp. lower left)...learn the leaf
and you can identify the plant when it's not in bloom...

Anyway, up comes the passion vine. Plentiful rains have it growing at the speed of light – or at least water. . . It winds up and around and around the swamp rose. It jumps on the daylily row next to the ditch, and then onto the wild hibiscus in the ditch. Where she stops, nobody knows. We're loving it. . .

Passion vine (aka passion flower) is a member of the plant family Passifloraceae, a tropical family containing a dozen genera and over 600 species – about 500 of which are passion vines (genus Passiflora). Here in Louisiana, two species of Passiflora natively occur. Passiflora lutea, called yellow passionflower, is a small, delicate, shade-loving woodland vine; whereas Passiflora incarnata, called purple passionflower, is a large, husky, tough, sun-loving vine found in agricultural fields and other disturbed areas. Yep, many if not most farmers consider it a bad weed. What a weed, non?!!???

P. incarnata fruit

Another common name for P. incarnata is “maypop,” probably in reference to the fruit. As is the case with most species of passion vine, the fruits of P. incarnata are quite tasty, offering a sweet/tart flavor mix.

inside, each seed is encapsulated with its very own
envelope of juicy pulp...

Historically, French-speaking Louisianians called the fruit, grenade (pron. Grah-NOD), and made a refreshing lemonade-like drink from it. In his Edible Plants of the Gulf South (2005, Allen's Native Ventures, 337.328.2252), Charles Allen proclaims all parts – leaves, flowers, and fruits – of Passiflora incarnata to be edible.

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly
(nectaring off of red porterweed)

Passiflora incarnata is a primary host-plant for the larvae of both Gulf Fritillary and Zebra Longwing butterflies.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

a wild garden

"Wild thing
You make my heart sing;
You make everything groovy."

-- Chip Taylor

New Orleans' Longue Vue Gardens is appropriately named, for the site possesses a dozen or more ingeniously constructed mini-gardens laid out so that numerous resulting “long views” through several gardens at a time exist throughout the property. And of course the main “long view” – up to the main house – should rank among the most spectacularly-designed entry gardens in the U.S.

Longue Vue House and Gardens was the brainchild of Edgar and Edith Stern, who had the home built and grounds landscaped back in the 1930s. They hired nationally-renowned landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman to design the gardens. Beginning in 1935 with the spaces immediately surrounding the house, Shipman worked her way outward, and by 1939 had finally made it to a quiet, one-acre space at the northwestern corner of the property, adjacent to the 17th Street Canal dividing Orleans parish and Old Metairie. Here, using a fine brick pigeonaire as an aesthetic anchor, Shipman created Longue Vue's Wild Garden via a geometrically-simple pathway system that effectively divided the garden into several hefty segments.

Legendary Louisiana artist/writer/naturalist Caroline Dormon was called in to consult with Shipman on the Wild Garden's planting selections. And over the succeeding years several additional Louisiana native plant garden specialists have been called in to provide input there, beginning with Richard and Jessie Johnson, founders of the Louisiana Native Plant Society, and hand-picked successors at Dormon's beloved “Briarwood” (now known as The Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve) just north of Natchitoches.

I first visited Longue Vue's Wild Garden in the late 1990s, and over time was privileged to collaborate with a succession of three of the facility's Head Gardeners in providing design options and planting selections during the Wild Garden's crazy pre-/post-Katrina years. My last interaction came just several weeks post-Katrina (2005) when I was contacted by Head Gardener Amy Graham to come out and assess the damage and provide replacement plantings.

a bank of wild aster has naturalized
on the right side of this path

Salt-marsh mallow blooms (above) mingle with
black-eyed susan (below)

Amy, who's still serving as Longue Vue's Head Gardener, as well as her predassessors Ann Donnelly and Marcela Linero (Singleton), were all keen on native wildlife-attracting plants – a lucky happenstance for a guy like me. During that last-go-round in the wake of Katrina, I focused on seed/berry/nectar-producing natives, installing mid- to small-sized trees such as American hornbeam, red mulberry, rough-leaf dogwood, sweetbay magnolia, red bay, yaupon holly, and deciduous holly, shrubs such as American beautyberry, arrowwood viburnum, little-leaf viburnum, dwarf palmetto, and wax myrtle, as well as wildflowers such as salt-marsh mallow, black-eyed susan, indian pink, asters, irises, turk's cap, St. Andrew's cross, and others.

Tyrone Foreman (pictured) and I took shelter in the pigeonaire and
caught up on old times during a brief rain shower......behind Tyrone
is a young speciman of needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix), a rare
native, endemic to pine flatwoods in the southernmost parts of South Carolina,
Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi

These photos were taken on a recent visit to the Wild Garden, where I serendipitously ran into old friend Tyrone Foreman, a well known Louisiana native plant advocate, and Susan Norris-Davis, both of whom have been carrying out the main maintenance duties there for the past several years. New Orleans birder Wendy Rihner conducts seasonal birding tours through the Wild Garden. Her next tour is scheduled for September 22. Check the Longue Vue House and Gardens website for more info.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

furry waif's cemetery

(metal sculpture piece near cemetery gate, donated by Susan Votier)

Lydia's been volunteering at Lafayette Animal Aid, a no-kill shelter for homeless dogs and cats, for a long time. Not long after they moved to their new facility north of Carencro, she got the idea to turn their little “pet cemetery” into an ornamental garden. She initially succeeded in installing one, enlisting her pals Michael Heinemen and David Kent. Alas, more pressing cares and concerns with the shelter, and the little garden soon fell into disrepair.

Then along comes volunteer Melinda Falgout – and this is key – her newly retired husband, Gary. Those two, along with Tammy Broussard weeded, soil-prepped, planted, and steel-edged the garden. Volunteers and staff donated wind chimes, bird-baths, and other niceties.

foreground: wormwood Artemesia, old-timey zinnias & Gaura lindheimeri behind

The “sun garden” portion is now a 125' x 4' perennial bed, chock-full of all sorts of hummingbird and butterfly plants, many of which are native wildflowers. And those which are not out-and-out south Louisiana natives have a long track-record of local adaptation. The “shade garden” section has just gotten underway as well.

front: old-timey zinnas; back: native turk's cap

These days, garden maintenance has become a priority of sorts, with Melinda, Lydia, Randy West, and Virginia Richard working there alternate days. Melinda and Debra Clothier installed an irrigation system. In establishing gardens in hot/dry/exposed sites out in rural areas, where belive me, weeds are ten-times the problem that they are in town, irrigation and steel-edging are “musts.”

"pink cigar plant" and turk's cap blooms mingle
these two are outstanding hummer/butterfly plants for our area

yarrow (left), Gaura (upper left), and dwarf rosemary (lower right)
frame a headstone

The headstone decoration quickly evolved, beginning with LAA Facility Manager Melissa Soto, and eventually involved students from Carencro Catholic, Boys and Girls Club, 4-H groups, Girl Scouts, and at-risk youth groups.

headstone workshop

Once upon a time, the abandoned-animal scene was nearly as bad as the litter scene presently is here in the Lafayette area. I write “nearly as bad” from the head. From the heart, of course, abandoned animals are gut-wrenchingly worse scene than litter. It's a sad thing that so many people treat living things as litter...or ornamentation...or armament....etc.

Besides being socially and morally reprehensible, the abandoned animal scene is ecologically reprehensible as well. Stray cats and dogs put even more pressure on already-stressed songbirds, lizards, skinks, frogs, etc. Pressure that these wildlings are having an increasingly tough time coping with.
Thanks to organizations like Lafayette Animal Aid, the local abandoned-animal scene is far less visible than just a few years ago. Joining forces with other groups, they've collectively spayed-neutered thousands and thousands of animals in the past few years. LAA adopts out hundreds of animals each year, as well. They visit classrooms. They host field trips. Watch for their recently-produced series of public service announcements on KADN. They're a happenin' group!

Consider becoming a Lafayette Animal Aid “Guardian Angel.” It's all of $25 per month commitment for God's sake. They've got a heck of group of people out there – staff, volunteers, and other folks who help them in fundraising, public relations, etc. A very impressive operation. Don't take my word for it. Check 'em out at or call 337.896.1553.