The first garden I had after my marriage ended was at a place a mile off Rosedale Road in West Baton Rouge. George Richard, who later founded Balloon Fest, moved the Acadian cottage he’d grown up in in Donaldsonville and restored it from top to bottom. I found it in the Rental ads in the ADVOCATE, and called the listed number immediately. Marie Richard answered the phone, and mid-conversation, she said, “Didn’t you write CAJUN?” I said I had. “That book presented Cajun culture the way it should be. I think that house will be perfect for you.”
And it was.
The spring after I moved in, I planted what I intended to be an English Cottage garden. George obligingly built a picket fence around the garden to keep his horses out I tended it until July, when keeping it clear of weeds became so difficult I knew I needed help. I called Gracie Mae Kinchen, who had been with us for years, and later would be again, and asked if she knew anyone who gardened. She said Emile Clark would be a good choice.
But when Emile came out the next day, it turned out that he had never planted a garden in his life. Still, he was there, so I showed him the difference between a weed and a wanted plant, and he never looked back.
When I moved from Rosedale Road to Le Havre, where there was a lake. I got permission from the president of the association to plant roses outside the wall enclosing my patio, though the rules forbade it. Emile planted a slow growing wisteria on the second floor balcony, and when I remarried and moved to Sweetbriar Street in Baton Rouge, the wisteria came with us.
Finally, Emile had the space to create a number of gardens. He built a picket fence around the front yard, then made an English garden. He also planted a row of holly bushes that grew high enough to block out the view of the house next door. When the man of the house asked Emile why I wanted something that high, his reply was that Mrs. B. loved her neighbors but she didn’t want to know they were there.
A rose garden had its own space off to the side of the courtyard. Dick loved tulips and so every year Emile planted 600 bulbs. Wisteria grew on the back fence that overlooked a large pasture, climbing roses filled other spots, and there was always space for zinnias and daisies.
A few years after Dick died, I moved to New Orleans because my daughter Aimee and her husband John Lawson were having my first grandchild. Sebastian was born on January 21, 2000, and since my house, was only nine blocks from theirs, I saw him almost daily. Emile drove down twice a week to prepare and care for gardens. The first week I moved in, I told Emile I would buy some hanging baskets to put in front of windows, as we had at Sweetbriar.
Emil said, “People in our neighborhood who live in raised houses like this one don’t have hanging baskets. They have window boxes.”
Needless to say, window boxes it was.
That garden was the smallest I’ve ever had, but there was room for roses, and spring bulbs, and Emile made a Knot garden in the front which was delight to behold.
After three years, though I enjoyed living in New Orleans, I decided to move back, not to Baton Rouge, but to Prairieville. My close friend Henry Avery was in real estate. I described the house I wanted, he went online to see what he could find, and I drove up one day to see them.
None of them had trees. All of them had the cookie cutter designs so prevalent then. There was only one left, on Bluff Road, and when we got there, the owner had forgotten we were coming and wasn’t there. Discouraged, we turned back. Then, as we passed Ridge Road, I saw a sign. House for Sale.
“We don’t have anything to lose,” I told Henry. So we drove to the address, and the minute I saw the house, I said, “That’s it.”
The house had a lock box, so Henry called the realtor and got the code to go in. It had a long, peaked ceiling living/dining room area. It had a compact kitchen. It had a large master bedroom with it’s own bath, and two smaller bedrooms that shared a hall bath. Long porches with deep eaves across the front and back of the house. “This is my house, but it’s way too small.”
By the time we got back in the car, I’d figured how I could add on to the house. My offer was accepted, and as soon as the house was mine, Emile started on the gardens.
The property is almost an acre, with a wooded area and a large area in front. Lots of sunshine for roses, shade for plants that aren’t happy in the sun. Emile was in his element, turning grass into fern filled spaces, training Honeysuckle over arches, and planting a vegetable garden that kept us in vegetable well into the fall. He also planted two fig trees, and manfully battled birds to pick buckets full.
There came an unhappy time when Emile could no longer work as hard as he had been. Finally, he couldn’t work at all. He was and is one of my best friends, and when I think of him, I think of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s ROAD OF THE LOVING HEART, which the natives of the island where he lived and died built in his memory. This smooth shining road is a metaphor for the love the natives had for Stevenson. In Emile’s case, I think of the ROAD OF A GARDEN LOVER.