Once the star of Lafayette’s Azalea Trail, which covers about 20 miles of city streets each spring in lavender and fuchsia, the Alexandre Mouton House is trying to make a comeback. All it takes is modernization — and money.
The oldest dwelling in the city and home to the Lafayette Museum, the Mouton House was built in the early 1800s by Vermilionville founder Jean Mouton. Its ongoing preservation is a challenge for its conservators, and undertaking the azalea revitalization are five women — former grounds Chairwoman Yvonne Mitchell, present Chairwoman and master gardener Jolynn Cole, Kathy Gerami, Melanie McKenzie and Lisa Chance.
“There are some very old azaleas in the back and relatively old in front,” says Mitchell. “We restore as the budget allows, but it’s counterproductive without a sprinkler system. We’re spending money and things are dying.”
New plantings didn’t survive, she says, adding, “The camellia garden also expired.”
The Martial F. Billeaud Sr. Foundation recently awarded $1,000 in grant money for irrigation.
“That’s just the front,” says Cole. “The back needs irrigating, also.”
The committee will be adding sprinklers — very carefully. They must be positioned precisely so they don’t spray the porch and rot the wood.
Six to eight more azaleas — the Pink Formosa variety — are needed in the front, where 16 are already located. There are 25-30 azaleas in the back.
Backyard irrigation is complicated by two live oaks, both registered with the Live Oak Society, whose roots extend the full length of the property. The grounds committee doesn’t want them damaged, and an irrigation system can’t spray the bark continuously.
“The roots are as big as the canopy,” says Mitchell, explaining that moving the sprinklers manually would be a big job. “Hand-moving sprinklers, who can do that in August?”
Considered by many to be the quintessential Southern plant, azaleas like living near or beneath trees, yet they still need enough sun to flower. Once established, they are low maintenance provided they get enough water without their roots remaining wet.
“Most anything in the yard has its preferences,” says Mitchell. “With azaleas, they won’t bloom unless they get adequate sun, but too much burns the leaves. The roots can’t stay wet, they need proper drainage, but also adequate water.”
Despite some severe pruning by Mitchell, there were no new blooms in the back because the azaleas were too shaded.
Long-range plans include cleaning the fence line which is impeding the full bloom. It’s a big plan.
“The first money goes to improving the house. Those of us that improve the yard feel like stepchildren,” says Mitchell with a laugh.
Brothers Lawn Service advises on the upkeep of the property. The women hope to have the grounds shipshape during the March fundraiser, Vignettes, one of two events held each year to raise money to maintain the house.
The event will be held March 20-21, and includes a Sunday afternoon and Monday luncheon.
“We love to get people to the house,” says Cole. “If for no other reason than to see what it takes to maintain.”