Judy Foil is a lifelong gardener who turned her large yard in Magnolia Woods into a natural paradise and her laboratory for experimenting with different varieties of plants.
“We bought the property for the trees,” said Judy Foil, who with her husband, retired Court of Appeal Judge Frank Foil, built their home there in 1969.
Except for occasional consultations with experts, Judy Foil designed the entire landscaping herself.
“Nobody has ever sat down with a piece of paper. I laid things out because I like a lot of different things,” Judy Foil said. “A lot of the planting I did because Frank was cutting the grass. I wanted things in beds and on the perimeter so he wouldn’t have to cut around a lot of plants.”
Foil first became interested in gardening in her last semester at LSU when she took an introductory class from Robert Reich, who started LSU’s landscape architecture program. Over the years, Neil Odenwald, retired LSU professor of landscape architecture, and landscape architect Pete Newton made suggestions. Foil reads about gardening, has taken short courses in landscaping and gardening, and gets advice from her friends in the Burden Horticulture Society.
Foil developed the landscaping around her big trees: cherry bark oaks, water oaks, live oaks and trees she added over years, including a nuttall oak, shumard oak, Southern sugar maple, tulip poplar, red swamp maple and a pine tree.
Among her smaller pieces, what she calls her understory, are an American holly, a bay magnolia, little gem magnolia, Japanese maples, pistachio, Japanese magnolia, vitex, star magnolia and sweet olive.
The front yard is relatively low maintenance with mostly permanent planting. The back is where Foil experiments. “I have one or two of everything to see how it will do,” she said.
The back landscaping begins with a wooden deck. To the left is a bed with a water feature centered with a copper fountain. The bed is planted mostly with flowers in shades of pink and red, including cone flowers, toad lilies, iresine and Marie Pavie roses.
“This rose will literally bloom under oak trees,” Foil said. ”It is one of my favorite things.”
Clematis blooms on a wooden arbor. “I try to double plant on an arbor, something that blooms in the fall and something that blooms in the spring,” she said.
Adjacent to the front bed is another filled with a variety of plants. “This bed was supposed to be just azaleas,” said Foil as she pointed out other plants that now make their home in it.
“This yard was never going to be Disneyland,” she said with a laugh.
The entire perimeter of the yard is planted with native trees, shrubs, blooming plants, ferns and lots of pass-alongs from friends and other gardeners. One of her favorite perimeter plants is a stand of indigo, which came from Emory Smith, who donated his property for the LSU Hilltop Arboretum.
“Sometimes something will come up that I haven’t seen for years,” Foil said. “It’s a nice surprise.”
The yard is filled with numerous varieties of ginger, many purchased on a trip with her garden group to a nursery that specializes in gingers. “I bought one of everything,” she said.
As with most southern gardens, invasive plants like morning glories are a problem. “I planted one morning glory that was beautiful for the first two years,” Foil said. “Now it’s everywhere. To my credit, at least I didn’t plant four o’clocks.”
By following a tip she read years ago from Ruth Stout, the “Mulch Queen,” Foil has weeds under fairly good control. “Every spring, I cover the open areas in the beds with two layers of newspaper and at least three inches of pine straw,” she said. “You can use landscape cloth, but weeds can come up through the landscape cloth. Newspaper is better.”
Foil says that her goal with the garden is always to have something to cut and bring in the house. “My mother, Kathleen Johnson, always had something in the house,” she said.
She learned a lot about gardening from her mother-in-law, Doris Roy, who “didn’t cut but was a fabulous gardener.” Several plants in the yard were from Roy’s garden.
Over the years, Foil has had to adapt her garden to the loss of eight large trees. What was once a completely shady yard now has a few sunny spots.
“I grieve when I lose a tree,” she said. “The only good thing about losing a big old tree is that you get to get something new.”