Ten years after building his backyard pond and garden, Charbel Harb still seeks perfection.
He is constantly redesigning the layout, moving and replacing rocks and testing new plants.
“It is never finished,” says his wife, Ruth, as Harb shifts a rock next to the small waterfall.
Nestled in his backyard in south Baton Rouge, Harb’s pond is the centerpiece of a lush garden where something is always in bloom.
“This is my therapy,” he says. “I really like to do this.”
The 62-year-old Harb has been designing ponds for two decades and has created gardens since the 1970s, when he trained as a landscape architect at LSU and opened his business, Harb’s Oasis. He created the annual Tour of Ponds and Gardens 15 years ago to showcase some of the most interesting water features in town. This year’s pond tour begins Saturday.
Harb says the size of his pond and garden cannot compete with some of the large, lavish gardens he creates for wealthier clients, but his yard has been designed to use every square foot of space.
The yard features more than 300 varieties of plants, arranged so that something is nearly always blooming. There’s Queen Elizabeth lilies with gorgeous white flowers and green parrot’s feather plants growing in a red pot on top of his waterfall.
“This is my personal creation,” he says. “That’s not how I design for people. Most people do not get this kind of a detail. I change it all the time, and I experiment with it.”
Born in the mountains of Lebanon, Harb came to the United States in 1969 at 17 to study engineering at LSU. He knew little about plants and landscaping then.
“I lived in Kuwait for four years,” he says.“The closest plant was plastic.”
Skilled in math, engineering seemed a logical career choice, but Harb gravitated to landscape architecture, where he could be creative.
“It was just something that grew on me, designing spaces, creating things,” he says. “I used plants to paint a garden.”
After a stint in the U.S. Army, Harb graduated from LSU in 1977 and two years later opened his original store off Gardere Lane. In 1990, he opened his gardening center on Coursey Boulevard.
It was in the mid-1980s that he became interested in building ponds. Prior to that, he says, the only affordable type of water gardening involved fountains.
With the invention of new filters, ponds became more practical.
“The water fascinates me,” he says. “It gives you a cool effect and, of course, one form is a fountain, but there is more to it than a fountain. You can do so much with other things.”
The waterfall in Harb’s garden appears to grow naturally from the ground and trickles into a pool.
“Every year I challenge myself to add height,” Harb says.
He experiments constantly, with plants to learn which ones will work in the Louisiana climate. Mainly he tries to create textures that appeal to the eye.
“Once you have knowledge you start playing with things and you create textures,” he says.
Even though he has years of professional knowledge, Harb insists he is the same as the average gardener. “I’m no different than any other — trial and error,” he says. “But I know how to work them together.”