Landscape architect Jon Emerson’s office garden is such an important part of his workspace that he put the front door there.
“It’s like Savannah and Charleston,” Emerson says. “In Savannah and Charleston, you walk into the gardens first.”
The office, in an early 20th- century house in Beauregard Town, features a side garden divided into three main parts — a grove of citrus trees, a vegetable garden and an area for “trying out” new plants. A section at the back of the property contains a large circular fountain, filled with exotic fish, as well as a secluded area behind a studio and storage space.
Emerson, who retired after teaching 31 years in the LSU Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, originally owned his current office and the turn-of-the-century house next door. Beginning in the 1980s, he established the garden between the two buildings. Several years ago, he sold the older house but kept the garden.
To create a more private area, Emerson surrounded the garden with a wooden fence and planted a screen of Alphonse Karr, a special variety of bamboo that does not spread.
At least half of the side garden is filled with 14 varieties of citrus — Meyer lemons, blood oranges, Mandarin oranges, limes and kumquats — all loaded with budding fruit. Each citrus tree is planted in its own raised bed with a soaker hose and timer.
“With the raised beds, you don’t have to bend down so far to weed,” explains Emerson, who is very careful to remove all branches that shoot up in the graft area of the trees.
“The fine varieties are grafted onto very hardy stock for endurance, but the fruit on the hardy trees is not good, and the branches have very big thorns,” Emerson says. “These branches in the graft must be removed.”
Between the raised citrus beds, paths are laid with Grasscrete, a material which contains open spaces where grass can grow.
“I use it because I want to be sure the trees get enough oxygen and water from the rain,” he says.
Some time ago, Emerson made a large dirt mound as a playground for the champion Scottish Terriers he raises.
“They made such a mess on it that I turned it into my vegetable garden,” he says.
Tomatoes and green beans are planted around the edges with herbs, white eggplants and peppers in the center.
Emerson arranged pavers over the mound so he can easily access the plants at the center.
“It’s almost like a labyrinth,” he says.
A tall fence where each spring sweet peas bloom in abundance separates the citrus grove from a narrow area Emerson uses to experiment with different kinds of plants. A good part of this area is dedicated to several varieties of liguleria, one of his favorites. He is trying a black-leaf crape myrtle with dark red flowers, a yellow magnolia and several unusual irises.
“I just love plants. I love to experiment with plants,” he says. “Some make it, and some don’t.”
Emerson grew up in California, graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and earned a graduate degree in landscape architecture from Harvard, where he taught for one year.
He is a man of many interests. He paints, does life sculpture and raises his champion Scotties. In 1998, one of his dogs won Best in Breed at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.
He is an award-winning landscape architect with many outstanding projects to his credit. One of his most recent is the landscaping design for the new Main Library. The project also includes his design of two rooftop gardens and the stained-glass window in the children’s section.
From the work area in his office, Emerson has a clear view of the garden.
“I come here every day,” he says. “It’s a place I love to be. I have my music and my dogs here. I design here.”