Carol Self was a renter 16 years ago when she moved to the house on Jefferson Street in Old Mandeville, but that didn’t stop her from planting a garden.
“I hadn’t done much gardening before I was married in 1970, but my mother
always had a vegetable garden,” Self said. “That’s what this garden was when I started it.”
Today, the garden turns heads at one of the busiest corners of Old Mandeville.
Situated at Jefferson and Girod streets just two blocks from Lake Pontchartrain, it is enclosed by a weathered wood picket fence that adds to its country appeal.
The property was once owned by the proprietors of Frosch’s Barber Shop, a longtime local business now operated by the third generation of the founding family. With its red and white metal awning and white clapboard exterior, Frosch’s is a landmark in Old Mandeville.
About seven years ago, Self and the Frosch family struck a deal to subdivide the property so Self could purchase her rental home. The agreement included the proviso that Self could use the land flanking and belonging to the barber shop for her garden, as long she cut the grass and otherwise maintained both pieces of land.
“It was a sweetheart deal and one I couldn’t pass up,” Self said. “My portion of the site has a lot of shade, and the best light is on the land that the Frosch family still owns. So that’s where I plant.”
Self started the garden as a vegetable patch so that she could enjoy fresh herbs and vegetables year round.
“But then I began adding flowers, mostly to help out the vegetables,” said Self, a psychologist in private practice. “I planted marigolds to help the tomatoes, nasturtiums for the squash and petunias to get rid of mosquitoes. I just started sticking them in.”
And they took. A sprig of a rose that was given to Self by a friend grew into a vigorous vine that dominates the northwest corner of the garden.
“He called it ‘Seven Sisters,’ for the clusters of seven small red blossoms that completely cover it in early spring,” she said. “The first flush is amazing, and it blooms to a lesser extent all year long. I have to cut it back every few months or it would just take over.”
Self has a fondness for roses, especially fragrant ones, and has scattered them liberally among her edible crops.
A white rose climbs the arbor marking the path — planted with pennyroyal — between the two garden plots. In one bed, an alluring coral rose keeps company with white-flowering cilantro.
Appearing elsewhere are “Mister Lincoln,” a hybrid tea rose known for its large red blossoms and strong fragrance; “Chrysler Imperial,” a dark red rose, also fragrant; “Blue Girl,” a tea rose with lavender blossoms; “Nearly Black,” a dark red rose with a musk fragrance; “Ain’t She Sweet,” a hybrid tea rose with an orange-red bloom and strong fragrance; and a vivid pink KnockOut rose.
Considering the wide variety and bounty of roses in Self’s garden, it could be described a rose garden interplanted with vegetables and herbs, rather than a vegetable and herb garden accented with roses.
“I still think of it as a vegetable garden because I eat something from it almost every day,” Self claims. “In the spring, it was lettuce, kale, beets, celery and carrots. Now, it’s cucumbers and squash, and I’m waiting for Brussels sprouts and tomatoes. I also use lots of the herbs — basil, oregano, parsley, thyme and mint.”
Oak leaves from the two large specimens on the property serve as mulch for the beds. Occasionally, Self buries “old rotten bananas” in the soil around her roses for a jolt of potassium, or adds Epsom salt to the soil to boost the roses’ flowering and green their leaves. Sometimes she uses store bought organic fertilizer.
“But when I’m feeling energetic, I make my own fertilizer from cottonseed meal, blood meal, greensand and dolomite,” Self said. “I should probably fertilize once a month, but I only get to it three or four times a year.”
Self said she spends an average of an hour or two in the garden daily, mostly in the evenings to unwind after work. It helps reduce her time commitment that a number of the plants in her garden beds seed themselves.
“I never plant dill anymore — I don’t have to because it reseeds. Sometimes the cucumbers or broccoli or peppers reseed, and the cilantro. So do the zinnias,” she said.
The garden attracts enough attention that friends and acquaintances often bring her seeds and plants to add to it.
“My mail carrier brought me a bunch of celosia seeds for the tall variety with the purple plumes on top,” she said. “And when I first started gardening here, Leonard Frosch gave me some seeds for the red coxcomb variety of celosia that his parents used to grow here back in the 1940s. His son, Brian, runs the barbershop now.”
Self appreciates the continuity with the past and sees no reason she won’t be gardening well into the future.
“I expect to be going strong well into my 90s,” she said. “I didn’t learn all that I’ve learned over the past 71 years not to put it to use.”