Charbel Harb's garden is an explosion of color, tropical plants blooming in an intense palette of vibrant reds, yellows, blues and purples.
"I am crazy on color, but I don't follow the rules," Charbel Harb said. "I mix everything together. I look more for different textures and shapes."
While most of the world was in quarantine, he spent the unseasonably cool spring working on his garden — although it's something he never really stops.
But now he and wife, Ruth, are ready to share their beautiful yard with a June 21 garden tour, that also includes the garden of neighbor Robert Wu. The tour benefits the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank and is open to the public with the donation of a nonperishable food item.
There's no doubt Charbel Harb knows his plants. He was in the nursery business for 20 years until he sold Harb's Oasis 2½ years ago and established at the Coursey Boulevard site a weekly farmers market, The Market at the Oasis, which is open every Saturday morning.
When the Harbs moved to Oak Hills 20 years ago, the yard was mainly a grassy lot where their children and friends played. Over years, Charbel Harb converted it into his "horticultural laboratory," where he tests unusual varieties, especially those in different colors.
His garden, which is planted with more than 150 varieties of mostly blooming plants, covers three sides of his yard and includes a covered outdoor kitchen and bar.
"Almost every single inch of the garden is beds," Charbel Harb said.
He designed the front yard in a semicircular pattern around a small courtyard, where he and his wife enjoy morning coffee and late afternoon wine as they greet friends on daily walks in their Oak Hills neighborhood.
The garden extends down the driveway side of the home leading to the garage Charbel Harb designed in an open West Indies style. He converted the garage to an outdoor kitchen with glass doors that can be closed on the driveway side and a pulldown screen that opens to the back courtyard on the interior side.
Ruth Harb, an active member of the Baton Rouge Unit of the Herb Society of America, is in charge of the courtyard, which she has planted with herbs and some small blooming plants.
The outdoor kitchen, also decorated in bright colors, is made for cooking, with a center island and comfortable seating. It opens to a glassed-in art room, where Charbel Harb displays his art.
The centerpiece of the backyard is a large koi pond filled with lilies and surrounded with beds bursting with hundreds of varieties of blooming plants collected over the past 15 years.
"I want to see color before I see green," he said. "We have at least 30 things blooming at every given moment except in January."
Between the pond and and flower beds, pavers were used to create a patio and a walkway around the garden. On the house side of the courtyard is a seating area. A large oak shades a small patio with a swing and hammock in the back of the garden.
The garden is filled with perennials, including many that die back in the winter but pop back out in the spring and summer. He said about 85% of the plants come back.
Even though the garden is high maintenance, Charbel Harb does all the work himself. It takes about 10 hours a week, but he said he turns on his music and enjoys his "therapy."
"Gardening is the best aerobics," he said. "I can assure you that I do more exercise than any aerobics class can give me."
Garden and Koi Pond Walking Tour
WHAT: A tour of the gardens of Charbel and Ruth Harb and Robert Wu hosted by The Market at the Oasis, The Baton Rouge Unit of the Herb Society of America and the South Louisiana Tropical Perennial Group
WHEN: 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, June 21
WHERE: 841 Pastureview Drive in Oak Hills
COST: Free and open to the public with a donation of a nonperishable food item for the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank