Ask Grace Anderson how does her husband's garden grow, and she answers with a resounding "big." 

"I think he would plow up the whole yard, front and back," she said with a laugh. 

It all started 45 years ago when Gary Anderson decided to grow vegetables to make healthy baby food for the couple's two daughters.

He continues to grow a bounty of vegetables, but over the years, he's turned the couple's backyard into a showplace of flowers and plants. 

"When we moved here in 1983, the yard had absolutely nothing in it but a hedge at the back," Grace Anderson said. "Gary just started adding things."


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The ultimate "do-it-yourselfer," Gary Anderson first built a deck that covered most of the backyard. That led to an ambitious plan for a stream that went under the deck and led to a fountain on the other side of the backyard.

Grace Anderson vetoed the stream plan as being too complicated and decided she really wanted some grass. So Gary Anderson pulled up the deck and designed a backyard with curved beds around the perimeter connecting to several circular beds. Tucked away in the plantings are two ponds with fountains.

Although Gary Anderson has spent most of his working years in the insurance and finance business, he worked for a couple of years in the 1970s as a landscape contractor and has never been cured of the "gardening bug." 

"In 2011, I started taking horticulture courses at LSU," he said. "It was a blast. I made friends with the college students in horticulture and even joined the horticulture club."

Now one of three principals in Cardinal Capital, a company that develops financing for businesses, he still maintains his vegetable garden year-round on the side of his yard. He has crops of potatoes, beans, cucumbers, peppers, corn, fennel and all kinds of herbs. There's also a section of citrus trees, several olive trees and grapes grow on the back fence. Because of a bacteria, tomatoes won't grow in the main vegetable garden, so he developed a special spot for them on the other side of his yard.

"I try to have something growing all the time," he said. "It's great therapy."

The vegetables are only the tip of the Andersons' gardening mecca.

More than 50 different flowering plants fill the backyard with color, while herbs and spices like curry, Cuban oregano, cinnamon, lemon grass and basil fill the air with exotic aromas.

"Almost everything we have is edible or planted for its scent," Grace Anderson said. 

There's plumeria, staghorn ferns, elephant ears, ligularia, New Guinea impatiens, yarrow, mallow and what the Andersons call "nun's roses," from Sister Adelaide Williamson, who passed them on because she said they were the wrong color for her yard. A fenced area at one side of the backyard garden is filled with gingers, their flowers emitting the most wonderful fragrances. 

Two areas are carved out as "secret" gardens — a plant hospital behind the house and three beehives in a back corner.

In the "hospital," Gary Anderson does root cuttings, some hydroponic gardening and tries out new varieties.

"Some things Grace banishes to the hospital," he said with a laugh.

His hives are filled with Russian bees that do well in the Louisiana climate.

"They are used to short growing seasons in Russia, so they work especially hard here where we have long growing seasons," he said.

One of the biggest problems that face gardeners in the South is caring for tropical plants in the occasional freeze. Gary Anderson even has that solved: He grows his vulnerable plants in pots so they can be moved to a protected area.

"I have a mobile garden," Gary Anderson said. "It takes me an hour and a half to move the plants to my garage."