June Peay never has to cut the grass at her Spanish Town home. Every square inch of her yard is planted. Even what once was her driveway is now a garden path.
When Peay bought her home 22 years ago, the yard was pretty much a disaster surrounded by a chain-link fence.
With advice from Neil Odenwald, professor emeritus of the LSU School of Landscape Architecture and an expert on plants, and the late Cary Long, an avid gardener, Peay turned her nothing yard into a lush cottage garden filled with hundreds of varieties of plants, mostly perennials and many native plants.
Early on, Peay tore down the unattractive fence and built a wooden fence to enclose the front garden, then she got to work on the old dry soil.
Using two compost bins and lots of mulch, Peay worked on the dirt until it became fertile and started her garden, which was "somewhat planned in the beginning," she said. "After that, things just began to spread."
Peay can check out all things growing in her front yard from her porch, which is more of an outdoor living room, complete with two gliders, an Amish buggy bench, comfortable chairs, a dining table and even lamps.
"Spanish Town is truly a neighborhood. Everyone walks their dogs and stops to visit," said Peay, who keeps a stash of dog treats for four-legged guests.
A tall parsley hawthorn, named because its leaves look like parsley, partially shades the front yard. Milkweed, a favorite of monarch butterflies, is in full summer bloom on both sides of the walkway to the porch. Vines, including Rose of Montana, climb through the space crowded with plants, including a mass of salvia, which comes back every year.
"I just let everything go to do its own thing," Peay said.
Pots of giant pink caladiums grown from the largest bulbs Peay can find have encroached along the edges of what used to be her driveway, turning it into a path to her backyard. There's also native plants along the walkway as well as several varieties of ligularia, clerodendron and a fabulous Rangoon creeper vine with blooms that start out white and turn to pink and red. Water flows from a fountain made from an old millstone.
Every season offers surprises in Peay's garden.
"Things just come up," she said. "If something gets too big, I just wack it back."
Peay converted her fenced backyard, only 7 feet deep at its widest, into a deck that connects a small patio on the north side to the narrow south side filled with garden art by her favorite artists. A bottle tree created by folklore metal artist Stephanie Dwyer evokes the memory of Hurricane Katrina with its curved metal trunk and branches a testament to the devastating winds of the massive storm.
New Orleans sculptor Christine LeDoux crafted metal rims from floor polishers into a contemporary sculpture that hangs on the south side of the house.
Throughout the tightly planted areas are metal pieces by artists Pat Juneau and John Reed as well as numerous found objects and items Peay picks up at estate sales. Among her treasures are a decorative bench, numerous metal sculptures, pieces of fencing, an old grocery cart taken over by a giant fern, a farm trough filed with plants, a cement pig and a 1920s vintage tricycle about the same age as the house.
Peay is in the process of having her garden qualified as a Louisiana Certified Habitat, which requires that the area be planted with plants native to this region. The designation, established by the Louisiana Native Plant Society, has three different categories depending on the number of native plants or percentage of native plants in the specified area. Any Louisiana resident, school, organization or business can apply to participate in the vetting process that may include a visit by a representative of the Louisiana Native Plant Society.
For information on the Louisiana Certified Habitat Program, visit lnps.org/louisiana-certified-habitat.