Jack and Judy Burk's friends and neighbors know they can always find good company and a glass of wine in the couple's backyard garden.

"On recycling day, you can hear the wine bottles rattle when the recycling truck picks up here," Judy Burk said with a laugh.

The garden, completely designed and planted by the Burks, is a 29-year project that started when they moved to their Southdowns home.

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Two walkways lined with caladiums and filled with ferns and agapanthus lead to the front porch of Jack and Judy Burk's Southdowns home. 

"You know, with a garden, you are always doing something," Judy Burk said.

The entire yard, front and back, is planted in a lush tropical style with very little lawn. The well-maintained beds overflow with thriving plants.

Two curved walkways, one brick and one of paving stones, lead to the front porch, where white wicker chairs and a love seat offer a shady spot to sit. Beds on both sides of the walks are lined with pink and green caladiums and filled with ferns and agapanthus.

But it's the backyard where everyone wants to be.

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Settling into the garden swing at the home of Jack and Judy Burk are their daughter Melinda Gregg, center, and her children, Blake, 16, left, and Elena, 17. The Greggs are visiting from their home in Iwakuni, Japan. 

The partially covered deck creates a place for friends to gather on the large-cushioned wicker sofa and chairs. The space is warmed with homey touches, like the mosaic table built by Jack Burk's father, William R. Burk, who was an architect in New Orleans.

The deck looks out on to a brick patio and a central walkway that divides into two pathways that lead to opposite ends of the yard. At the center is a small circular bed filled with a giant ligularia behind which is a pergola with a cypress swing, a cozy spot to read or visit. 

The Burks created the paths with old brick.

"Back in the '90s, we would go to construction trash piles and pick up the brick," Judy Burk said. "We laid the bricks a little at a time."

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Backyard beds overflowing with hostas and hydrangeas line the walkways in the Burks' backyard.

Even though the walks in the front and back are all similarly curved, the plantings are different in the backyard with stands of lacy hydrangea, wild gladiola, shrimp plant, ferns, indigo, ginger and blooming hostas that have spread from bed to bed. 

The garden is designed to have something blooming almost every day of the year.

"I love walking out and seeing all the color," Judy Burk said. 

She grew up digging in the dirt, learning gardening from her grandparents, avid gardeners who lived next door to Claude Davis, a horticulturist at LSU.

One of her favorite plants is a wild begonia that started from a cutting from her grandparents' yard.

"I have carried cuttings from it to every house we have lived in and given them to friends," she said.

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In addition to plants, Jack and Judy Burk fill their backyard with interesting objects, like this fountain made from an old bathtub and the blue bottle tree.

Throughout the Burks' garden are interesting pieces like old buckets, milk cans, watering cans, shutters, sections of wrought iron, birdhouses and an old bathtub from a family farm in Jackson.

"I take everybody's trash. That's why I work for Trash and Treasure," said Judy Burk, who for years has volunteered with the local Attic Trash and Treasure sale, sponsored by the Inner Wheel Club of Baton Rouge to benefit different community organizations. She also volunteers with Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area, the Baton Rouge Regional Eye Bank and Bengal Belles.

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One of Judy Burk's favorite flowers is the wild gladiola.

Even though the garden is almost maintenance-free, Judy Burk says she finds something to do there almost every day. 

The Burks' three daughters grew up in the garden and understand how important it is to their family.

Daughter Melanie Chidester and her son, Beau, built a potting table and a stone bench for the garden. Daughter Melinda Gregg and her children, Blake and Elena Gregg, who all live in Iwakuni, Japan, help in the garden when they visit every summer. And daughter Martha-Carol Stewart is the family organizer who keeps everyone "on track."

Granddaughter Brooke Chidester captured what the garden and her grandmother, called "Juju" by the grandchildren, is all about in a sign she made: "Plant smiles. Grow laughter. Harvest love."


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