Where nothing would grow, Sammy Emery has made his own little paradise in Baton Rouge's Garden District.
The owner of Just Sammy's Hair Designs knew very little about gardening when he and his husband, LSU landscape architecture professor Kevin Risk, moved to their home in 2007.
Growing up, he said, he hated doing yard work, but once he got his own home, he was eager to dig in. Emery said he learned a lot about plants from "A Wildlife Friendly Garden," a garden book given to him by Risk.
Over time, Emery has become an expert gardener and a real student of plant materials.
"I tried to create a garden that's butterfly and insect friendly," he said of his design aesthetic, which is carried out with colorful plants, both in pots and beds, and whimsical ornaments.
His first step was to dig out the border grass growing rampant over the front yard. Using the "lasagna method," Emery layered shredded paper and garden soil to form the base for his beds, which he lined with bricks.
In an area created by an existing circular sidewalk, Emery built the main front bed, which is planted with red and blue salvia, butterfly weed, hydrangeas, rudbeckia and gladiolas.
The bed frames the entrance to the house through a spacious front porch, really an outdoor room, where a swing, table and chairs and additional seating give the couple a place to relax and entertain friends.
Hanging from the sides of the porch are pots of night-blooming cereus, including one that produced 31 flowers last summer. A variety of blooming plants in pots, including several geraniums, surround the front of the house.
Shading the fenced front yard is a fuchsia crepe myrtle and a large magnolia. Two smaller semicircular beds, one with blooming daisies and another with zinnias, add color to the landscape, as do a row of amaryllis lining the fence at one side of the yard and a healthy stand of cross vine draping the fence on the other side.
The landscaping is even more elaborate in the backyard, a soothing and relaxing haven that Emery calls his "pride and joy."
It started as an overgrown stand of bamboo hiding a garden shed.
Emery dug out the bamboo, and he and Risk dismantled and moved the shed to the back corner.
Following Risk's design, Emery made a patio using sea pebbles and paving stones. Its focal point is a Thai Buddha, a cherished birthday gift.
With a trellis, now covered with clematis, Emery created a separate space he calls the reading room.
Between the reading room and the patio is a large stand of purple irises, which bloom in early spring, and some Louisiana irises that bloom a little later.
"We make a real effort to have something blooming year-round," Emery said.
Placed among the irises is a round table Emery found in the yard when he was clearing the bamboo.
"I pick up things for the yard wherever I go," he said, "but this was just here."
Tucked away in a back corner is a small vegetable garden with blueberries, lettuce, herbs and a bay tree.
The backyard is shaded by an American elm and a pecan tree along with smaller trees, like a sweet bay magnolia and a buckeye. Interspersed among the trees are stands of other plants, many blooming in shades of pinks and purples. Lots of the plants are from cuttings and seeds exchanged with gardening friends and neighbors.
Garden ornaments and repurposed pieces, including a mirror from a bathroom remodel, decorate the landscape.