Ginger Ford doesn't believe in buying plants. Or dirt. Or lawn furniture for that matter.

When it comes to her Garden District Garden, Ford is the ultimate recycler.

"I never bought an ounce of dirt to make raised beds," said Ford, who collected dirt that had washed into neighborhood streets and hauled it to her yard to create her own garden.

She opened storm drains to collect rotted leaves and brought them by wheelbarrow back to her garden.

"They came with worms almost the size of snakes," she said. "It was gardeners' gold."

She didn't buy any plants either.

"All the plants came from the curbside," she said. "Cuttings, seed pods, discarded plants — all from the streets."

When neighbor Mary Fontenot commented on Ford's vibrant stand of Mexican petunias, she replied: "I started with some your husband threw out."

Her lawn furniture came from a trash pile on Capital Heights, and her fence from the side of the road. She convinced the people at Clegg's on Donmoor to sell her a fixture that had held birdhouses for sale. It's now a trellis for a rare native honeysuckle. 

"I like to give things another chance," she said.

In the front yard, where the lawn was "thin and anemic," Ford killed everything in the area she wanted to plant by covering it with contractor-grade plastic sheeting. The heat and sunlight did the work without chemicals.

She then dug up bricks from an old dirt-covered patio in the backyard and laid out a little patio and walkways in the front yard.

Ford's garden beds are crammed with plants including many natives. A large vitex partially shades the area that includes butterfly bush, Mexican sage, milkweed, Chinese lantern, verbena, salvia, ixora, rudbeckia, firestick, lion's ear and cigar plant.

A secondhand playhouse, now outgrown by Ford's six grandchildren, is topped with a planter filled with blooming bougainvillea. 

"I don't want plants in a garden to look like lined up soldiers," she said.""People go to forests for the calm it brings to see plants where they grow naturally."

Ford, a semiretired registered nurse, has spent her whole 64-year life in the Garden District and City Park area. Her father, Dr. Virgil Ford Sr., was one of Baton Rouge's early veterinarians — she lets chickens freely roam her yard — and an avid vegetable gardener. 

Ford likes to share her talents with her neighbors and envisions the Garden District becoming a gardening mecca.

"Some of the oldest vintage plants in the area are in the Garden District," she said. "There are some varieties of boxwood you can't even find now." 

She worries about the aging live oaks planted decades ago throughout the neighborhood.

"If we don't do something about them, it won't be long before the Garden District looks like Pensacola beach," she said.

Ford wants to spread the word of how important gardening is to preserving the environment, whether it's planting to provide for butterflies and bees or just to enjoy the beauty of nature. She hopes to set up monarch butterfly stations around the neighborhood for youngsters to maintain.

And, she likes to encourage others to find new uses for old materials rather than sending them to the landfill.  

Ford can usually be found working in her garden, where neighbors and passersby stop to share the latest news.

"Gardening is yoga, church and psychiatry rolled into one, and it's a lot cheaper," she said. "If more people gardened, it would be a lot more peaceful."