Story and Photos by Yvonne Lelong Bordelon
“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in – what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.” – Victor Hugo
The woodland garden of Charles and Virginia Yarbrough in Baton Rouge is a garden after my own heart. Charles created a magical, yet tranquil nirvana, designed in the style of a Japanese strolling garden. A network of paths winds through 3 acres of ridges and ravines beside the lower lake of the subdivision, Lake at White Oak.
The Yarbroughs purchased the wooded property in 1990 and built their lovely home among the trees, on a ridge far from the street. As soon as the home was finished, Charles began making trails and building bridges to connect what would become a series of outdoor rooms, each with its own theme and character. As he wandered around the property, he let the landscape suggest each new garden.
Charles, a master gardener, does most of the garden maintenance himself. He also designed and built all of the structures, including decks, bridges, arbors, and a gazebo. Virginia helped by offering ideas and inspiration while the children, Julia, Marie and Nathan, provided extra hands.
The Meditation Garden was an early project, and remains one of his favorites. Other garden rooms include the Prayer Garden, playhouse area, and gazebo area. Each features statues and objet d’art that are skillfully placed to enhance the design. Charles said, “Creating the garden has been a way to combine our love of art with our love of nature and the woods.”
When creating a garden in a forest, you are always on the lookout for shade-loving plants that bloom. Charles explains, “The shade forest garden is most characterized by leaf shapes and shades of green. The many ferns, groundcover grasses, vines, moss, Camellia, Florida anise (Illicium floridanum), fan palms, bamboo, ginger, horse sugar (Symplocos tinctoria), Magnolia, etc. contribute most to the tranquility of the garden.”
His favorite native plants include large old beech trees (Fagus spp.) that provide food for animals and year-round interest, and also the native flame azalea (Rhododrendron austrinum) and blue and purple Louisiana irises (I. fulva, I. hexagona, I. brevicaulis, I. giganticaerulea, I. nelsonii). He’s also a fan of the yellow angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia), Impatiens, indigo (Indigofera) and red firespike (Odontonema strictum). Virginia enjoys the huckleberry (Vaccinium), and parsley hawthorn (Crataegus marshallii).
In shady, moist areas, moss is the ground cover of choice. A quick way to get moss started is to gather some, place it in water, and mix it until it is slushy. Add several aspirin to acidify the water, and then sprinkle it on a moist, shady area. Don’t use fertilizer, keep it watered, and remove leaves and unwanted weeds. Soon you’ll have a moss garden that would make the fairies proud.
An attractive and unique arbor features two large chimes that Charles created by cutting electrical conduit into specified length for certain notes. The set on one side of the arbor sounds more like church chimes. The other, which was made with smaller conduit, was tuned to a scale in order to play simple tunes.
The Yarbroughs’ goal is to foster a native environment while incorporating beautiful and suitable selections from around the world. As a result, many creatures make this sustainable landscape their home. You will find small animals such as squirrels, armadillos, raccoons, possums, rabbits, frogs, turtles, lizards, and birds as well as a healthy supply of native insects. Sometimes deer, alligators, nutria, and beavers come to wreak havoc.
I felt at peace in this woodland paradise and left with a multitude of ideas that will improve the design of my own shade garden. I commend them on the excellent work they have done here.