Garden party

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Cindy Moran's backyard contains several color beds, which are changed two or three times a year.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Cindy Moran's backyard contains several color beds, which are changed two or three times a year.

Tour promises glimpse of blossoms, pond

Cindy Moran has a connection to the LSU Hilltop Arboretum that goes back some 40 years, when it was Emory Smith’s little garden and nursery. On Sunday, Moran’s garden will be one of five featured on the Friends of Hilltop Arboretum’s Spring Garden Tour II.

“Emory Smith just loved plants and loved to talk to people about them and show them to people,” said Moran, who has been gardening in Baton Rouge for at least 45 years.

In 1973, when Moran and her husband, Harry, built their home in Magnolia Woods, she decided to do the landscaping herself. So she enrolled in a residential landscaping class taught by Neil Odenwald, professor emeritus and former director of the LSU School of Landscape Architecture. It was from Odenwald that she learned about native plants.

“At that time, in the ’70s, people were not concerned with native plants,” Moran said. “Emory Smith was the one person who could find native plants. He would go to the wild areas and dig them up.”

With knowledge from Odenwald’s class, Moran made a plan for her garden.

“I like to have a plan, organization,” Moran said. “I don’t like just throwing stuff in.”

Many of her plants came from Margie Jenkins, of Jenkins Farm & Nursery, who specializes in native plants at her nursery near Amite.

“She is quite a famous person in Louisiana horticulture,” Moran said.

After working in retail nurseries, Moran opened her own nursery business, Moran’s Nursery, in 1988.

“Margie went into growing trees and shrubs. I went into growing color, flowering plants, not native,” she said.

Moran’s garden is divided into two parts, her home garden and her work-support garden. Her home garden is filled with her favorites, begonias and succulents, what she calls her hobby plants.

“Oddly enough, begonias are succulents,” she said. “Succulents are juicy plants, fleshy plants that store moisture.”

Begonias are understory plants in tropical forests. They grow on the ground under the canopy of the trees and can get as tall as 6 or 7 feet.

“In tropical forests, we usually have drought periods,” she said. “Succulents need to survive in drought.”

In her nursery support garden, Moran grows plants to sell to retailers and landscape contractors in her wholesale-only business on Jefferson Highway.

At the back of her garden is a retention pond that was built when the lot was graded before the home was built.

“The pond is an important part of the ecology of this garden,” Moran said. “It is a water source for birds and wildlife.”

Moran also has a raised test garden, where she tries things out for her commercial nursery as well as for designs she uses in floral projects as a member of the Baton Rouge Garden Club.

“In our climate, you can grow anything, but the garden has to be raised,” she said.

She is also a big fan of rainwater for plants because of the liming effect and salt in the local water.

“It contains a good bit of salt because of our saltwater intrusion,” she said.

Moran collects rainwater in a rain barrel connected to a downspout from her roof.

“People in Baton Rouge think they don’t need a rain barrel because we have so much rain,” she said, “but over a long time if you water plants with nothing but Baton Rouge water, it hurts the plants. Baton Rouge water is good for people but not so good for plants.”

As it did for many people in the area, Hurricane Gustav brought major damage to Moran’s garden, when a large cherry bark oak was struck by lightning, fell in her driveway and hit the corner of her home. She replaced the oak with a small grove of pond cypress trees and built her Gustav pergola on the driveway side of her house. Everything in the pergola is red, a color that Moran seldom uses in her garden.

“Gustav was quite a shock, but it opened a whole lot of new vistas for people who never had sun,” she said.

Moran never considered replacing the cherry bark oak with a live oak, so popular in local gardens.

“Live oaks are greedy,” she said. “I always say you can have live oaks, or you can have a garden.”

She treasures several plants she got from Emory Smith some 40 years ago. Her largest is a halesia, or silver bell tree, which blooms in the spring.

“It is supposed to be a substitute for dogwood, which we cannot grow very well because our drainage is too bad,” she said.

A holly fern at the base of a tree near her pond always reminds her of Smith.

“Emory had at his house an old cellar,” she said. “He had holly fern in that cellar with spores in the walls that would make little baby holly ferns. Emory would always say that his holly ferns supported the little nursery he had. Those were his money plants.”