Family’s yard serves as social space for decades
The front yard is where Bob and Paula Dillemuth’s children played growing up among trees and shrubs planted by Bob’s parents, Chuck and Ruth, on Guava Drive in University Acres.
A few days ago, family and friends were back in the front yard for the wedding of son Forrest and Amber Lodrigues.
Sunday, Hilltop Garden Tour visitors will see some of the wedding’s vintage table settings and decorations from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
Using the yard as a wedding place fit nicely with Hilltop Arboretum’s Fall Garden Tour’s theme of outdoor entertaining, but Bob Dillemuth and his dad always saw the grounds as a park, a place to walk and play.
“We tried to talk them into having the wedding at Hilltop,” Dillemuth said. “But they wanted to get married here with their friends.”
Paula Dillemuth works at the arboretum. Over the years, many of Hilltop’s fundraising sale plants have found a home in Bob’s gardens.
“Our kids worked in the yard growing up,” Dillemuth said. “Forrest did yard work here in high school to help his grandparents.”
Bob Dillemuth played football in the front yard growing up on Guava Drive. “My kids camped in the backyard,” he said. “They’d make fires. There were pathways and trails.”
Dillemuth’s parents bought the big lot in 1948 from “Mrs. Barcelona” and lived in a cottage on the place. They built their house in 1955 and added on five years later.
“This isn’t like the other gardens on the tour,” Dillemuth said. “No hardscape, no outdoor kitchen. The back is woods. I use a lot of ferns. I’ve got a good camellia collection my dad started.”
Dillemuth’s concessions to color are subtle: Gingers as big as banana trees bloom in the spring. “Those pansies are out there because of the wedding,” he said. Hip gardenias offer white flowers. At Christmastime, the hips are orange red. Virginia Sweet Spire (Itea) leaves are red some autumns. “Not every fall, but when they do turn they’re spectacular.”
Dillemuth saws up downed tree branches to use as bed borders. Stumps become places where container plants sit.
One of the wedding’s biggest expenses was wiring up a 70-year-old oak Dillemuth’s dad planted. The tree split in 1965 during Hurricane Betsy.
Chuck Dillemuth began planting in his yard around 1950. One of the first plants he put in the ground was a white sasanqua whose trunk is now twisted with age.
Moving around the yard getting ready for the wedding made Bob Dillemuth pensive. “I planted the camellias on the left side of the driveway,” he said, “when I was 15.”
Looking up the place where his son and future daughter-in-law were registered for wedding gifts, Dillemuth came across Forrest’s academic vita. He was touched by his son’s words. A weekend trip to the mountains of Arkansas in the summer of 1999 had reawakened a passion for the outdoors that had gone dormant.
The reawakening led him to resign from “the best job he’d ever had” to enroll in LSU’s School of Renewable Natural Resources. Dillemuth earned a Ph.D. in biological sciences with a specialty in environmental ecology.