Finding an old friend in another friend’s garden burn

Saturday I drove across town to perform burn magic at a friend’s house. The plan was to introduce fire for the first time to her prairie-meadow garden, seeded a year ago by she and I. Oh, the other part of the plan was to not burn the neighborhood down.

The garden is the front yard, basically. The property is along the Tchefuncte River at the end of a dead-end street in Covington. The meadow is off to the starboard side as you motor toward the front door parking area.

There wasn’t much salesmanship involved with this project originally since the homeowner knew exactly what she wanted and that was diverse natural prairie. Charlotte Seidenberg, and her artist husband Jean, were fully open to incorporating wildness into their landscape. Charlotte wanted cool plants and Jean wanted entertainment in the form of fire (pyrotechnics!)

Charlotte is a home-maker, nurse, and the author of the books The New Orleans Gardens: Gardening in the Gulf South and the groundbreaking 1995 treatise The Wildlife Garden: Planning Backyard Habitats. She is a gardener and a naturalist and she has appreciated every bit of the wildness that came from the original bags of seed that we sowed.

There was substantial fuel in the way of Little Bluestem grass in about one quarter of the whole meadow area for a planting of this age. But much of the area would not have carried a fire had we not added fuel in the way some field-hay bales. The entire planted area is rather small in size, about 1500 or so square feet in total, a 25′ x 60′. Its an open space designed to attract wildlife. A gravel driveway acts as a near-complete fire-break and the low fuel load of hardwood debris of the adjacent woods helped protect us to the west. But the abundant water from garden hoses is what enabled us to perform the task safely. She had a hose on one side and I had a hose on the other.

So enter the Bic brand cigarette lighter and a forestry drip torch and it was on, folks!

After assessing the winds and trying out a test burn, we got fire on the ground. I figured it was gonna be a goodly fire. With the help of hay layed consistently across the area to create what is known technically as a level 2 fuel model.


Charlotte and I managed the flames with garden hoses as Jean and Bill Seeman snapped photos. Click to enlarge this photo (nice flammage!)

In about an hour and a half of managing some very serious fire (far’), we were done. A very thorough, very controlled burn was had. Those are always the best!

An exhilarating event it was!  ….as controlled burns always are. And there was no doubt the roots of the prairie plants were quite satisfied. I thought I heard them breathing a sigh of relief since they love a fire like we humanoids love our oxygen. And some in the bunch were snickering at the very burnt and very Sad Early Succession Species(SASS).  SASSes hate when they get burnt.


smoldering vegetation



Jean’s very large abstract bust graces the south end of their way-cool prairie garden


totally torched…


and scortched…     (click to enlarge pics, ya’ll)


My good friend Bill Seeman and yours truly, the prairie dog (with trade mark doo-rag and a forehead decorated with ash), after the flames and the smoldering was done. Bill, a friend and client from back in the late 90’s was coincidentally visiting Jean when I arrived to perform the pulling-of-the-flames-out-of-the-magic-hat trick. Reunited!!!

Behind Bill and I, to the left, is a cast bronze sculpture that Jean created.

IMG_3869 IMG_3870

a pair of Jean’s bronze figures at the front door walkway


a portrait from Jean’s book Jean Siedenberg: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture, of the late New Orleanian, Donald Bradburn, MD, a pathologist, photo journalist, avid conservationist-activist. In Dr. Bradburn’s obituary, his wife Ann wrote profound words of him, “he wanted to preserve habitats all over” and “he was appalled at what civilization is doing to the natural world”. Wow. Amen.

He and Anne were instrumental (crucial) in getting the Gulf Islands National Seashore established.


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