high horticulture in Hattiesburg

disclaimer: for those of you not into high horticulture, click out of here now while you still have a chance because this post is long, boring and full of cool-nerdy plant stuff.

and it goes like this……..  once upon a time….

Kerry and Kru Stewart’s Hattiesburg Mississippi garden is a horticultural gem; one I am so glad I was able to help with. I stopped in to visit this morning to see the garden. Its been a year since I was there. They have established, over the years, a series of wonderfully rich gardens, heavy in horticultural substance. You could call it a collection garden, since it is designed with variety in mind and a focus on wildlife gardening, plants, and birds, butterflies and beneficials.

From the start, Kerry has wanted to care for the plants on his own. We didn’t put in a fancy irrigation system and we didn’t have a written-in-stone design. I just guided him along and he took instructions well. We had a dream of doing something special with special plants for the sake of fun, art and backyard science. And what a good result his tender-loving-care has wrought.

When the Stewarts called me, in I think the fall 2003, we talked about plants just a bit and then I quickly discovered that Kru was the niece of the great Texas plantsman and botanical explorer, John G. Fairey, of Hempstead Texas and of Yucca-do Nursery and Peckerwood Gardens fame. My client was horticultural Royalty!

So they had great expectations back then as far as cool plants goes, and somehow luckily they found me. I got busy designing the front yard since it was the decided place to start. The design below was the original. It was what I came up with but it was morphed here and there along the way since we started with a big initial push and then incrementally added year after year, and had ample time to think things through and hash things out. I just suggested stuff and Kerry made all of the big decisions. He has become fairly smart when it comes to whats growing in his garden. He now knows his plants pretty well.


above: the original hand-drawn plan, was a conceptual and is the basis of what we started with (click on it to enlarge). Its a pretty crude drawing graphically, back then, but its a real-deal horticultural gem in reality, today.

The idea behind the design was to create a powerful take on the personal botanical garden and run with it. A fine collection of native and useful plants was over time, collected, and the satisfaction level increased and the garden matured more with every year.

Its been ten years, now and we’ve gone from the front to the east side to the west side to the back, culminating with most entertaining of gardens, the “dog gardens” (more on that later).

Its a very long list of species in this garden. Many are very rare. Maybe the rarest is the cinnamon scented flowering small tree or large shrub Mexican Summersweet (Clethra Pringlei), a plant introduced from Mexico through John Fairy’s seed collecting expeditions to the twilight zones of Mexico, in the 1980’s and 1990’s.


above: a three feet tall Four year old) specimen of Mexican Clethra is surviving and bloomed this year, here in the red clay soils of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Looks like he needs some ironite or lime, though.


above: Kerry and Kru’s front yard, the northwest corner looking south, from the street with a collection of three different species of Beautyberry plants in the foreground.


Callicarpa japonica (Japanese Beautyberry), a tiny berried species


our native beautyberry. My Mom tells me she used to snack on this as a kid in Arkansas.


Woodlander’s Nursery dark-colored-fruited selection Callicarpa acuminata “Woodlander’s” turns the color red like a fine dry cabernet sauvignon, when ripe.


above: the northeast corner of the property is anchored with what was a fairly mature Sothern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)(existing when we started), bounded by the ultra-rare Dwarf Loblly Pine and Bidwill Coral Berry, Bottle Brush Buckeye, a small Fig tree, and Sourwood.


Maybe the rarest plant on the property is the eight or nine year old Dwarf Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda var. nana), supplied by Doremus Nursery, Warren Texasintroduced to the trade by the legendary Semmes, Alabama plantsman, Tom Dodd, Jr., propagated from a witch’s broom (a rare botanical anomaly). Don’t ask me how he propagated it: expertise is probably the answer.  A fine specimen of Bottle Brush Buckeye (Aesculus parvaflora, in the foreground. The hybird Erythrinia (Erythrynia X Bidwillii),  to the right.


the north-south side street planting encloses the front garden from the street spectators and provides a sense of privacy that most neighbors would envy. Meanwhile the place is chocked-full of botany. The Mexican Clethras are just beyond the magnolia. There are two. Where the edge of the road is, a slight swale exists and captures water for plants with a higher moisture regime. In the distance is a way-cool native Hibiscus and native Iris garden Kerry and I have established.


Looking out from the yard, beside the existing Magnolia at the corner is a baby Sourwood, and two Ocala Anise flanking a maturing Chestnut Oak (Quercus micheauxii). You can see that there is space occasionally to stroll through the plantings.

In the slight swale at the street edge, we planted different native species and hybrids of Louisiana Iris and Hibiscus, taking advantage of the ever-so-slightly wetter environment. These two genus work together because when the iris is dormant, the Hibiscus is active, and visa versa. They’ve grown and matured and today Kru sent me an April shot of the iris in what I call the “ditch”


possibly Iris ‘Cherry Bounce’ in background, left


possibly ‘Moi Grande’ Hibiscus, gowing to seed


Halberdleaf Rosemallow (Hibiscus laevis)


a wall of Moi Grande and Flowering Maple ‘Vesuvius’


Vesuvius Flowering Maple, a hummer will love you if you plant one


dwarf leaf leatherwood (Cyrilla)


Botton Bush flowers all summer long and is a most excellent butterfly nectar plant


The seed capsule of Coastal Hibiscus (Kosteletskya virginica)


the driveway is the only “entrance” from the side, except for a gate at the southeastern corner. Its a comfy-cosey, private stroll to see plants in the front yard.


looking from the driveway to the front yard, you can get a bit of the feel of the open central area and the lush plantings that surround it. layers of plants on the right, form the wall to the street. One of Kerry’s favorites in this wall is the Foresteria acuminata, about twenty five feet tall, ten years old. Its a stunning early spring show-stopper when in bloom.


Fragrant Desert Mahonia (Mahonia fremontii?) on the lower plane, doing surprisingly well, tucked among its upland associates


Weeping ‘Traveler’ Red bud doing its thing.


The north facade of the house (the front) is always shady. It includes the garage wall and front door entrance area which holds a wonderful shrubby strip: a collection of native woody shrubs (mostly woodland, shade tolerant shrubs) including Mt Airy Fothergilla, Summer Bog Azalea (Rhododendron Viscosum), Chipola Pink Cliftonia, Florida Anise, Elliot’s Blueberry, Oak Leaf Hydrangea, Royal Fern, and Dwarf Palmetto


the entrance door is flanked by Hydrangea and Palmetto, distinctively robust and contrasting in form, color and texture. Perhaps not attractive to all but I think the homeowners love it.


The northwest corner of the house, just near the front door is a room for attracting and viewing songbirds and Hummingbirds. Its chocked full with flowering perennials that return each year to feed the birds. There’s lush growth, tightly placed trees shrubs and perennials.




Malvaviscus drummondii ‘Pam Puryear”, a Greg Grant hybird introduction with pink flowers, has established a ground cover over the last four years. An old Red Bud tree is joined by Toothache tree, Southern Sugar Maple, Wafer Ash, Ash’s Magnolia, two forms of Rick Webb-propagated Fetterbush (Lyonia lucida) from Florida Parish genetics, Two selections of Virginia Sweetspire, Flowering Maple, Mexican Plum, Black Cherry, and Southern Magnolia; all topped with towering Long Leaf pine canopy


Shelby County, Texas horticulturist Greg Grant has contributed many wonderful plants to the southern nursery industry. Pam Puryear is I think one of his best contributions. Most Hummingbirds agree with me! Its a hybrid between the species arborea and drummondii.


Kru takes a pic of me next to the very young and yet very awesome toothache tree bark. Its pointy-scaley-like and its a bad-to-the-bone Swallowtail butterfly host plant. We planted two about five years ago.The yard guy was cutting one down thinking it was a weed when Kerry saw him in the act and ran to save the other one just in the nick of time.  Lots of happy Swallowtails, with the Toothache tree and the Wafer Ash and the other citrus family members in the garden.


Looking out from the bird watching room, your view is of a canopy above, and layers of different foliages. A five year old ‘Lollie Jackson’ Salvia mexicana struggles a bit for nutrients but she’s holding her own for five years now in the bird garden. This plant grows to be big and beautiful things when manured and blooms a true blue. In the background, at the property edge, is a Pomegranate that Kerry planted, adorned with a couple of big rounded fruit.


Lollie Jackson, a bit blurred


Lyonia, Southern Magnolia, and yellow passion vive camouflage a bluebird house in the bird garden.


A nice four year old Mexican Plum in the central lawn space


Two Chinese Fringe Trees are the central features of the lawn. They are just getting a running tart now. Both will eventually touch over the entrance sidewalk.


further down the eastern fence line past the driveway, the diverse green screen continues on both sides of the substantial fence, and ornamental plant beauty rules.


A huge Swamp Rose greets you when you pull in the drive. A Kumquat tree hides just behind. And the Cedar Wax Wing attracting Burford Holly is to the left.


Yellow Berried Deciduous Holly ‘Finch’s Golden’


Coral Berry (Symphorocarpos orbiculatus)


a tiny grove of Paw Paws


Zouzhou Fushia, a once favorite of J.C. Raulston, of the purple leafed Loropetalums, in the background with dark purple leaves. Arrowood Viburnum to the right and Coral Bean to the left with the dormant Rudbeckia maxima in foreground.


Rosa ‘Dutchess de Brabant’, a refined garden plant


Georgia Holly (ha, also Louisiana Holly, Ilex longipes)


Satsumas in Hattiesburg! they are protected from cold by the tall pine canopy


Silver Aster (Aster concolor)


Native Beach Rosemary (Conradina canescens)

The dog garden is where my battery died in my camera. Ha. til next time!


Kerry, Kru, Chewy and I can’t remember the other dog’s name, in the backyard before my camera died. Ha!

see awesome link about John Fairy’s Garden!   and if you are ever an hour north and west of Houston, near Hempstead, made a reservation to see the gardens at Peckerwood. And check out Yucca-do Nursery next door.


happy cows on the prairie

In the sleepy town of Meaux, Louisiana is a farm that has been in the family for generations: eight generations, to be exact. The Blanchet’s ( pronounced Blonshet) have toiled the soil here for a long time, so long that the oldest house on property was constructed by hand and with walls insulated with a technique using Spanish moss and mud (called bousillage). That’s old, folks!

The farm is in the heart of Acadiana, just north from Abbeville, a stone’s throw from the Gulf of Mexico, where Tall grass prairie once reigned over miles and miles of treeless land. This area of the state was referred to as the Great Southeastern Prairie of Louisiana. Nice name, huh?

The Blanchet’s run a cattle farm on the land today. Its a farm worked by the family using an environmentally friendly approach. After all, they have to live up to their company motto, “It’s Only Natural”.

They’ve been in the process of going chemical-free and that’s why they called me. They know that native prairie is the answer to high maintenance exotic forage grasses and the chemical fertilizers and insecticides they require to grow.

They wanted a specific request. They wanted diverse native prairie but wanted it to be a planting heavy on the four biggest prairie grasses: switch, gamma, big bluestem and indian.

So we got busy.

Coordinating with the partners in the project, a plan was devised and the production of grass plants started. The idea was to plant nursery-grown plants of these species and then sow a diverse mix of Coastal Prairie seed that will grow to help build resilience into the planting from pressure from grazing. It is a good model, the blending of prairie and grazing livestock. The Bison once used the vast grasslands for grazing and studies show that the combination of fire and patch grazing on diverse prairie can actually benefit biodiversity within the stand.

At this point were are closing in on completing fifteen acres, with 35 more to do.

We started by collecting divisions of the plants from as many Cajun Prairie eco-types as possible. Eco-types are mature plants that are individual, unique seedlings that have matured. These grasses grow in large masses and sections were painstakingly dug and then delivered to the nursery to be divided and potted into one gallon nursery containers. As much soil on the roots of the grasses as possible was kept to attempt to keep beneficial fungi and seedlings of other prairie plants alive in the interim period, in the nursery. At the same time seed was being sown of indian grass, again for the purpose of achieving a high level of seedling / genetic diversity.

These plants were planted in the field over two successive springs (2012 and 2013).  Along with that, an area was designated to sow seed to establish a few acres of mono-culture stands of switch and gamma grass in the field using a conventional seed drill with seed bought from the LaCassinne Company, a land mitigation bank that processes and sells pure live seed of switch, gamma and brownseed paspalum (Hayes, Louisiana).

Steps were taken to prepare the field prior to planting and then in November of 2011, the drilling was done. In April of 2012 and 2013 the nursery grown plants were planted in and all of the plantings have done marvelously, thank you, rain!

We will use a controlled burn as a preparatory step to plant and then seed will be there to grow and move around on its own accord, as it does naturally. Annual burns will be done for several years to establish the field and then they’ll probably lengthen the cycle to two or three years to experiment with what works best for them. We’ll begin work on another section perhaps, sometime after we’re done with this section but even if we don’t do anything, the prairie will spread to the other sections, in a matter of time.


this aerial shows the entire 50 acre field, a rectangle to the left of the “coullee”, the drainage ditch represented by the green arc of trees). if you click on the photo you can see that the center of the rectangle has another rectangle within it. This is the planted field. you can make out the wetter areas which are in green. the linear, line-like objects are shallow cuts for drainage in what is flat ground and heavy soil. The field is fenced with electric fencing to keep livestock from grazing it.




The Blanchets raise goats and use them to help manage exotic trees like Tallow (Sapium sibiferum) instead of using herbicides. Goats eat anything where as cows are sometimes picky eaters.




The Blanchet Family: Ben, Cat, Anne and Bob and their tennants



one of a few loads of plants grown by Rick Webb, of Louisiana Growers



switchgrass ready for the planting hole. Good job Rick!!! Dr. Susan Mopper, director at The Center for Ecology and Environmental Technology at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette helped us with some of the growing of nursery grown grass plugs from seed, too. Go Team Prairie!!!!!!




Andy Dolan, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s State Private Lands Coordinator, a friend and colleague, consulted with me this past week at the site and was pleased with the progress he saw and advised on our strategy for seed planting. Here’s Andy with an Indian grass plant just starting to bloom.




This is what we all hope will transpire in a short time. These are Big Bluestem grass plants, three years old planted at Dr. Malcolm Vidrine’s Cajun Prairie Gardens, Eunice, Louisiana. Dr. Vidrine has an extensive collection of Big Bluestem eco-types of various colors and forms in the gardens. You can imaging the difference in biomass between this plant and say Bermuda grass. And the nutritional and palatability value of Big Bluestem is off the charts and it is peaking in growth in late summer and fall when exotics are declining and worn out. photo by Malcolm Vidrine



The diverse seed mix will partially come from this field, the Cajun Prairie restoration site in Eunice. Between the Big Bluestem and the Blazing Stars it should make for some happy and fat and sassy cows. Dr. Charles Allen, photo by Tom Hillman



above: Stuart Gardener examines emerging Gamma grass. The Blanchets sponsored a discovery trip for Stuart and I to go visit Gary Fine in Thibodaux, Louisiana to see what he was doing with native grasses and to see how his work was useful to our project. I was like a kid in a candy store seeing Gary’s cool fields. This was in March 2012. Stuart assisted us with his valuable knowledge of establishing native grasses in Blanchet’s pastures. He is the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Area Range Conservationist for Louisiana. Dr. Fine is a retired prairie master, I believe, a plant breeder, and is continuing his work in retirement at the Nichols Farm.



Dr Gary Fine and his oh-so-fine fields


for a really helpful and well done booklet by University of Tennessee, Knoxville on planting warm season grasses for forage see this link or get a hard copy. I use it as a reference often.

Click to access PB1752.pdf

for more on the Blanchets and their prized beef sales see their website



and go plant some grasses!