How’s Bayou: Tree’s Company
Which came first, the ax or the tree?
Just like George Washington -- who, when “axed” (as we say on the bayou) if he’d axed the cherry tree, fessed up -- I always tell the truth when asked about the "beauties" of our impromptu landscaping at Madewood: It’s based on what’s on clearance in the Lowe’s or Home Depot gardening sections.
When I see a particular plant or tree on sale, I try to remember how a similar one was placed at, say, Rosedown, or in the spectacular gardens of St. Francisville’s Afton Villa Gardens . . . and to see if I can echo the effect with my bare hands here on Bayou Lafourche, taking visual clippings from the landscape architects and devoted owners of those celebrated gardens.
Madewood escaped Hurricane Katrina unscathed; we only lost power for 14 hours, though we gained dozens of family members and friends as guests for two months. Hurricane Rita, which followed shortly after, took down two Bradford pear trees on the patio that I’d been planning to take down anyway; but the stumps remain accusingly to this day.
Hurricane Gustav, however, was a different story. Roofs peeled off, windows broke, rooms in dependencies were soaked. More than two dozen trees were felled, some missing buildings on the grounds by less than six inches. The greatest relief was to learn that the towering pine tree on the front lawn had fallen toward the highway, just missing the entrance gates, rather than come hurtling down into the façade of the main house.
Most distressing, however, was the loss of pecan and fruit trees on the pasture. It was always fun to grouse at people found interloping on the grounds with their containers filled with OUR pecans (great training for becoming a Cranky Old Man); and making pear preserves for our guests was a scheduled part of the year.
I remember Eliska Freeman, mother of Warren, our groundskeeper, peeling pears on the screen porch and dropping them into buckets filled with water and lemons, to keep the fruit from “firmamenting.” We took this as a special sign of the high holy nature and heavenly taste of Madewood’s pear preserves.
Figs had always ripened a few weeks earlier, and the jars of whole cooked figs looked down from the shelves as we consumed the last ones, fresh off the trees, with heavy cream -- as I’ll do later this morning when I finish this column.
Coming so close to Independence Day, Lowe’s half-off sale of all trees awakened the Johnny Appleseed in me, and I decided it would be downright unpatriotic not to fill my Honda CRV repeatedly with magnolias, tree hibiscus, Gulf Coast Dogwood, weeping willows, kumquat, fig and pecan trees. There are even things I’ve never heard of before -- but they’re really attractive, both visually and pricewise, so they’ll be enlivening our landscape shortly.
There’s just one problem: It’s summer. And here in Southwest Louisiana, Mad Dogs and Englishmen would find themselves overheated not just at noon, but all day long. So it’s shoulder to the shovel at Dawn’s Early Light.
I wish I still had the wide-brimmed gardening hat that twists into a tiny circle of fabric and slips easily into a round matching case the size of a moon pie. But my wife, Millie, has photographic evidence that it makes me look like a pudgy Papal Nuncio, so perhaps it’s best that the offensive topping has gone missing.
“Was that you, Mr. Marshall, looking ridiculous on the Island of Torcello, in the lagoon off Venice, Italy, wearing that silly hat, an oversize Babar-the-Elephant T-shirt, and shorts?”
“I cannot tell a lie. It was.”
How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.