Backyard Habitat Garden Tour

Backyard Habitat Garden Tour

Sunday, May 5, 2019, 1:00-5:00 pm

See Tour and Parking Map for directions.
Tickets $20, at Hilltop or any garden day of tour (only cash and checks are accepted on tour day, no credit cards).
Hilltop’s Hodge Podge Nursery open during tour.

Who doesn’t enjoy the sight of a brightly colored bird or a passing butterfly?  These natural visitors add appeal to our urban landscape, help control pests, and seed and pollinate our gardens. When we look at the broader landscape, habitat gardens are more important than you may realize! Private properties make up approximately one-third of our urban landscapes. They connect corridors of natural habitat that are beneficial to migratory species.  An urban garden planted with a rich diversity of native plants and trees supplies the food chain for insects and the animals that depend on them.  

Members of the Louisiana Photographic Society (LPS) will be stationed at the gardens to give tips on photographing butterflies, birds, flowers and trees.  The mission of LPS is to advance and promote the art of photography in the River Parishes of south Louisiana. It offers its members a variety of programs, classes, seminars, and field trips throughout the calendar year. Hilltop’s own Hodge Podge Volunteers will be selling native and adapted plants at the LSU Hilltop Arboretum plant nursery the afternoon of the tour.

Our garden tour hosts are Dick Ehrlicher (5955 College Drive, 70808), Harriett Pooler (2439 Creekwood Drive, 70808), Dorsey Peek (2409 Creekwood Drive, 70808), Dr. Lori Byrd (2341 Creekwood Drive, 70808), and Brian Early (2000 Quail Drive, 70808). Under the guidance of Landscape Horticultural Consultant Helen Peebles, the fifth garden in Westdale Subdivision showcases how to transition a traditional garden plant palette into one that is more beneficial for wildlife by using native wildflowers, perennials, shrubs, and trees.  Helen Peebles, a native plant expert who owns Garden Innovations LLC, will be available to answer questions. Three of the gardeners are neighbors in Dawson Commons Subdivision across from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Their backyards connect to Dawson Creek, a natural habitat corridor.  Two of these yards also have decks that extend into a cypress swamp teaming with wildlife you can view close up. The third yard backs up to Dawson Creek’s bottomland hardwoods and reflects a different plant and wildlife habitat.  The remaining garden is the Louisiana Native Plant Garden at the entrance of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries building on Quail Drive.  The diverse and educational garden showcases the beauty of Louisiana’s primary plant regions. Native flowers, shrubs, and trees provide food that benefit pollinators and wildlife.

entrance courtyardnative butter top blooming 
chinese bell flowerwoodland pathway

American Snowbell treenative iristrellis with Peggy Martin rosegarden statue surrounded by spider warts

native plants leading to screened porchblooming buttercups and cone flowerspollinator gardenIndian pinks in bloom


Dick Erhlicher
5955 College Drive
Baton Rouge, LA 70808

Suzie and I bought the property in 1979. It was a fixer-upper, in dire need of sweat equity. A little research revealed it to be an 1830’s farmhouse, renovated when the Westdale subdivision was developed in the 1920s.

The “gardens” comprised a bedraggled batch of azaleas, a few randomly placed crape myrtles, a couple of old elms along the back property line, an overgrown fence line on the west, one nice grandiflora and elm on the south border, two big sycamores, and a whole lot of lawn. Oh, and the bamboo! Our first planting was approximately 100 (unimaginative) azaleas along College Drive (south side).

We had a garden plan drawn for the back (west) yard, and we were off. Suzie started volunteering at Hilltop and making herself knowledgeable on plants. She was strongly influenced by Marion Drummond, and wanted one of everything. Me too. There was a lot of buy it and find a place for it, taking account of the plant’s needs. A division of labor ensued. The overall plan was hers; otherwise, she was plant materials, and I was curves and structures. At first, I dug the big holes, but eventually, she handled that as well. The small back yard was planted first, then the big back/side yard. Some quick growing tropicals and “thug” plants for a fast fill, more a collection than a design. We both liked it wild. Over the years, I dug the big pond in the back (north), a smaller one in the front, built the garden room, a second carport (inspired by the Hilltop Pavilion, on a somewhat smaller scale) and decks everywhere, on multiple levels. Meanwhile, all those decks and new windows made more places to sit and look; the gardens supply things to look at.

Over time, things got shadier, tropicals were replaced with woodies (that was always the plan), always with an emphasis on natives. The last several years, I’ve become more aware of the value of natives to wildlife. Fortunately, they’ve been a bit more available. Overall, the plan is to evolve the garden into a native woodland garden, with a few exotics that I can’t part with.  I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my landscaper and native plant expert, Helen Peebles. I met her through the Capitol Area Native Plant Society. She started her landscaping business, Garden Innovations LLC, just as I realized how overwhelmed I was trying to keep up Susie’s garden on my own. Her advice and her crew of weeders have been invaluable. Hilltop Arboretum has also been invaluable, as a source of native plants, ideas stolen from seminars, and good garden friends. Thank you.

Harriett Pooler
2439 Creekwood Drive
Baton Rouge, LA 70808 

As you approach the zero-lot-line home of Harriett Pooler, an avid bird watcher and naturalist, you will notice a large bottlebrush tree planted to attract hummingbirds and provide habitat for local birds. Getting closer to the yard, you will see a variety of native plants designed to feed hummingbirds and butterflies: shrimp plant, lantana, a few salvia species, bat-faced cuphea, cigar plant, stokesia, and milkweed. In addition, an easy to care for knock-out rose, cleome, phlox, crocosmia, larkspur, rubeckia, and dianthus fill in the rest of the front garden. An antique sugar cane kettle is nestled next to the front of the house, and its water fountain produces a tranquil sound while providing an oasis for adult frogs during dry times and a tadpole nursery during breeding season.

Along the side of the house is the alleyway leading to the backyard. The home was purchased in 2010 because of the woods and privacy of the backyard. This postage-stamp-sized yard backs up to the dense hardwoods of Dawson’s Creek. The upland hardwoods contain a mixture of pine, oak, sycamore, and maple trees mixed in with elderberry and privet, the latter an unfortunate and common invasive, to provide cover and shade for birds and other wildlife. Added is a red mulberry tree which produces desirable fruit in the spring and attracts Rose Breasted Grosbeaks, Cedar Waxwings, Catbirds and Mockingbirds. Also added are a sultan’s turban, a fig tree, lantanta and a variety of patio plants for wildlife. The enhanced natural yard lists 76 different bird species, a high number for the middle of town. Barred owls call most days.

Dorsey Peek
2409 Creekwood Drive
Baton Rouge, LA 70808

The original owners at 2409 Creekwood Drive landscaped the yard to be grass-free. As retirees, this couple intended to live life without a lawnmower.  With that goal in mind, neither the front or back yards have a blade of grass. Now owned by Dorsey Peek, the small front yard contains a variety of groundcovers and perennials along with smooth pebbles in place of grass, and remains grass-free.

A small bed snaking along the front window toward the side of the house is filled with colorful perennials including pink phlox, purple irises, and camellia, to name a few. A large crape myrtle tree provides color in the summer to the front yard planting, and its branches add shade.

As you walk down the alleyway toward the backyard, you notice large trees and a dramatic change in the landscape. Once the alleyway ends, you find a swamp in the middle of town! Large cypress, tupelo gum and swamp red maple trees form a background with cypress knees dotted throughout the basin. The home was built up to prevent flooding from Dawson’s Creek, and it slopes down into the swamp to provide a wonderful view from the screened-in porch or shaded outside patio.  Depending on the season, a variety of plants dominate the swamp, including native yellow buttertop in the spring and lizard’s tail in the summer  Not to be missed, is a large, and colorful rooster sculpture keeping watch over the swamp critters. Outside the screened-in porch, Dorsey has added a foundation plantings to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.  

Dorsey’s next door neighbor is Dr. Lori Byrd.  There is no fencing between their backyard gardens. Dorsey and Lori share a love for gardening, view of the swamp, and a footpath that joins their two gardens. No grass and a peaceful view are a perfect respite for Dorsey every day.

Dr. Lori Byrd
2341 Creekwood Drive
Baton Rouge, LA 70808

Dr. Lori Byrd’s two-story, Charleston-style, garden home reveals a recently updated façade and a courtyard that feature the designs of Architect Mark Montgomery. The second-story balcony, with an iron balustrade, was designed by craftsman Gary Hart.  Views of the garden are enjoyed from the balcony, front and side porches, and the garden room from the multi-windowed second floor sunroom which captures spectacular morning, evening and even night-time views of the entry garden, courtyard, backyard garden, and swamp. 

The entry pathway is flanked with perennial beds of colorful flowers and small ornamental flowering trees that culminate at the wrought iron gate to the courtyard. The gate swings open to a “secret garden,” shaded by two large crape myrtles trees, a bay tree and sweet olive. At very special times, you will be treated with the soft, but wonderful scent of the sweet olive blossoms. Ardisia, nandina, aspidistra, ginger, caladiums and ferns line the pathways.  Borders are sprinkled with pink and blue hydrangeas.  Wind chimes sound as you pause to appreciate the gentle breeze that flows through the space imbued with the fragrance of satsuma blossoms. As you walk and explore, you get a glimpse of the small backyard and distant swamp.  A glance upward reveals a century-old majestic and proud cypress tree. Before you leave the courtyard, potted Chinese lantern and bonsai trees draw your attention. 

As you enter the backyard, flower beds encircle the garden with bright colors of pink, blue, and purple, as the color theme.  The eye is drawn to the focal point, a large octagon-shaped wooden deck that appears to cantilever over the swamp with its standing water and its spring eruption of yellow buttertop wildflowers, vines, and new growth on the trees. The queen of the garden is a Peggy Martin climbing rose inspired by Michael Stroup’s book, The Empress of the Garden, which drapes over the pergola that also supports the swing on the wooden deck.  You must take a moment to swing to the rhythm of the natural soundscape. The one-hundred-year-old cypress is the prince of the swamp scene, along with companion trees that provide a sea of green backdrop to the garden.

After taking in the beauty of the garden, the backyard is teeming with wildlife! The bard owls can be heard hooting in the woods during the early evening hours, just before dark. If you answer back, their curiosity may bring them closer to get a better look at who is hooting. Chickadees, cardinals, and an occasional goldfinch frequent the wrought iron lantern bird feeders scattered around the deck.  In the summer, the hummingbirds stake their claim and vie for the best nectar from tiny flowers, and from the colorful bird feeders.  They can be very vocal, chattering in the crape myrtles in the courtyard. Butterflies are also frequent visitors to the garden enjoying the purple and red salvia, and the peach and coral colored hibiscus flowers.

Every vantage point offers the potential of spectacular and joyful surprises from nature.

Brian Early
2000 Quail Drive
Baton Rouge, LA 70808  

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) designed and planted a Louisiana Native Plant Garden to demonstrate and celebrate our natural heritage at the entrance to their headquarters on Quail Drive. What do we mean by natural heritage? Our natural heritage is made up of the native plants, animals, and physical components of a landscape like soil, rocks, water and air.  Louisiana’s broad landscape includes seven primary plant regions. These regions are made up of a wide range of natural communities, which are groups of plants and animals interacting with each other and the physical environment. Some of the most common natural communities you will recognize in the garden include bottomland hardwood forests, coastal prairies, and longleaf pine savannahs.  Lesser known natural communities include the calcareous prairie and bayhead forests.  The garden design showcases the beauty and diversity of natural communities while providing a place that benefits wildlife in the urban landscape.  Although the garden was planted in 2014 it has been redesigned several times as new gardening techniques have been tested and applied.  Visitors will be able to see the results of various management techniques and take away ideas to use in their own gardens.

Spring Garden Tour Details

Sunday, May 5, 2019

1:00 -5:00 PM 

On-line ticket sales are closed. You may purchase a ticket at any of the gardens on the day of the tour.

Tour and Parking Map 

Hilltop's Hodge Podge Nursery open during tour.

On the tour day - only cash and checks are accepted, no credit cards.

Questions? Call 225-767-7916 or email: