FYIer Wins Third Place in Garden Contest

Judges Joe Willis, left, Kevin Taylor, center, and Anna Timmerman, right, give Linda Gielec her awards in the Jazzin' Up the Neighborhood Garden Contest. Photo by Chris Granger,
Jazzin’ Up the Neighborhood Garden Contest | Photo by Chris Granger,

When Linda Gielec bought her house in Central City in 2014, she was itching to indulge her green thumb. The house has a side yard where Gielec could envision a natural screen of foliage to create privacy and add coziness.

But first, she had to deal with the concrete. Lots of concrete.

“It was all cement about 5 feet from the side of the house,” Gielec said. “It was cracked and broken and half buried in weeds.”

So instead of checking off her list of interior renovations she’d like to do, Gielec spent her time and money on redeveloping the front yard. “I thought when I bought this house, it was so beautiful, I wanted to give it what it deserves,” she said. “I could have redone my bathroom or got central AC, but I really wanted a nice garden.”

For assistance, Gielec applied to the Front Yard Initiative, a program of the Urban Conservancy which reimburses homeowners for ripping out concrete on their property and replacing it with green space to help stormwater management. Gielec removed 500 square feet of paving and was reimbursed $1,250 by the program.

Once that was done, she had a blank slate to install a small front garden filled with Yuletide and Shi Shi camellias and blooming Society Garlic, a brick walkway, a row of Little Gem magnolias and an Alexandrina Japanese magnolia, which brightens gray winter days with its splash of pinkish blossoms.

“My favorite front yard plant so far is a tie between the Yuletide Camellia flowers and the massive, fragrant, Alexandrina Magnolia flowers,” she said.

On a street with few trees or gardens, Gielec’s front yard is a pocket of natural beauty that brightens the entire block, and her efforts won her third place in the third annual Jazzin’ Up the Neighborhood Garden Contest. Sponsored by|The Times-Picayune, the LSU AgCenter, and the Metro Area Horticulture Foundation, the contest, held last fall, was open to front yards throughout the New Orleans area. The judges were LSU AgCenter agents Joe Willis and Anna Timmerman; Metro Area Horticulture Foundation president Kevin Taylor of Southern Accent Landscaping & Lawn Care Inc.; and Susan Langenhennig, InsideOut editor. The five finalists’ gardens were visited in person by the judges.
Little Gem Magnolias line Gielic's side yard |Photo by Chris Granger,
Little Gem Magnolias line Gielic’s side yard | Photo by Chris Granger,

As the third-place winners, Gielec received a $100 gift certificate to Jefferson Feed; a signed copy of “The Louisiana Urban Gardener: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Vegetables and Herbs” by Kathryn K. Fontenot; and a copy of “The Grumpy Gardener: An A to Z Guide from the Galaxy’s Most Irritable Green Thumb,” by Steve Bender.

“My neighborhood is very humble and is unfortunately inundated with blight and rundown and overgrown vacant properties and has very few trees, let alone gardens,” Gielec wrote in her contest entry. Now, after seeing her plants bloom, a few of her neighbors have started working on their yards, too.

"Society Garlic and Angelonia pair together here beautifully," said judge Kevin Taylor. | Photo from Linda Gielec
Society Garlic and Angelonia | Photo by Linda Gielec

Beyond her front fence, which is covered in jasmine, Gielec also improved the patch of land between the sidewalk and the street, planting two large Country Red crape myrtles and illuminated them with landscaping lighting. She chose the Country Red after hours of “obsessive” research into the vast number of crape myrtles cultivars.

“I contacted Blooms Landscaping in New Orleans to find me large specimens, determine proper spacing, and to plant them properly for me,” Gielec said.

To brighten her front steps, she also planted pots with blooming annuals; the SunPatiens were still going strong until the January freezes. (Most of the photos with this story were taken before the freezes.)

Gielec, a Pennsylvania native who has lived in New Orleans for several years, has always loved plants and grew up with a father who enjoyed gardening. “He took me to the gorgeous Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania each year, often at Christmas and in the summer,” she said. “Those gardens had always absolutely mesmerized me.”

See more photos of Linda’s yard transformation and access the full article here.

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