When I first reconstructed the 1890′s Greek-Revival shotgun that I still live in 13 years ago I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know anything about architecture, less about carpentry and nothing about landscape design. With a lot of help from a dear and remarkably able family friend named Jimmy Middleton I learned a lot about putting a house back together, even if he did suggest (rightly in retrospect) that it would have been cheaper to tear the whole thing down and just rebuild a replica. I was in a particularly idealist phase of life and refused to listen to that sort of council. I am glad I kept this old girl and didn’t start over from scratch but there is no arguing that it would have been a lot simpler if I had just listened to Jimmy.
Former professor of landscape architecture at Louisiana State University, John Emerson did me a great service as well. Back then, when I was just out of college and didn’t have much time for anything other than executing my single-minded vision of how Beauregard Town should redevelop, a lot of people cut me a lot of slack. John was one of them. He drew up plans for my yard and back courtyard, endured endless and wholly uninformed tirades about what was right and proper for the space, drove me to wholesale nurseries and provided me with his professional discount. He also did it all for free. He is a saintly man and I don’t just say this because he gave me so much of his time and knowledge, but anyone that knows him will agree that he has a buddha-like demeanor that probably has something to do with a life lived in the company of plants. All the gardening types I know has some degree of this character trait. The slow pace of progress and the ephemeral reward of a bloom that only lasts a few days teaches a person things about patience and about the process as pleasure in its own right.
Back to the story at hand, John recommended that I plant a Silver Bell (Halesia parviflora) in my front yard. I wanted to use mainly native plants. John said that was easy, just don’t plant anything and in no time I would have a native Louisiana yard. The point was well taken but I wasn’t really looking for a weed choked ticket to frame the house. We settled on the humble Silver Bell. It has striking, slick, blackish bark and small, light green leaves. It is an unassuming tree but for a week or so in Spring it is overwrought with delicate, downwards facing white blooms. Soon enough the wind and time will carry them into the street. But, for a few shorts days it is spectacular. The Silver Bell is an understory tree which means that it doesn’t need a great deal of light, which is good because the Magnolias and a monstrous Hackberry keep in in almost constant shade.
I always remark at its subtle beauty this time of year. I do so with a tinge of regret. Its blooming means that winter is truly finished and the heat of the Louisiana Summer is soon to come. But for the week when its white bell flowers festoon my front porch in all their graceful simplicity, I am very happy with John’s suggestion. Sometimes we get the greatest pleasure from things that we know will soon disappear. The pleasure can be all the sweeter when it is inspired but an understated elegance that is glorified by that thing being in just the right place and at just the right time. Halesia parviflora you are my favorite tree, but I know you wont go bragging about it.