Stuart Gauthier, Schultz, Bruce | 4/19/2005 10:29:01 PM
The festival, in its third year, is being held from 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. June 5 in the shade of the oak trees that cover Magdalen Square in downtown Abbeville. If the weather is bad, it will be held in the Cecil J. McCrory Exhibit Hall at 1105 West Port St. behind the LSU AgCenter Extension office.
The free event, sponsored by Gulf Coast Bank, the city of Abbeville and the Louisiana Nursery and Landscape Association, isn’t just for daylily enthusiasts, however.
"The Daylily Festival is a celebration of gardening," said Stuart Gauthier, LSU AgCenter horticulturist. "From agapanthus to orchids, a plant lover will find something of interest."
It will include a plant swap, and more than 50 vendor booths will have plants and garden-related items for sale. Speakers will make presentations on daylilies, roses, water gardening, bonsai trees and tropical plants.
Last year, more than 3,000 people attended the festival.
The LSU AgCenter also will have a tent with Master Gardeners offering expert advice on raising plants.
"They will help answer your gardening problems or questions," Gauthier said.
As for this year’s honoree, LeBlanc was well known for his eagerness to help people with plants at the nursery he ran behind the family home on the east side of Abbeville.
"You couldn’t find a more deserving person," said Marshall Mugnier, owner of Marshall’s Home and Garden Showplace in Lafayette. "He was one of the kindest, gentlest men, devoted to quality. He was an example for all of us to follow."
LeBlanc died in 1988, but Mugnier said his legacy lives on. Although the nursery closed in 1997, LeBlanc’s youngest son, Leslie LeBlanc of Abbeville, runs a successful landscaping firm, and he lives with his family on the land where the garden center was located.
Much of the landscaping from the garden center remains intact. The old home remains, but the LeBlancs have built a new house at the back of the property. To this day, old customers still show up, not realizing or remembering the store has been closed.
Leslie LeBlanc pointed to an old photograph of the family residence where the business was located. "When he bought this place back in ’52, it was surrounded by cotton fields," he said, adding, "Matter of fact, Mother and Dad met in a cotton field while picking cotton."
D.A. LeBlanc grew up farming with his family north of Abbeville on the west side of Bayou Vermilion. As a young man he announced he wouldn’t be a farmer and he would live on the east side of the bayou – an area that was undeveloped at that time. Leslie said his father’s intentions were met with disbelief by the rest of the family.
Although the younger LeBlanc says his father never talked about serving in the Army in World War II, the elder LeBlanc wrote a small book about his military experience as a battalion clerk under generals Omar Bradley, George Patton and Dwight Eisenhower. Leslie LeBlanc said he didn’t find the book until after his father died, and he was amazed to read his father’s detailed descriptions of the flora and landscape of England and Europe.
D.A. LeBlanc’s interest in plants started as a hobby, but he made money selling what he grew, his son recalled.
He worked full time at the Abbeville National Guard Armory, now named after him. When he retired from the guard in 1982, the nursery business became a full-time enterprise.
Even though LeBlanc had limited education, according to his son, he had a library of horticultural books and attended numerous seminars to learn more about growing plants.
Dr. Robert Barry of Sunset, retired horticulture professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said the elder LeBlanc was driven to learn as much as he could.
"He wasn’t college educated, but he was good with people and good with plants," Barry said.
D.A. LeBlanc also was good at using plants to show his customers how they could be incorporated into a landscaping plan.
"Dad’s big thing was color," recalled Leslie LeBlanc. "His favorite phrase was, `You’ve got to make it flow.’ He loved soft curves."
The younger LeBlanc said his father grew impatiens, coleus, camellias and caladiums. But for some reason, he could never get dogwoods to flourish.
Leslie LeBlanc also fondly recalled his father watering the grounds, and when the plants didn’t need more water, he turned the hose on parking lot gravel to keep the dust down for customers who drove up. "He loved to grab a hose and just water."
D.A. LeBlanc also raised exotic birds, selling parakeets to Durel’s Pet Store in Lafayette, and the chirping of birds added to the garden center’s tropical setting.
LeBlanc was a skilled salesman, and his goal was to make men as excited as the women who dragged them to the nursery, said Leslie LeBlanc’s wife Denise.
The elder LeBlanc had a liberal lagniappe policy, giving away a bulb or two with each sale, said Denise LeBlanc, who worked with her father-in-law for several years.
"He drove his CPA crazy, because he never looked at it as a business," she said, adding that for LeBlanc, quality was a priority.
"He was a perfectionist," she said. "You didn’t dare have a brown spot on any plant you sold."
Mugnier agreed with that assessment. "If he couldn’t do it right, he wouldn’t do it. He wasn’t interested in a buck if he couldn’t do it right."
LeBlanc also was friendly with competitors.
"He was tickled pink when Marshal Mugnier would come out here to visit him," Denise said.
Mugnier said he enjoyed just sitting and talking with LeBlanc. "We were more than business associates. We were real good friends."
Denise recalls he often let it be known he was happy with simple things in life.
"He always said if the good Lord takes me, I hope I’m either planting or dancing," Denise remembered. "The night he died, he was dancing, and he had just replanted all the urns."
In 1990, the Louisiana Association of Nurserymen posthumously honored him as "Nurseryman of the Year," and that award was accepted by Leslie’s mother, Annie, who died last year.
The garden center stayed open until 1997. It was then that Denise had twins and wanted to stay home while Leslie built up the landscaping business. Large retail centers had made it more difficult to make a profit, and they say they have not regretted their decision.
"The landscaping has not stopped. We’re real happy with that," Leslie LeBlanc said.
He also said, however, that he originally didn’t want to pursue a career in landscaping. He started studying electronics. Then suddenly he decided he wanted to study horticulture, under tutelage of Dr. Barry, and to work in his father’s business.
"When I decided that, you could tell he was happy."
As for the festival, presentations during the day include:
–9-10 a.m., Landscaping with Daylilies by Ann Hollier
–10-11 a.m., Old Garden Roses by Susan Gautreaux
–11-12 p.m., Water Gardening by Susan Ludwig
–12-12:15 p.m., 4-H Garden Contest Awards
–12:15-1 p.m., Beginning with Bonsai by Johnny Hardcastle.
–1-2 p.m., Tropical Color by Carlos Smith
For more information, call the Abbeville Chamber at (337) 893-2491.