Herb Festival Soothes The Tensions Of Modern Life

SUNSET, LA (AP) — Parking in Sunset isn't usually a problem. Saturday, May 2 was the exception.

         Along the main drag, Napoleon Avenue, every available spot was taken. Same on many side streets and in any commercial parking lot with space to spare.

         On the grounds of the town's 19th annual Herb and Gardens Festival, the traffic was even thicker.

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         People pulled four-wheeled wagons and carts in every direction, hoping to fill them with plants and ornaments for their gardens.

         The jam didn't result in road rage, though. Everyone, from technicians to long-haul truckers, was in a good mood.

         Not a few said their passion for plants places them in that blissful state of mind.

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         "The growing, getting in that dirt … gardening is my sanity," Jackie Boudreaux of Carencro said with a hint of awe in her voice.

         She balanced a hummingbird plant and a moonflower with winding tendrils in her arms. "I think I've been here 10 or 15 times," Boudreaux said. "I like the weird stuff, not the same things you get at Lowe's and Home Depot and Wal-Mart."

         The variety available at this event caught the eye with color and the nose with intriguing scents — sage, basil, lavender, lemongrass. "We've unloaded several times already," said Madeline Duprè of Opelousas, who tugged a cart loaded with clematis and "something in the foxglove family."

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         A different crimson foxglove plant poked from the cart of Connie Johnson, whose garden grows in Sunset. "It's called 'digiplexis,'" she said. "Isn't it gorgeous?"

         Johnson is a 17-year veteran of this festival, and she said her yard reflects that. It contains a variety of flowering plants, hanging greenery and ornaments like the stainless steel daisy wedged into her cart. "My grandkids call it 'Nana's Jungle,'" she said with a smile. "I've got a very high-maintenance garden. It never ends."

         For people whose plants perplex them, help was close at hand. Just as Lucy in the "Peanuts" cartoon dispenses psychiatric advice from a portable booth, the LSU Ag Center deployed multiple master gardeners to respond to questions from anyone who approached their stall.

         There, the only stress under discussion was the kind growing things endure when weather, diseases or pests upset their equilibrium.

         Like "the stresses that all the rain placed on plants, said the Ag Center's Gerald Roberts. "What most people don't realize is that plants have got to stay out there 24/7. They don't have the luxury of moving around like we do."

         He and others offered the gardeners' equivalent of self-help literature in information sheets and brochures titled, "What is Composting?" ''Gardening for Butterflies and Hummingbirds" and "Louisiana Vegetables."

         While nonprofits like the Ag Center and next week's Relay for Life cancer benefit in Opelousas occupied some booths, burgeoning commerce was the order of the day.

         "The first festival we had, there were 10 or 15 vendors," recalled Sunset Garden Club president Judy Romano. She made her rounds in an open-sided golf cart, princess-waving as she passed four food trucks and plenty of friends.

         Proceeds from admission fees and the plant and ornament sales go to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer research, the Sertoma Club and the Garden Club's year-round efforts to keep Sunset beautiful, she said. Romano hinted but couldn't confirm that the popular single-day festival may expand to two days in the future. For further details, stay tuned.

         Or, as sisters Becky Guilbeaux and Glenda Mitchell do, stay attuned to nature. With their cartload of basil, sage, lavender, thyme and dill, they lavished praise on their shard love of gardening.

         "It's the most therapeutic thing you can do other than going to a doctor," Mitchell said. Waving a hand over their purchases, she conceded, "You pay for these things, but it's less expensive than a doctor."

         Guilbeaux chimed in, "Trust me — just get you a little pot and plant you a few little things in that pot.

         "You'll be hooked forever."

         – by AP/ Reporter Cheryl Devall with The Daily World

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