Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Brother of Johnny Appleseed Resides in Abbeville

Some of our most valuable assets in Vermilion Parish are our trees. The Spanish moss covered oaks have books written about them, our cypress have built homes and barns, and our pecans are eaten all over the world.

But there are certain trees like apple and eucalyptus that you don’t see too often along our roadsides. That is unless of course, you’re visiting the Abbeville home of gardener, Todd Travasos.

“I planted around three hundred trees on the property,” says Travasos. “I want my house to feel like it’s in the woods.”

Travasos moved to the 6.3 acres in 2001 and began planting his garden. Initially, it was a small forest filled with a variety of oaks and other wild-growing trees. But many of them were knocked over during a hurricane, and Travasos suddenly had more light and freedom to create his own vision.

“I’ve been gardening since I was a kid,” says Travasos. “After a hard day’s work, I relax by going outside and being in nature.”

The garden consists of trees, bushes and plants that provide fruits, vegetables, flowers and shade. There are cypress, oak, crepe myrtle, river birch, hackberry, red maple, eucalyptus, avocado, sweet olive, fig, apple, orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, kumquat, Japanese plum, pomegranate, persimmon, pear and palm trees. Blueberry, blackberry and raspberry bushes thrive in sunny spots throughout the yard, and muscadine grapes, cucumbers, cantaloupe and sugar baby watermelons cling onto fences.

“The hardest part of maintaining the yard is providing proper irrigation during a drought,” says Travasos. “My favorite part is seeing the expression on people’s faces when I give them the excess produce.”

The advice Travasos would give to a new gardener is to provide proper drainage to trees, especially fruit bearing ones. He also suggests buying your trees, bushes and plants from someone who knows about their product and can provide information on growing conditions, fertilizing and watering.

“There are a lot of fruits like apples and blueberries that need cross pollinators to grow,” says Travasos. “If you plant one without the other, it won’t bear fruit.”

My mom and I recently visited the garden of Todd Travasos. The long driveway to his home in the woods is lined with sago palms, Jane magnolias and colorful crepe myrtles. In the front of the house, a large scented eucalyptus shimmers its mint green leaves, and a four-tiered fountain cries with tears of joy when visitors arrive.

Travasos had given me a summary of his garden prior to my arrival. It all sounded interesting, but what peaked my interest the most were the apples trees. When I stopped the car, I told my mom how excited I was about photographing them.

“My maiden name is Apple,” my mom said. “There’s only one living male Apple in Vermilion Parish.”

“I know,” I said. “But we’re here to learn about apple seeds. Not the Apple seed.”

Travasos ran out to meet my mom and I as we were walking up the drive. He welcomed us into his home where we met his wife, Brigette, and several colorful Persian cats.

“Did your son tell you I grow apple trees?” Travasos asked my mom. “Just like your maiden name, Apple.”

“There’s only one living male Apple in all of Vermilion Parish,” my mom replied.

After hearing a twenty-minute history review of the Apple seed, (complete with charts, graphs, and a Power Point presentation) Travasos led me outside to discuss seeds of a less uncomfortable nature. We started with citrus.

“I have a story and reason for every tree in the yard,” said Travasos. “For example, I plant my lemons and limes on the south side of the house because they don’t like the cold.”

Then Travasos showed me something called a trifolia tree, which didn’t bare fruit and resembled a large shrub. He said he was growing it for its root system and that he would graph different citrus trees like lemons, limes and oranges to it.

It took several minutes of questions and answers for me to understand that one tree was going to grow three different fruit. I wondered what would happen if I ate an orange from this miraculous tree. Would I become the super hero, Citrus Man, and begin fighting crime by squirting villains in the eyes with acidic juices.

I thought that could be interesting, so I asked Travasos to see more of his creations. Next stop was the apple orchard.

“My Golden Dorsett apples cross pollinate with my Annas,” said Travasos. “I don’t spray them with any chemicals, because I want all of my produce to be organic.”

When it came time for my mom and I to leave, Travasos handed her a bag filled with cucumbers and one apple. He told her that it was for her in honor of her maiden name.

It seemed ironic that just as one Apple was beginning to disappear in Vermilion Parish, a different kind was just starting to be grown. Not for monetary reasons, but simply to produce a gift for others.

“I thought that was a very nice gesture of Mr. Travasos to give you an apple because of your name,” I said to my mom on the car ride home. “Maybe you met him for a reason. Now you can have peace in the fact that apples will be in Vermilion Parish for a long time.”

“That’s a beautiful way to look at it,” my mom responded. “But I’ll just get one of my grandsons to change his name to Apple.”

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