A History of New Orleans Gardens

New Orleans is always in bloom. Despite its intermittent searing heat and stifling humidity–-and the knowledge that a hurricane can and has at various times destroyed much of New Orleans–-locals in the Big Easy always find a way to regroup, restore, and replant. Many of the city’s ancient “Deep South” old oak trees have withstood Mother Nature’s fury and continue to thrive replete with native Spanish Moss and Resurrection Fern cascading down their trunks and branches.

I’ll start this virtual tour with a few highlights from some of the most well-known of the city’s parks and gardens, then we’ll venture off the beaten track to some of the lesser known gardens, each with a different N’awlins personality.

City Park
At more than 150 years old, City Park is one of the oldest urban parks in the country. The 30,000 trees that loom over the park are themselves historic landmarks. Home to the oldest grove of mature live oaks in the world, two of park’s most famous, oldest, and most imposing trees are Anseman Oak and McDonogh Oak, both between 750 and 900 years old.

City Park Botanical Garden
Within the park’s sprawling 1,300 acres of green space, winding trails lead to the Botanical Garden that features more than 2,000 plants from around the globe, including aquatics, roses, native plants, ornamental trees, shrubs, perennials and other varieties inside its various theme gardens, including a Japanese Garden and the fragrant Azalea and Camellia Garden which contains important examples of the South’s flowering plants.

Inspiration Take-Aways From a Visit to This Garden
Botanical gardens everywhere offer a wealth of thematic, design, and planting ideas adaptable to other spaces.

The Besthoff Sculpture Garden
One of my favorite New Orleans spots, the five acre Besthoff Sculpture Garden is an outdoor museum with more than 60 works of art. Under the old oaks, both contemporary and classic sculptures dot the winding paths and lawns where in the morning and late afternoon they cast beautiful reflections in the lagoons.

Inspiration Take-Aways From a Visit to This Garden
How to incorporate a variety of art and add water features into a garden.

Audubon Park
In the Uptown neighborhood, the smaller yet still grand Audubon Park is another bucolic patch of green where you may see a giraffe poke through the bushes lining the park’s zoo. Meditate by walking one of the park’s two labyrinths installed after Katrina to symbolize healing and renewal.

Inspiration Take-Aways From a Visit to This Garden
Adding an unusual feature like a labyrinth may set the stage for an interesting garden design theme.

Gardens Off the Beaten Track
Some say New Orleans is the only foreign city Americans can go to without a passport. A melting pot of once-foreign cultures, much of the city’s colorful heritage is revealed in its lesser-known public garden spaces, such as the Old Ursuline Convent Gardens, St. Anthony’s Gardens in the French Quarter, and the Louis Armstrong Park’s Antique Rose Garden.

Pilot House
In the Mid City area of Bayou St. John, the circa 1700 Pilot House is a classic example of stately 18th century Creole Colonial architecture, and the only one of its kind still standing. Its “parlor garden” is planted with native flowers, herbs, vegetables, and crops such as sugarcane, cotton, tobacco, and indigo.

Inspiration Take-Aways From a Visit to This Garden
Design ideas for planting native flowers with edibles.

New Orleans Musicians

Louis Armstrong Park Antique Rose Garden
What differentiates modern hybrid tea roses from antique garden roses, or heirloom roses, cultivars introduced before the introduction in 1867 of the first hybrid tea rose “La France”? For one thing, in addition to their significance in human history, most old roses boast a more “true rose” fragrance not often found in the “fussy” tea roses. Having survived centuries even with little care, they’ve retained the strength and resilience Mother Nature originally provided, making them are easier to grow and maintain (some varieties actually thrive better with a minimum of pruning), more disease-resistant, and more winter-hardy than modern hybrid tea roses. Hardiness varies depending on variety, but they offer some good selections for warm and mild climates alike.There’s been renewed interest in the antique roses among botanists as they find specimens that have withstood years of neglect in some of the area’s historic cemeteries and abandoned lots.

Rosarian and curator Leo Watermeier has maintained the rose garden since its first planting of just six rose bushes in 1992. A project of the New Orleans Old Garden Rose Society, the garden features more than 170 varieties of antique garden roses, falling mostly into the china, tea, polyantha and noisette groups, ones that can best tolerate the region’s seemingly endless summer heat and humidity, as well as hybrid musks, tea-noisettes, and Bourbons.

Inspiration Take-Aways From a Visit to This Garden
Antique roses, like their modern siblings, benefit from ancient companion planting to support the beneficial relationship between the plants, insects, and the soil. Consider planting strong-scented herbs, garlic, and marigolds around the roses to repel unwanted pests.

Old Ursuline Convent Gardens
Circa 1753, the Old Ursuline Convent Garden on the edge of French Quarter is the oldest garden of the oldest building in New Orleans. When medicinal gardens supplied botanical remedies, one of the convent’s original nuns planted the herb garden from which she treats city residents. There is also a formal French symmetrically designed walled rear garden with a series of six perfectly manicured triangular hedges whose inner walkways converge at the garden’s center.

Inspiration Take-Aways From a Visit to This Garden
Ordered formal schemes using geometrically arranged parterres can be nicely adapted to edible garden designs.

St. Anthony’s Gardens
One of the city’s oldest garden spaces, St. Anthony’s Garden, blossoms in the shadow of St. Louis Cathedral in the heart of the Vieux Carré (French Quarter.) Dating back to the early seventeenth century, the site once served as a potager (French kitchen garden) for Capuchin monks whose vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs mingled together to provide food but to also beautify the property.

For more than a century, the gardens changed hands and each owner repurposed and redesigned them, at one point adding brick patio area and replacing damaged magnolia trees with camellias, azaleas, and varieties of antique roses. After Hurricane Katrina nearly demolished the garden, The Getty Foundation funded archaeological excavations to uncover the property’s history and identify the plants used during those periods to inform the garden’s restoration.

Inspiration Take-Aways From a Visit to This Garden
Research the area’s history to design a garden, restoring it to include original native plantings.

Clouet Garden
Owned by the Housing Authority of New Orleans, the large property on Clouet Street, in Bywater, between Royal and Dauphine, was a blighted empty lot for over 15 years before its neighbors signed a 10-year lease in 2011 and transformed it into small planted park. Clouet has become a neighborhood gathering spot where volunteers maintain the garden and its colorful murals, and locals enjoy the public art projects, performances, and of course music—it’s New Orleans!

Inspiration Take-Aways From a Visit to This Garden
The possibilities for transforming a garden are only limited by one’s own imagination. Raised beds, great soil, and some nurturing will turn a blighted piece of land into a verdant and productive garden.

About the Author:

Robin HortonAuthor, designer, speaker, and influencer Robin Plaskoff Horton, is Editor-in-Chief of Urban Gardens, the award-winning and Webby-nominated home and garden, sustainable living, and travel webzine. Mashable named Urban Gardens “One of the top 10 must-follow home and garden Twitter accounts” and Better Homes and Gardens Magazine named Urban Gardens one the top 10 garden blogs for 2015. Her trend spotting and product sourcing has earned her the moniker “coolspotter.” Robin has traveled the world as a brand ambassador to design events including The London Design Festival, Maison & Objet in Paris, Milan Design Week, Ambiente in Frankfurt, Germany, and invited by the city of Girona, Spain to co-create an outdoor public art installation made with plants for the annual Temps de Flors festival.

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