Spring has officially sprung! The flowers are blooming, the bees are buzzing, ferns are stretching out tendrils from brick walls, and bright green mosses are forming lush, natural carpeting just about everywhere. When the rain takes a break, everyone in the Greater New Orleans Area is out and about enjoying the rich, colorful bounty that comes with living in a sub-tropical paradise.
If one thing can be said about our city’s gardens, it’s that they’re anything but “garden variety.” Grab your camera, apply plenty of sunscreen, and remember to take your allergy meds, as we take a joyous, springtime journey through the gardens in and around New Orleans.
One of the largest and most obvious places to start would have to be the Botanical Garden in New Orleans City Park. Created in 1936 through President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, the City Park Rose Garden (as it was originally named) was designed for all to enjoy, becoming the city’s first public, classical garden. To this day, it is one of the few remaining examples of a WPA public garden design from the Art Deco period. In the early 1980s, the name was changed to the New Orleans Botanical Gardens featuring in excess of 2,000 plant varieties from all around the globe.
These extensive gardens sprawl over 10 acres of land which include the park’s renowned, 100+ year-old oaks. The expansive green space includes different sections where plants are showcased seasonally: the Rose Parterre with modern roses and a water-lily-laden pond; a native plant garden; a tropical garden; a variety of shrubs, small trees and ground covers make up the Southern Shade Garden; and the Butterfly Walk features plants that attract all different types of butterflies due to their nectars and larval hosting capabilities. The Botanical Garden has even maintained tie original WPA rose garden showcasing both antique and modern roses. Open year-round, visitors can obtain a map of the grounds upon entry, or when visiting City Park’s website.
Located on Bamboo Road just behind the New Orleans Country Club, Longue Vue House & Gardens is the lasting legacy of Edith and Edgar Stern, a philanthropic couple who, among many other civic endeavors, helped to establish Dillard University, worked on voter-registration reform, and supported the New Orleans Philharmonic Symphony. The Longue Vue house visitors see today was actually the second home the couple built on this site, as the first didn’t suit the gorgeous gardens being created around it by famed landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman. From 1935 to her death in 1950, Shipman worked on the gardens you see today and it is the only intact design of hers open to the public. Edith Stern also enlisted the help of botanist Caroline Dormon to choose flora for Longue Vue’s “Wild Garden” which is known for its extensive collection of indigenous Louisiana plants. In 1968, Edith Stern opened Longue Vue gardens to the public in the interest of sharing the space with her community.
Guests can enjoy a self-guided tour throughout the gardens and grounds, and even bring a picnic to lunch under the property’s stunning oak allée or opt for a guided tour of the gardens which covers both horticultural and historical information about all 8 acres of Shipman’s design. The Longue Vue garden is always blooming, but this time of year, you’ll find everything from delphinium, foxglove and tulips to azalea, passionflower, amaryllis and silver bells.
A breathtaking display of “art and nature in harmony,” the Besthoff Sculpture Garden in New Orleans City Park is certainly different kind of garden, but a garden nonetheless. Founders Sydney and Walda Besthoff, well-known local businesspersons, dedicated much of their lives to support the arts, from founding the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans, to serving on the boards for the New Orleans Museum of Art and the New Orleans Symphony. In 2003, the Besthoffs donated money and initial works for the sculpture garden, works that were to be harmoniously displayed among the landscape of lagoons, live oaks and bridges designed by Sawyer/Berson Architecture & Landscape Architecture in New York. In 2017, the New Orleans Museum of Art launched a 6.5-acre expansion, under the guidance of renowned landscape architectural firm Reed Hilderbrand in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which officially opened with twenty-seven works in May 2019.
Among the live oaks, magnolia trees and azaleas, visitors to the garden can appreciate modern sculpture from artists all over the world, from Thomas Housaeago’s Striding Figure in bronze and Korean artist Do Ho Suh’s Karma to Polish artist Ursula Von Ryndingsvard’s Dumma meaning “proud” cast in bronze. The Besthoff Sculpture Garden is open daily and admission is free.
Exhibited in the era when it was owned by New Orleans 3rd mayor James Pitot, this property is one of the few West Indies-style homes remaining in the state. The Pitot House was originally built in 1799 by Spanish merchant Bartholome Bosque and is located on the area’s oldest European settlement in the Bayou St. John neighborhood. Over the years, eleven families occupied the home and in 1964, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart donated it to the Louisiana Landmarks Society.
Today, the home serves as both a museum and an event venue with a small, but stunning parterre garden featuring period-appropriate local flora including phlox, irises and luna hibiscus; citrus trees, antique roses, camellias; and herbs and vegetables with boxwood hedges. Tours of the house and gardens are by appointment only.
Located in Algiers Point, Pelican Gardens is an “organic community garden and learning space” owned and operated by Mark LaMaire, a local chef who also founded Lahpet @lahpetkitchen, a pop-up featuring Burmese food. The garden regularly offers vegetables, seeds and even edible flowers for sale and/or trade from Romanesco cauliflower and raw honey to hot peppers, rainbow chard, green papaya and turmeric. Pelican Gardens also offers a community fridge fully stocked with their regular produce which invites those who need it to “take what you want, leave what you can.” Find them on Instagram @pelicangardens.
Urban garden, outdoor restaurant, events venue . . . Paradigm Gardens on S. Rampart is all of these things and more. The Central City garden is, at its heart, a chef’s garden, one that grows herbs and vegetables for local restaurants like Boucherie, Marjie’s Grill, Patois, Coquette, Turkey and the Wolf, High Hat Cafe and more. It’s also a gorgeous green space where people can hold events with customizable food and cocktail menus. In fact, Paradigm frequently holds its own events such as their Roots of Music concert series “celebrating the rhythmic foundations of modern Blues, Jazz, Reggae, Latin, Funk, and Soul” featuring artists from all across the country and accompanied by menus prepared by their in-house chef. They also regularly hold plant and vegetable sales to the public which include an arts market, brunch and local Djs. Oh, and did we mention Goat Yoga?
Perhaps the garden’s most inspiring work is their school. Self-touted as Louisiana’s first and only K-12 garden school, Paradigm uses the Montessori model with a project-based curriculum and teaches everything from the obvious like horticulture and community service to science, math, carpentry, art and music. Entirely free to the students who attend, the school is funded through their weekly plant sales and other events held in the garden.
*Article originally published in the April 2022 issue of Where Y’at Magazine
*Lead photo courtesy of Longue Vue House & Gardens