Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
June, 2009
Regional Report

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A large award for a large job well done by New Orleans Botanic Garden volunteers.

New Orleans Renaissance

I visited the New Orleans Botanic Garden recently for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. Wherever there is disaster, hope follows closely behind. When scores of volunteers join a dedicated staff, hope becomes a beautiful reality as it has at NOBG. Their work is impressive, and inspires me in my own recovering gardens.

Still the Same
The conservatory at NOBG is a huge glass greenhouse with an extensive tropical plant collection, a Victorian centerpiece that is my personal focal point of the garden. Over the years I have started many a tour of the garden from that space, working my way out from there, and I did so again on this visit. Tropical specimens from bromeliads and orchids to huge, ancient examples of common houseplants fill the house. Its rainforest environment and cascading waterfall will inspire you to make more of your own garden, and introduce you to more exotic specimens.

From the conservatory, reflecting pools and lawn create a peaceful allee lined by giant evergreens. You'd never imagine the days it took to simply remove the debris from this area alone, but returning it to its grandeur sets the tone for the rest of the recovery garden.
Although the garden was closed and access was difficult even for people whose homes were not affected, NOBG reopened in March, 2006, six months after the category 3+ winds tore it to pieces and flooding ravaged the grounds. The smaller greenhouses built by the WPA are back in operation with a still-impressive collection of cacti and succulents. The entire garden is certainly less crowded, but no less charming. The walkways between buildings here have always been a treat for me, holding unexpected plants. This time was no different, as angel trumpets and daturas were blooming there to welcome me. Likewise, the bed by the "facilities" flowered wildly with chaste tree and the biggest purple coneflowers you'll see in such a small bed.

It's sunnier at the NOBG now, and the long brick raised beds are blooming again. Once used as cold frames, the beds were planted years ago with plants as various as snapdragons and LA irises. The profile of these beds is lower, and visitors can easily sit on their edges to take a break and survey the now-broader view. Wherever you look in New Orleans, tree tops are still ragged and the ancient oaks at NOBG are no different. But these have been attended, and new growth is obvious and even rampant in places. Because so many trees were lost, plants like sago palms have a new prominence. Both male and female plants are huge and mature, their forms lush and striking with less competition.

Gardening Grandly
The Historic New Orleans Train Garden draws visitors of every age to its elaborate, lighted display on weekend evenings and at special events. All areas of the city are represented in detailed miniatures of street scenes and landmarks. In that garden, the collection of staghorn ferns symbolizes the garden's renewal to me. There are stags at many growth stages, newly attached to boards with their wires still showing and others nearly old enough to produce spores.

Though the structures at the garden were not damaged tremendously, nearly every plant sat under water for up to two weeks. In the greenhouses, automatic watering was disabled and plants burned up where they sat. Today, you'd never guess how much damage Katrina caused, but reading the tribute to volunteers will remind you and warm your heart, too. Please come see!

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