As I anticipate garden events and learning opportunities in 2015, I start by looking back over the past 12 months and thinking about what I can take away from my conversations with dozens of gardeners, from experts to novices.
The year started when I learned about how the iris became the emblem of a French king and morphed into the fleur-de-lis symbol. Did you know you can distinguish a true Louisiana iris from an imposter by knowing simply that the imposter will have a midline rib running along its leaf blade and the Louisiana iris won’t? Now I do, thanks to the iris society’s Eileen Hollander.
In January and February, I wrote about oriental magnolias to “light up our world,” a phrase used by Sara Draper, of the Garden Gates in Metairie, when I interviewed her last winter. She explained that February, when the trees are in bloom, is an ideal time to select one for a home garden because you’ll know exactly what the blossom will look like.
Run for the roses
Come March, the extraordinary collection of old roses in Armstrong Park merit a visit, as anyone who has seen them can attest. Did you know there are 175 specimens — some as tall as 6 feet — installed in the park? I still can’t tell you the difference between a Bourbon or a China rose, but Leo Watermeier, Peggy Martin and a bunch of their cohorts in the New Orleans Old Garden Rose Society can. Attend a meeting of the group, and you are likely to go home with a free cutting. And when City Park holds its monthly plant sales during warmer months, be sure to check out the selection of old roses.
Talks on second Saturdays at the Parkway Partners headquarters and greenhouse on Baronne Street have taught me about raising chickens, establishing a kitchen garden, reducing the need for a lawn (grow wildflowers), and so much more that it would be nigh impossible to summarize. I try never to miss a chance to interview their speakers and harvest what knowledge I can. Tip: Go at 9 a.m. for the plant sale, then secure a seat for the free talk, as many are standing room only.
Courtyard high point
Thank heavens the Friends of the Cabildo and Patio Planters make it possible for us to get inside those alluring French Quarter courtyards that otherwise we only glimpse from the sidewalk. A high point of 2014 in the courtyard category was visiting the courtyard of Peter Rogers — the New York ad man turned New Orleanian — and talking to Kurt LeBlanc, of Harold’s Nursery, about the plants his company used in its design. I learned that what may seem like an overabundance of vegetation works perfectly to make Rogers’ outdoor space “Tennessee Williams tropical,” as requested. And I learned that orchids can be planted in the ground in a sheltered Quarter courtyard. I am not sure I ever saw brake ferns until LeBlanc pointed them out to me.
Country in the city
Urban farms have sprung up everywhere. Central City showcased its array a few months ago when Faubourg Lafayette held its annual home tour. In the Lower Ninth Ward, there are wetlands nurseries and more. Look ahead to more news about urban farms and the cadre of energetic people — committed to eliminating food deserts and helping the environment — who have created them.
I discovered true aficionados of hibiscus and bonsai who generously shared their knowledge with me and always welcome newcomers to their monthly meetings. I learned from Ann Barnes, gardener extraordinaire, that a zillion different kinds of salvias are super for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden (the Herb Society sale is held on the grounds of her home). I learned that there are dozens of varieties of Sasanqua camellias that brighten winter landscapes in our area and that holly berries are just one type of berry that graces our fall and winter landscapes (pyracantha is the most dramatic but beware of treacherous thorns.). Henri Deters, at age 96, told me that her love of orchids — and membership in the New Orleans Orchid Society — is fairly recent and made the point that you can learn new gardening skills at any age, if inspired.
Elizabeth Livingston shared with me the shangri-la behind her Uptown home, framed by species of bamboo I’d never seen before (weeping bamboo was my favorite). Her garden is testament to what texture, foliage and form can create in a garden that doesn’t rely on flowers for its appeal. I also learned that tropical bamboo clumps and temperate bamboo runs, an important fact to know when considering it for a home landscape.
I want to extend to all mentioned above — as well as to the New Orleans Botanical Garden, the Master Gardeners of Greater New Orleans, and Longue Vue House and Gardens — my heartfelt thanks for a remarkable gardening education in 2014. Here’s to 2015!
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about homes and gardens. Contact her at email@example.com.