When surgeon Bernard Jaffe accepted a job at Tulane University 23 years ago, Marlene Jaffe sprang into action house hunting.
But nothing she found had the urban feel she was looking for.
“I went to see Bernie at work and told him we would have to pitch a tent on Canal Street if we didn’t find something soon, when a doctor who was in the room with him asked, ‘Have you tried the French Quarter?’ ” Marlene Jaffe said. “And I answered the stupidest thing! I said, ‘You mean people actually live there?’ ”
They do, of course, which Jaffe said it took her “about five seconds” to comprehend once she homed in on the Vieux Carré as a prospective neighborhood.
Ever since, the couple has resided in a stately Greek Revival cottage with not one but two beautifully landscaped outdoor rooms.
Jaffe makes it clear that she had nothing to do with the elegant plantings of either area: The “courtyard,” a sunlit space between her home and its guest quarters at the rear of the lot, or the “garden,” a shady space carved out of the rear yard of the Italianate double next door, which the Jaffes also own.
“All of the credit goes to John,” she said, referring to her longtime friend, gardener and tenant, John Ordoyne. “I enjoy planning the plantings with him, but he does all the work and the maintenance.”
The two spaces are very different in character, though equally appealing.
The courtyard, paved in slate, features a long, narrow pool, situated a bit off center on the lot to make room for a patio adjacent.
Lined on two sides by red hibiscus — “They’ve come back since the freeze last winter,” said Ordoyne — the pool draws the eye to a giant white bird of paradise plant and the home’s guest quarters at the rear. Jaffe says that her two children and her grandchildren visit often, staying in the former service wing and making constant use of the pool.
“We didn’t have to do anything to the house when we bought it, but the service wing was in deplorable condition,” she said. “It had dirt floors and was crumbling into the ground. We completely restored it.”
Treillage on one wall of the sunny courtyard provides support for a climbing fig and softens the perimeter.
A vivid pink mandevilla twines up a rain spout tucked near the guest quarters, and potted citrus accent along the patio’s perimeter.
Jaffe also enjoys pots of herbs that sit along the wide ledge surrounding the pool, and she likes to harvest what she needs when she cooks.
It would be easy to conclude that the courtyard is the only outdoor attraction on the Jaffes’ property because the entrance to the smaller shade garden is nearly hidden, adding to its allure.
An inconspicuous iron gate at a far end of the guest quarters leads to the hidden garden, which relies on greenery and shade for its visual impact.
A thick, tall hedge separates it from the rear of the Jaffes’ rental double, a device that creates a soft boundary at the south end of the garden.
Thick stands of azaleas, occasionally mixed with hydrangeas, surround the space on the west and north.
An occasional bench or sculpture, including a gleaming abstract work by Steve Kline, attracts attention to various stops along the perimeter path, which circles several islands of plantings.
One relies on a crape myrtle for its structure, another on an oleander pruned into the form of a multi-trunked tree.
Dark blue plumbago, bright yellow shrimp plant, purple angelonia, russet-colored chrysanthemums, and the deep coral blooms of angelwing begonia add understated color in all the right places. Nandina, elephant ears and caladiums add to the textural variety of the garden.
It may seem unusual to have an L-shaped garden space, but Jaffe discovered not long ago that it isn’t exceptional at all, at least for her family residence.
“A graduate student contacted me because she had researched the original gardens and wanted to see how they had evolved,” Jaffe said. “And wouldn’t you know it? The original gardens used to make a dogleg toward Dumaine Street on the west, just like ours now make a dogleg to the east toward St. Phillip.”
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @rstephaniebruno.