Heart of Louisiana: New Orleans' Botanical Garden

Image from garden.neworleanscitypark.com
Image from garden.neworleanscitypark.com

The sculptures of Enrique Alferez still seem the perfect fit for the City Park Botanical Garden. They have added a classic touch of beauty to this New Orleans landmark since it was built by the WPA in the Great Depression. You find the shapes created in limestone, concrete and bronze. From the early works of Alferez in the 1930's to some of his last art in the 1990's -- shaded by oaks, cooled by fountains, hidden under park benches, and standing in sunlight to mark the passing of time.

Botanical Gardens director Paul Soniat says, "I think he is nationally recognized and he has such a graceful style about him. His sculptures fit in the garden so well."

The art provides the centerpieces for nature as the garden transitions from winter color to the flowers of spring. Spread out over 12 acres, there are native Louisiana flowers, the formal garden and reflecting pool of the old conservatory, which houses a collection of tropical plants – orchids and bromeliads. You can relax in the organized grace of a Japanese garden or stroll beneath the shade of centuries-old oak trees that create the perfect setting for a city park.

Soniat says, "Gardens are always changing. And you come in here one week and you can come in here two weeks and now things are a little bit different because of the plant material."

Although the city's botanical garden grew out of the depths of the Great Depression, this garden has faced other hard times during its 80-year history. The gardens fell into disrepair in the 1960's and 70's but were revived in the 1980's, thanks in part to the work of Alferez.

Soniat says, "I think if it wasn't for his sculptures, we possibly or probably would not have renovated this garden. They brought somebody down from the Smithsonian to look at the garden and they said, 'Well, it doesn't have much of a garden left but the sculptures in the dating of the period of the Art Deco is what makes it unique and it should be restored.'"

And then the harshest setback of all came from Hurricane Katrina. The floodwaters killed nearly everything they touched. And again, a revival and expansion of the gardens.

Soniat says, "After Katrina we started getting some public money from the state. We started getting some private donations and began implementing the plan and now I think the park is in the best shape it's ever been."

And you can see why this city botanical garden, this mixture of nature and art, has been a treasure worth saving.

If that has you in the mood for spring, the Botanical Garden at New Orleans City Park is holding its annual spring garden show this Saturday and Sunday. For more information, go online to http://garden.neworleanscitypark.com.