Heart of Louisiana: Afton Villa

(WVUE) - Spring is the perfect time to enjoy a little road trip to experience some of the great gardens in Louisiana. One of the most impressive was created among the ruins of an old plantation home in St. Francisville. FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us there in the Heart of Louisiana.

The moment you turn off the highway and drive through the gates of Afton Villa, you are surrounded by beauty. The half-mile-long gravel avenue is lined with oak trees and azalea bushes that explode with color in early spring. The first modest home was built on this former cotton plantation in the 1790s. But Afton Villa took its place among the grandest of homes in the mid-1800s when owner David Barrow married his wife, Susan.

"So he told her she could build anything she wished provided that she left the little house intact for sentimental reasons," said owner Genevieve Trimble.

The story goes that Mrs. Barrow had an architect copy a Gothic chateau she had seen in Europe.

"And when she was finished she had been true to her promise, she had left the little house intact," Trimble said. "She simply built over it and around it. She had 41 rooms here. And they lived in great style and splendor. She had the landscape gardener layout these gardens with terraces."

Trimble remembers visiting the grounds of Afton Villa and admiring the great house and formal gardens.

"I thought that was one of the most romantic things I had ever seen," Trimble said.

In 1963, tragedy struck. Fire destroyed the mansion. Trimble reconnected with the property after a conversation with her late husband, Bud.

"He said someone is going to level it and build a big subdivision here, and I said well wouldn't it be wonderful if someone would buy it - not to build, for Heaven sakes, a 41-room house, but simply to save this 19th Century garden. And before we knew it, we had done it," she said.

With the help of a landscape architect, the Trimbles began to clean up an overgrown mess of shrubs and trees and restore what she calls "the spirit" of the original terraced gardens. The round brick foundation is all that's left of a three-story-high turret that was part of the original mansion and overlooked the formal gardens.

"And then we began to clear out tons and tons of debris, leaving just any wall or evidence of a window or a door that we could," she said.

The moss-draped oaks provide a frame for a picturesque collections of flowers. A pathway leads through a deep ravine surrounded on all sides by tens of thousands of daffodils. Every year, up to 8,000 tulips fill the gardens.

"I think having people come in each day and linger here and say they love it and think it's beautiful - that really makes life for me, you know? I love it," Trimble said.

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