Full of crawfish po’boys, Abita beers and beignets, our recent trip to New Orleans gave us the opportunity to visit New Orleans Botanic Garden. Just four miles away from the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, this garden is an easy cab or Uber ride. Located in the heart of New Orlean’s City Park, this garden is an absolute treasure. Don’t be deceived by the unassuming entrance; this garden is worth a visit and at least two hours.
Let’s start with New Orleans City Park. Go there! It’s awesome. As their website reads, “The 1,300-acre outdoor oasis has enchanted New Orleanians since 1854, making it one of the nation’s oldest urban parks.” In addition to the botanical garden there is the Besthoff Sculpture Garden, a golf course, carousel, many lakes, trails and biking paths.
As I may have alluded to, the entrance to the New Orleans Botanical Garden was fairly simple and made me think that this visit would be a quick one. As we started to walk around, however, we encountered beautiful garden after garden. The design, flow, and collections were impressive. Even Mike was impressed! (As you might have guessed, this was my idea to visit and he humored me with a morning of gardens.)
The map of the gardens cites 22 different gardens and 16 unique sculptures. This photo shows the Lord & Taylor Rose Garden and the piece in the back is the Shriever Fountain. This is a very formal, but quiet garden filled with boxwood hedges and roses. Tall hedges separate this garden from the other spaces and the quiet sound of the water from the fountain makes this feel like its own private space. This was the first formal garden we encountered and it instantly made us know that these gardens were going to be much nicer than we anticipated.
I can’t even begin to say how much I loved this “Staghorn Fern Walk.” Now this area doesn’t technically have a name, but it is awesome for someone that loves plants! I wish the different staghorns were labeled better because I really appreciated that there were so many different species here. My guess is that someone that works at New Orleans Botanical Garden really loves staghorn ferns because we noticed them in several gardens.
Not only were these staghorns displayed well, but this was also a nice cool area thanks to the shade of the large southern live oaks. The large oaks here are beautiful and provide a lot of (appreciated!) shady areas.
The Tropical Garden and Southern Shade Garden are both completely under the canopy of the large oaks and are filled with interesting plants and lots of small, less formal sculptures. These smaller gardens are off of the main walkway but can stand on their own as gardens worth visiting. You can see a little bit of the gardens in the photos, and while I wasn’t sure why there were the mounds throughout the garden I am beginning to think they are to separate, and contain, the different groundcovers in this area. These gardens are shady, lush, and make you want to try every plant that you see growing here. There are many small sculptures throughout this area too.
Our next garden to explore was the Japanese Garden, technically titled the Yakumo Nihon Teien Japanese Garden. I would be guessing to say what the footprint of this garden is, but completely enclosed by bamboo fencing with a winding pathway and very purposeful views, it make the most of every square foot. We entered this garden through a small gate, stepping on large stones, gravel paths, going up and over different elements as we moved through the space. Because you have to move so purposefully it is as if each step counts and it makes this small garden seem quite large.
The plants in here are chosen each with a specific purpose and there doesn’t seem to be a leaf or stone out of place. I find myself sometimes critical of Japanese Gardens because they can come across as kind of cliché, but this was really, really good.
New Orleans Historic Train Garden
Imagine our surprise when we left the Japanese Garden only to find the New Orleans Historic Train Garden. Now this is a train garden worth seeing! The trains run on a raised landscape that is about 3′ about ground level so that you can see every piece of track, each small building and tiny detail up close. I am not sure why the train wasn’t running on the day we visited, but honestly, it was still so neat to see it anyhow. Each of the building in the train area corresponds to a piece of New Orleans history with many stories to tell. If you have kids with you, and the trains are running, I would plan to spend a long time here.
The PLANO Demonstration Garden is one of the largest edible gardens I have ever seen. Filled with fruits, vegetables and herbs we barely scratched the surface on everything there is to see in this area. The garden is anchored by two gazebos, one on each end, and the raised beds of the cold frames on the other side. We walked through the area of the cold frames, flanked by the Herb Garden and moved toward the Conservatory. This area was nice but the Conservatory really draws you in to it.
Conservatory of the Two Sisters
We walked along the outside of the building, coming to the Rose Parterre. You can see by the photo that this is a very formal area, filled with beautiful roses and low hedges. Its amazing how different this rose garden feels from the first one we encountered; this garden is wide open and exposes long views while the other felt very private and secluded. I like both.
The Conservatory of the Two Sisters has two wings on each side of a large atrium. The first side we went in was the Living Fossils Exhibit, filled with cycads, tree ferns, ferns and lycopodium. Now this might not sound too interesting, but the signage interpreting these “living fossils” was really well done. So good in fact, that I had to grab Mike from reading all of it because I was excited to see the other wing too. This greenhouse, centered around a large pond with gar fish, didn’t have any flowers or bright plants but all of the different greens were gorgeous.
The Tropical Rain Forest Exhibit on the opposite side of the atrium was jam-packed with tropical plants from around the world. Again, there was really good interpretive signage about the rain forest ecosystem and how everything ties together. There were several orchids amidst the palms, bromeliads and other tropical plants.
Walking out of the Conservatory greets you with this amazing view. The large reflecting pond with the large “Undine” and tropical water lilies sets off the long grass pathway back toward the entrance. I love that the pathway here is grass. It wouldn’t be quite the same view if it was brick, would it?
As we walked back toward the entrance we just kept saying how nice of a garden this is. Visiting the New Orleans Botanical Garden was well worth the time and short drive. With so many things to do down near Bourbon Street, this is a welcome break from all of the commotion and activity and an absolutely beautiful public garden. The sculptures, the plant collections and the overall design of the New Orleans Botanical Garden are now going to be one of our “must-do” activities when we visit NOLA.