René Fransen transformes the New Orleans landscape with his garden designs
Legendary British horticulturist, garden designer, artist and writer Gertrude Jekyll credited gardens with teaching many useful things, including patience, industry, thrift and trust. She also wrote, “The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives.” The homeowners on these pages know that happiness firsthand. With the help of one of New Orleans’ most experienced garden designers, fellow of landscape architecture René Fransen, each has cultivated an enviable, not to mention inspirational garden.
Twenty years ago, when Susan and Bill Hess bought their Garden Lane home, their plan for renovating the full-acre property, included house and garden. For the garden, they turned to René Fransen and spent eight months mapping out the design. “I told René I wanted to live in a garden, not with a garden,” says Susan. Two concepts — the country-like setting and the idea of creating a series of garden rooms — set the course. In front, the renewed design involved removing an orchard-like arrangement of citrus trees that obstructed the view of the house and replanting the trees in new locations in both the front and back gardens. Winding brick-edged flagstone encircles a large center lawn surrounded by trees and greenery. The back yard also has a central lawn as well as a flagstone terrace, fieldstone walls, and a pool designed to look like a naturally-occurring rivulet (Susan sketched a bend in the Pearl River as a model). A stone path connects the garden rooms, which include a “Renaissance Garden” named for its gargoyles, a jasmine-covered walk, a small shaded space with a sundial and fruit trees, and a paved sunken garden with a fountain. All stone and greenery removed during the renovation were recycled into the new space.
Linda and Gordon Kolb purchased their Uptown home in 2004, then renovated and enlarged the elegant 1850s Greek Revival cottage with renovation and restoration expert Michael Carbine. The final stage of the stunning renewal was the garden, designed by René Fransen. The idea behind the design, which includes an L-shaped lawn, a pool (by Reed Richardson), and a rose parterre (inspired by a picture in a garden book that Linda wanted to emulate), was that it should be in sync with the traditional quality and formality of the house. “We wanted it to be formal and I know bushes don’t grow round and square,” says Linda, who was keenly aware of the maintenance required. The garden also was designed with the Kolbs' grandchildren in mind. “We wanted a yard where our grandchildren could play,” adds Linda. The green space incorporates boxwood, camellia sasanqua, holly trees, crescent-shaped azaleas, roses and jasmine. Fransen and Linda visited an Alabama nursery to personally tag each of the hollies themselves. The garden is meticulously kept by Franklin Andara of Crescent City Horticultural Services. Rosarians Eddie and Sue Sanchez care for the roses, which bloom nearly year-round. “When we pull into our driveway, [the garden] is like a little oasis,” says Linda.
Janet and Leonard Tallerine’s classical European-style garden was a response to the classical nature of their Garden District home’s Regency architecture and interior design. “We brought the inside out so the garden reflects the interior,” says René Fransen, who designed it. “They wanted a very sophisticated, polished look.” To achieve the manicured vision, Fransen used red thermal flagstone, (which has a lavender hue), decorative urns, clipped boxwood hedges, shrubs trained into geometric shapes and forms, a fountain, two paved areas (one visible and accessible from the breakfast room, the other off the den), a lawn with clipped edges and a parterre next to Janet’s office. The structured formality of the garden is underscored by the use of patterns: the driveway has a continental pattern; the front walk and terrace are diamond patterned. Plantings include dwarf sasanqua, a variety of camellia japonica so that there is always something to bring inside, white sasanqua, dwarf roses, climbing roses and angel trumpet. Both Leonard, who loves “clipping, snipping and puttering in the garden on weekends,” and Janet, who never tires of its refreshing beauty, admire Fransen’s creation of a private sanctuary, which they describe as being “in perfect harmony with the home’s elegant architecture and interior aesthetic.”