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A Secret Garden

Landscape architect Peter Raarup has a slick 30-page brochure showing his work. It features a grand mansion on Audubon Place, rooftop gardens on Tchoupitoulas and Girod streets and a variety of pools, patios and pathways pristine and ready for the pages of the finest garden magazines in the world – and then there’s Raarup’s own garden.

Located in the Bouligny neighborhood between his small historic home and guest house-cum-office, the private space is a tiny jewel of a subtropical garden. “My intent for my garden was first and foremost to create a very private space offering a variety of sunny and shady environments,” he explains as he followed the narrow pathway between his board back porch and the hidden-away-from-the-street rear structure. “I wanted my garden to be distinctly subtropical with a wide spectrum of trees, shrubs and perennials.” Nestled within the garden are statues, a small table and chairs and lots of lush foliage. “The plant life surrounds and envelopes the space in something approaching wild confusion,” he adds with a smile.

The secret garden simply enhances the surprises the tiny cottage has to offer. Wide front and back porches make the house seem larger. Inside, the kitchen has a distinct antique quality, while the new bathroom’s up-to-the-minute design is a pleasant juxtaposition for the house that probably began life as a two-room bargeboard cabin. “It was certainly a humble residence in the beginning,” Raarup says. “By the time I found the house in 1996, it consisted of six small rooms, with a separate structure on the rear lot line.

“My plan was to open up the house and divide it into distinct public and private sections,” he says. “I knocked out the wall between the living room and front bedroom and enlarged the opening that housed pocket doors to create a library, thus fashioning a large L-shaped public space. On the opposite side of the house I added a new bathroom and kept the back bedroom and kitchen much as they were when I bought the house.”

Raarup surrounds himself with things he loves. Here you will find a lion’s skin on the living room floor and several 18th-century Italian-Greek red and black pieces of pottery that he purchased in Amsterdam. “I am an almost uncontrollable collector,” he unabashedly says. “I have been collecting art and objects since I was 12 years old. I have managed to control my impulses somewhat in my later years by demanding an increasing level of quality and rarity of myself. When I see something very unusual and/or beautiful, I have a conversation with myself that goes something like this, ‘Self, have you ever seen such a thing before? No, never,’ is my reply. ‘Do you think if you have never seen this before you are likely to see it again?’ ‘No,’ I answer. ‘Well, I guess you had better get it right now,’ I tell myself.” And so it goes as he picks up a pseudo-Egyptian sarcophagus (made in Indonesia), a few more pieces of African art for his large collection, a Buddhist priest’s throne and yet another alabaster lamp.

The garden is also a work in progress. “I have my crew tend to my garden at least twice monthly while I supervise,” he explains. “I intentionally created shade at the north end next to the back porch to cool and shade the porch and flagstone patio in the hot summer months when the sun is high and intensely hot. In the cooler months of the late fall, winter and early spring, the sun is low and weaker and the trees are leafless and allow the warming rays to stream onto the back porch and, at times, even enter the glass doors of the kitchen and bedroom.”

According to Raarup, his secret garden, hidden guest house/office and quaint cottage have it all. “It is a perfect home for me.”

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