New Orleans native E.A. Farley started his plant nursery in Gentilly in 1911. There were no roads leading to the undeveloped cow pasture at the time, so he used wheelbarrows and later a wagon – once a wagon trail was cut through – to transport plants into the city.
Over the following seven decades, E. A. Farley Florist became one of the largest florists in the South. Besides their nursery and shop in Gentilly (located at 3333 Gentilly Blvd.), they also had a nursery in Mandeville and operated the florist shop at the Roosevelt Hotel.
Farley’s was famous in the South for their orchids, which reached their apex of blooming late in the year. This led the nursery to more regional fame: their annual mid-December orchid show and Christmas display.
The first orchid show, free and open to the public, was held in 1948, claiming the 5,000 blooming orchids as the largest collection ever seen in the South. Within five years, 10,000 orchids and 14,000 poinsettias were on display, a tropical Hawaiian plant collection was included and the show started shifting its focus more on Christmas, featuring trees, centerpieces, novelties and door wreaths.
In 1953, Farley’s began inviting school classes to visit the “fairyland of beautiful flowers and snow trees” and tour the greenhouses. Each child left with a small floral corsage or miniature walking stick.
In 1957, Santa Claus started making an annual appearance, arriving by helicopter to pass out gifts. Over 18,000 children (including 160 school classes) and 54,000 adults were attending the now weeklong festivities. A few years later, Santa began to arrive in the more traditional New Orleans fashion: on a giant parade float.
The festivities became more subdued in the 1970s, and the last show was in 1979. The family closed the nursery in 1980; the property was sold to their neighbor, Brother Martin High School, to expand their campus by 50 percent.