Charlotte and Jean Seidenberg live in an idyllic country setting surrounded by gardens that are filled with blooming flowers, colorful butterflies and much more. The almost acre of land that was once part of the extensive Bechtel family estate has the mailing address of Covington, but for all practical purposes it’s simply an outpost of peace and quiet where Jean paints, draws and sculpts and Charlotte plants beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees, and communicates with nature. “I love the native vegetation,” she says with a smile. “Here we have owls, bluebirds, fireflies, foxes and deer, and lots of flowers.”
Jean, an artist with an impressive large coffee table book just devoted to his art (Jean Seidenberg: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture), is happy to have found an ideal spot to work and live. “There is a lot to be said for the peace and quiet of this place,” he says. “This is tranquil living at its best.”
No doubt about it, Charlotte and Jean are ensconced in a dream setting for a well-versed gardener and an artist, but there’s more than just the outdoors to note when driving just an hour from New Orleans. Their unique contemporary house is nestled among tall trees with a raised wooden walkway leading to the dramatic 3,400-square-foot structure that was designed by the architectural firm of William Burks Associates of Baton Rouge and built in 1983 for Dr. Ronald Hardey.
“We like the way the house fits into the natural setting,” Charlotte says. “It is perched over a wetland that descends through an adjoining woodland property to the Tchefuncte River, and it rises into the treetops with a forest of black gums, sweet gums, mocker nut hickories, southern and sweet bay magnolias and loblolly pines,” she adds with the schooled authority of an author who has written two highly respected garden books (The New Orleans Garden: Gardening in the Gulf South and The Wildlife Garden: Planning Backyard Habitats); although her profession is a registered nurse, and she now works as a case manager from her home, she hastens to say, “I am also gardener and plant enthusiast, birder and an amateur naturalist.”
The couple was ensconced in a typical Uptown house, living the New Orleans life filled with a busy schedule, when they decided to escape to a more peaceful setting. “We bought this place in 2010 and never looked back,” Jean says. “Now I have a wonderful studio in our home where I work. I sit and think and paint or sculpt with a nice view of the woods and the garden.” Then he adds, “I was holding a pencil in my hand when I was born and have been drawing and painting and modeling every since.”
Charlotte continues the dialog about the setting, “First and foremost, our property is a wildlife habitat. Most of our garden is actually a woodland, which I’m restoring by removing invasive non-native plants, thinning trees growing too close together, adding more of the native trees that I’ve found here, or which occur here naturally, like long-leaf pines, wild pink azaleas, swamp azaleas, snowbells, silver bells, sourwoods, serviceberries, sassafras, persimmons and parley hawthorns. The first part of our property is a developing meadow/savannah/prairie seeded with native grasses and wildflowers by Marc Pastorek in November 2011. This will take several years to mature and we will enjoy watching the process.”
Charlotte is quick to mention that John Mayronne, a noted landscape architect and one of Louisiana’s foremost native plant experts, shared his knowledge of the early gardens on their property, which is part of the former Bechtel family estate. “He kindly often offered timely advice about native plans and tree growing here,” she says. “He was friends with Alice Riley, whose mother, Catherine Bechtel Fielding, now 92 years old, still lives next door. It was Sarah Bechtel, Alice’s grandmother, who planted an extensive garden on the property between 1935 and ’83.”
Continuing her dissertation on the gardens, she adds, “There are several beautiful old camellias growing here that are remnants of Mrs. Bechtel’s garden.” Proud of the antique rose garden she adds, “I also added hummingbird and butterfly plantings to the garden that I edged with an inverted wine bottle border.”
The couple marvels at their good luck of finding such an idyllic setting where they wake up to birds singing and an occasional deer running near their deck that joins the kitchen and breakfast room at the rear of the house, and for lagniappe Jean ended up with a perfect gallery to display his old and new work on the tall walls of every room in the large house.
His private outdoor sculpture garden is a gem where his many sculptures add to the overall beauty of the outpost of peace and quiet. This is indeed nirvana for an artist and world-class gardener.