The New Orleans French Quarter, or Vieux Carré, is a unique place for the
United States. The French words literally translate to “old square.” It is this old square that was the original city of New Orleans, drawn in Paris by the engineer
de la Tour and physically laid out in its location on the east bank of the Mississippi
by his assistant Adrien de Pauger in 1721.
The Sauvient House is an example of the West Indies influence on the city’s architecture. The garden in front of the house is walled in from street side.
The sprawling New Orleans of today has grown up around this central coeur, this
“heart”; it beats to the rhythms of old cultures past and new peoples present.
The children of our forefathers were themselves unique: the Creoles, the descendents of the French and Spanish who settled this land and established this metropolis. And there were the children of the enslaved Africans, brought here to cultivate the sweet sugarcane. With a sprinkle of Germans here, a dash of Irish there, and a generous dollop of Italians to romance the pot, it is the children of all these people, separately and together, who make up the population of New Orleans today.
An espaliered Japanese yew climbs a wall at Sauvient House.
One aspect of the French Quarter that has not changed since its founding is that it is a living city—now a city within a city. Its residents are people who have chosen to either remain or to arrive of their own free will. It is a place where no one is trapped by circumstance. If the rest of New Orleans were to suddenly disappear, we would still have a complete community, but complete nonetheless, and perhaps, ideal. It is a diminutive city of neighbors. We of the Vieux Carré are accustomed to passing familiar faces at every turn. We are also accustomed to visitors, both from other areas of New Orleans and other cities of the world, who come to enjoy the quaint feeling of our petite ville, our little city.
A view of the garden from the balcony of Sauvient House.
Our streets still bear the names of the Bourbon-Orleans family: kings, queens, regents, princes of France from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Street markers remind us of old and temporary street name changes during the ensuing Spanish domination, before New Orleans was returned to France, to Napoleon, for transfer to the United States as its largest territory. We live engulfed by this history every hour of our days and nights.
This secret garden on Orleans Street has the lilac backdrop of the home to make the greenery and flowers pop. Like many gardens in the French Quarter, containers often fill the space, making it easy to create new tableaux by moving them around.
We are keenly award of the desire of others to know the secrets of our place. Daily, passersby peer into our courtyard entryways hoping to catch a glimpse of the life behind: the secret life that exists calmly and quietly in contrast to a bustling contemporary time. Ours is an expression of another age when life was enjoyed with a Latin fervor unknown in the rest of this country.
A view back through the garden of the Heguy House, named after Alexandrine Heguy, “fwc,” or free woman of color, who bought it in 1811.
As a living community we are able to enjoy all aspects of our lives here. As a survivor, as a “real” place, not some bloodless developer’s confection of a new “old place,” the Vieux Carré stands testament to a people, to the Creoles and their compatriots, who perceive life as one that includes an ambience, a tout ensemble, a joie de vivre, in order to be complete.
This courtyard is part of a home where Tennessee Williams lived when he resided in New Orleans.
The courtyards and patios of the Vieux Carré are living spaces. They are used and enjoyed, and rarely kept as pristine images of some designer’s whim. The photographs will explain better than words the reality of these coveted and well-used spaces. Imperfections exist: as in all life itself. But it is the degree of imperfection that warms and relaxes the heart in the acceptance of it. The patina of the French Quarter is here to be appreciated, not repaired. To continually restore this imperfect beauty would be to destroy its essence, and its essence is what makes it unique.
The Suarez House, built in 1832, has this sparse, but elegantly decadent, side courtyard.
Enjoy, then, this glimpse as introduction to, or as remembrance of, an uncommon place: the Vieux Carré and its extraordinary secret gardens.
This pool is located in the Begue House on Bourbon Street. The L-shaped pool hugs the right border of the court. The wall is latticed and adorned with baskets of white impatiens.
This excerpt is courtesy of Morgana Press (www.morganapress.com), which is publishing “Orléans Embrace with The Secret Gardens of the Vieux Carré” in April 2007. The “Orléans Embrace” part of the book is by TJ Fisher, featuring photographs by Louis Sahuc Photo Works. It is an emotional and vivid homage to one of the most unique areas in the United States, and celebrates the city’s triumphs over adversity. One hundred percent of the book’s proceeds will be donated to French Quarter preservation.