If asked to choose the prettiest spot in New Orleans, I would unquestionably pick the New Orleans Botanical Garden at City Park. To visit the garden on one of those unbearably beautiful New Orleans days is unforgettable. Even for those who don’t know a hydrangea from an azalea, it’s a great way to spend a few hours or more. The garden opened in 1936 as the City Park Rose Garden. Shortly thereafter, the Works Progress Administration stepped in to fund what would become New Orleans’ first public access classical garden. With architect Richard Koch, landscape architect William Wiedorn and noted Mexican-American sculptor Enrique Alferez as the visionaries behind the look of the garden, its design became an important example of the Art Deco style of the day. An auspicious beginning to be sure, but there would be difficult days ahead.
Forty years after it opened, the garden was in utter disrepair – a forlorn and forgotten place. In what would become a pivotal point in New Orleans Botanical Garden history, Friends of City Park founder Peggy Read stepped in to begin the hard work of saving it. She hired Paul Soniat as Director, a post he still holds today, and this once-forgotten little garden in City Park began to grow. There is no question that the garden would not be what it is today without the efforts of the New Orleans Botanical Garden Foundation, Soniat and the inimitable Genevieve Trimble. Sometimes referred to as the “First Lady of Louisiana’s Gardens,” Trimble presided over the foundation’s Board for 25 years and, to this day, hers is a guiding voice for the garden. (As an aside, Trimble’s garden at Afton Villa in St. Francisville is nothing short of magnificent; it’s open to the public and well worth the drive!)
In the years since the renovations began, modifications continue to enhance the garden. The opening of the Enrique Alferez Sculpture Garden is just the latest in a long line of successful projects, all made possible by grants and donations to the Foundation and proceeds from its annual fundraiser.
Magic in the Moonlight
Though still a relatively new event, “Magic in the Moonlight” has become a favorite among New Orleans fundraisers. A gorgeous seated dinner party with long tables that wind throughout the garden, the event is a sell-out each year. Between the beauty of the garden, the twinkle lights and the delicious food, there’s indeed something enchanting about it.
The Green Space Difference
Since its early days as a project of the WPA, the Botanical Garden has been an important fixture in our city. The community-wide benefits of gardens and green spaces have been well studied and documented through the years, with positive impacts touching everything from the environment to the economy and more. Green spaces and public gardens are making a difference in communities everywhere, just as our own Botanical Garden is making a difference in ours. For more information about visiting or supporting the garden, visit NewOrleansCityPark.com.
The New Orleans Botanical Garden boasts more than 2,000 varieties of plants from around the world.
In the wake of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, the garden lost most of its vast collection of plants when it was submerged by three feet of brackish water for more than a week.
With the help of dedicated volunteers and the generosity of donors, the garden reopened just six months after the devastation.
Today, the New Orleans Botanical Garden is more vibrant than ever, with year-round tours and educational programs for all ages.