Road Trip: Winter Garden Stalking in New Orleans

Journey to some of the iconoclastic gardens of the Big Easy.

sunflowers in new orleans

sunflowers in new orleans

A row of sunflowers is still growing strong on Magazine Street in New Orleans.

A row of sunflowers is still growing strong on Magazine Street in New Orleans.

I spent part of my holiday visiting family in south Louisiana, including a day walking up and down Magazine Street in New Orleans. While others might have taken this opportunity to do some window shopping, I spent more of the time stalking plants in locals’ front-yard gardens. And let me just say: way to go zone 8 — you’re still alive and kicking! I could barely believe it when I saw sunflowers lining a side street. The bright summery blooms created a striking contrast with the now-leafless trees towering over them. Normally planted in spring for a late summer bloom, some hopeful someone must have planted these sunflowers (which are killed by frost) in late summer, betting on a mild winter and this lovely mid-season show.

tropical canna lily plants in new orleans

tropical canna lily plants in new orleans

I loved the mix of traditional Christmas greenery and tropical canna lily foundation plants at this adorable New Orleans home.

I loved the mix of traditional Christmas greenery and tropical canna lily foundation plants at this adorable New Orleans home.

I couldn’t help but snap a few shots of this picture-perfect house and landscaping. Canna appears to be the perfect four-season landscape plant in this region, with bright green leaves shining as bright as Christmas décor. In other places like my home in zone 7, this perennial’s leaves have already  turned black from frost, but the plant remains leafy and green through winter here in Louisiana and further south. It’s the perfect choice in this home’s front landscape, planted en masse.

variegated canna

variegated canna

The variegated leaves of this canna variety add extra appeal in a mass planting. Photos by Derek R. Trimble.

The variegated leaves of this canna variety add extra appeal in a mass planting. Photos by Derek R. Trimble.

Every time I visit The Crescent City, I get a cozy feeling walking past homes whose front doors and front porches are almost within reach. I don’t mean this in a super-stalker way. It’s just that the community seems so open and welcoming, and so do the gardens, despite the lovely scrolled iron fences and gates keeping me out. Most of the yards in houses along Magazine Street are tiny, which means they show some clever uses of space. Take this combo house-and-shop’s window boxes and pots. On a tabletop just inside an iron fence, aloe mixed with herbs for a culinary-medicinal combo. How did I miss that aloe plants send up nice trumpet-shaped blooms like this one, starting to fade?

aloe

aloe

Aloe grows well in clay containers where it gets good drainage. Too much water can cause this plant to wilt and get mushy.

Aloe grows well in clay containers where it gets good drainage. Too much water can cause this plant to wilt and get mushy.

Just inside a gate not far down the street, pops of orange (the fruit and the color) satiated my desire for bright hues in winter. The lucky zone 8 crew can grow citrus trees outdoors through the winter with frost protection on the coldest nights. While the citrus is the star of this scene, a potted croton, with leaves striped green, gold and orange, also caught my eye. Grown for its colorful foliage, gardeners in more northerly climates usually treat croton as an annual or use it as a houseplant. Planted in a container, this one could easily be brought indoors if frost threatened.

croton in containers

croton in containers

If grown in containers like these, citrus trees can be brought indoors when weather threatens. In the front pot, multi-colored croton leaves add interest through color and texture.

If grown in containers like these, citrus trees can be brought indoors when weather threatens. In the front pot, multi-colored croton leaves add interest through color and texture.

Of course, New Orleans is also a place with a sense of humor and whimsy. This wood and iron frame has a Magritte-like quality that totally fits the city’s aesthetic — both romantic and surreal. Serving to divide the spaces, the frame — being open — also connects them. And it gives that blooming rose some climbing support (no doubt trained by the gardener). A frame of roses — how clever!

new orleans garden

new orleans garden

Appearing to be hanging, the frame actually sits on two posts, painted black to fade into the scene.

Appearing to be hanging, the frame actually sits on two posts, painted black to fade into the scene.

I couldn’t help chuckling over this other front yard, where a faux-snow flocked Christmas tree is surrounded by unruly indeterminate tomato plants.  Tomatoes in winter? Yes, it’s actually possible in far-Southern regions! These plants were loaded with green fruit. I imagine the cooler weather hinders the tomatoes from ever fully ripening on the vine, but they can easily be ripened indoors (try placing them in a cardboard box in a warm spot and check often) or used green for a summer delicacy -- fried green tomatoes -- in January. Even frost-tender basil is hanging on in this wildly festive garden space.

Christmas tree in garden

Christmas tree in garden

A faux white Christmas tree stands in contrast to the tall tomato and basil plants, still hanging on from summer, in this whimsical New Orleans front yard garden.

A faux white Christmas tree stands in contrast to the tall tomato and basil plants, still hanging on from summer, in this whimsical New Orleans front yard garden.

Knowing that tomatoes and basil are still holding on helped convince me that the cucumber donning this Pimm’s Cup was locally grown, too. After all what’s a day of garden stalking in New Orleans without locally grown cocktails?

Pimm's Cup cocktail

Pimm's Cup cocktail

Knowing that tomatoes and basil are still holding on helped convince me that the cucumber donning this Pimm’s Cup was locally grown, too. After all what’s a day of garden stalking in New Orleans without locally grown cocktails?

Knowing that tomatoes and basil are still holding on helped convince me that the cucumber donning this Pimm’s Cup was locally grown, too. After all what’s a day of garden stalking in New Orleans without locally grown cocktails?

Next Up

Road Trip: The Atlanta Botanical Garden

Anyone stopping in the city would be strongly advised to check out this local treasure.

Southeast Meditation Garden

Here's a landscape plan for a peaceful, private garden sanctuary that shines throughout the seasons.

Sow and Tell: Biltmore Estate Walled Gardener Travis Murray

This plant savvy pro has a plum job overseeing Biltmore's famous gardens.

Winter Garden Preparation

Follow these tips to put your landscape and garden to bed properly for the winter.

A Southeast Sensory Garden Plan

Choose these plants and flowers to create a garden founded on the senses.

Florida Meditation Garden Plan

Create a little bit of heaven in your backyard: In this landscape design, bamboo panels and native plants create a private garden retreat.

A Florida Sensory Garden Plan

Use this guide to create a stimulating, sensory garden.

Garden Tour: A Shade Garden in Atlanta

Tour this charming personal garden that makes great use of a sloped and shady backyard.

Protecting Garden Pots During Winter

Tender plants will die if their roots are locked in cold, wet soil in winter, but you can protect them during fall.

Take a Virtual Tour of Charleston's Historic Gardens

Stroll down Chareston, S.C.'s historic streets and take in the views of some of the most beautiful private gardens in the world—all without leaving your home.