Road Trip: Winter Garden Stalking in New Orleans
Journey to some of the iconoclastic gardens of the Big Easy.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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?