Saturday, April 8, 2023

A garden with a very long view

One of many, many wonderful "vues" at Longuevue
 Of course my title is a sort of pun: I'm refering to Longuevue Gardens (click on the name to access their website), an exquisite estate garden in New Orleans. I have visited most great cities in North America over the decades and New Orleans was a glaring omission. I have developed a treasured friendship with notable designers and plantsmen James David and Gary Pease who now live in Santa Fe, but James grew up in New Orleans.

More "vues"
James returns to New Orleans regularly and I asked him if he'd let Jan and me join him: we're back a week or so from a wonderful 8 day visit to Natchez, Mississippi and New Orleans with James and Gary. This is one of many highlights of that great escape. I came away not only delighted with the beauty of the home and garden, but with a great respect for the original owners, Edith and Edgar Stern and (as you'll see) their children as well. America is awash in plutocrats, but very few are philanthropists: the Sterns represent the best of the latter subspecies.

The back of the wonderful Stern mansion backs onto a golf course: since the Stern's were Jewish, I wondered if they were even allowed to join. Jews were barred from many country clubs across America even after the Second World War and its unspeakable atrocities--one of the many proofs that the dreams of our founding fathers are continually rent by home-grown fascism expressed in racism, the gun lobby and the brain-washing of America's hinterlands by plutocrats...but I digress... (or do I?)

I have a horrible feeling that the Sansivieveria (please don't make me call it Dracaena) may actually sit outdoors in those containers year around...

This gives you a glimpse of how closely Edith Stern must have worked with Ellen Biddle Shipman (the famous designer of the garden) to integrate the noble house she had designed to replace the original building on the site (which was moved a block or so away and sold: now that's conservation!).

Oh yes! there are dozens of fountains--all of them delightful (I'll be interspersing them through this very long blog [or should we say "Longue Blogue"?]) You may have to fiddle a tad with movie clips like the one above--but it does work eventually and you can enjoy the splashing sound of water....which I do.

Penstemon triflorus
And oh yes, not attempting at all to be a conventional botanical garden, there are nonetheless fine collections of plants throughout the grounds, some of which were in full bloom like this elegant Southern endemic of one of my favorite genera...

Pleopeltis polypodioides

We'd been seeing the "resurrection fern" festooning the trunks of hundreds of giant live oaks along our trip--almost all brown and dormant. The night or two before our Longue Vue visit it rained enough that we finally saw them fresh and unfurled here--a treat (I've been a pteridophile for longer than I care to admit). 

The luscious textures and contrasts of groundcovers and shrubs and trees--a green feast for my steppe-weary eyes after months of tan and white, ecru and white, tawny and white--continue this for six months so far. Louisiana green was very welcome!

Here begins a long series of pictures of Louisiana iris--species and hybrids. There had to be hundreds--many in bloom. Most had labels if you poked around enough--but I didn't have the time. So you will just have to enjoy the variety as I labels for the next lot of iris pictures, I'm afraid...

And back to more fountains! Do fiddle with this to watch it--it's the biggest fountain of them all!

There is a strip of meadow garden which I've seen pictured in summer as a mass of daisies and other wildflowers--a wonderful change of pace...

But the gardens "longue" suit has to be the trim formal areas, vistas and sculptures...

And more fountains...

Rhododendron calendulaceum

One of my minor disappointments on this trip was that we'd just missed the massed colorful spectacle of evergreen azaleas that are planted in vast masses at most Plantations and neighborhoods in the south.

We did see quite a few native azaleas that WERE in peak bloom like this flame azalea. And pinxter bloom azaleas in several other places (Rhododendron viscosum and canescens)

Proboscidea louisiana
I was surprised to see Devil's Claw already in bloom--this is an annual that usually isn't apparent until late in the summer for us in Colorado. The same species--a rare plant in Louisiana and not all that commonly encountered in Colorado either although I have had its scary seedpods grab me at my ankle several times on the prairie--something you won't believe until it happens to you.

Spigelia marilandica
This won't be blooming in my garden for two more months--or more at this rate (although this coming week promises to be almost summery here without our accustomed Wednesday blizzard)...

Oops! Another Louisiana iris just popped up!

In one of the naturalistic gardens I encountered a staff member who was able to answer my mounting set of questions. Chris Booth was grooming the Louisiana bed areas preparing for a visit of the Louisiana Iris Society in a week. He showed me Agarista populifolia, a native North American ericad I knew nothing about.

Agarista populifolia

I mistook it for a gigantic Leucothoe. I'm a big fan of Ericaceae and was distressed that a whole genus this showy and enormous could have avoided my awareness--but the Southeast is really a new world for me and it is biologically very diverse.

Agarista populifolia

I'm a little miffed that the only common name for this seems to be Florida hobblebush--surely there must be something for evocative about it than "hobblebush"!

And yes, more fountains...this puto cleverly dispensing water from a fish's mouth rather than the customary aperture.

A little surprised to see cabbage heading up in March--but then we weren't in Kansas any longer...

We did the hose tour with two lovely Hispanic women who did wear out a bit: I found the details of the house pretty riveting (I'm usually not a house tour kinda guy) since I began to sense just how unusually clever and extraordinary a family the Sterns really were. They installed the first house-wide air conditioning, for example, in the greater South. Practically every downstairs room had doors leading into the garden (almost all with dazzling views designed to extend beyond).

There is even a gallery of mid-Century and modern art in a far room.

Not my taste in art, but it seemed so appropriate in this setting.

Pretty much everything is exactly as the family left it: a perfect living photograph of what the stage settings for the lives of extraordinary people--not because they were super rich, but people of enormous taste, intellectually active, who were also philanthropists on a large scale--generously supporting a wide spectrum of cultural facilities, but also targeting underserved, and the poor people of New Orleans--particularly the African-American community.

I keep finding more dang iris! I'll spare you more fountains (there were dozens more!), but I do want to end on a positive note. The Sterns had three children, very much in their parent's mold. There was a casual reference to Philip M. Stern having "written some books" which made me curious: I looked him up on the web, finding surprisingly little for someone whose books made quite an impression in their time: I did find a fantastic obituary notice in the Washington Post which I highly recommend you read:  rather than embed the link I shall post the whole URL (you can also click on it--it's a live link). I really would like you to read it...

Surely no one on this planet has led a more fulfilling, rich and engaged life than Philip Stern! How very sad he didn't live longer. I've obtained a few of his books--and reading through them realized how much he had his fingers on the pulse of the dangers that our increasing political bi-polarization was leading to. I can only imagine how disappointed and truly astounded he would be at Trumpian and post Trumpian America where unbridled greed, graft, gross cupidity and gun worship have become the mantra of the political party he was fighting against decades ago. Just browse the covers to get a taste of an extraordinary American. 

At the risk of treading thin ice, can one wonder if perhaps growing up at Longue Vue, with parents and grandparents of such extraordinary accomplishment, social conscience and taste didn't help hone Philip's long view into America's most pressing challenge--namely the control of our government by corporations and wealthy people who have none of the Stern's decency or civic spirit? Alas, for every Longue Vue, how many acres of tasteless mega-mansions are there across America filled with stingy short-viewed people who fund the Fascist talk radio and Faux news that has clouded and poisoned the minds of red America?

Let's take the Long View instead and hope we can stem and reverse the flood of dysinformation polluting our country.

*Coincidentally, Longue Vue WAS flooded by the Mississippi during Katrina. Several public gardens sent people to help with the cleanup--Denver Botanic Gardens had Luke Tembrock and Angie Andrade go to New Orleans to help right afterwards. I met Amy Graham during our visit (director of Horticulture there) who remembered their visit. 


  1. A lovely garden with an interesting history. Nice to hear that people 'with money' doing so much to help those without. A lasting legacy.

  2. Good article among the many you share. Next time make time to visit the Whitny Plantation -

  3. When I saw the video of "the biggest fountain of them all", I felt a sense of relaxation. After that I quickly thought of peeing. The cupid fountain definitely made me think of peeing. Maybe this is why I don't have a fountain.

    Philip M. Stern sounds like a person with uncommon insight. When I was young, I was very driven. As I got older, I realized that making it "to the top" can be self defeating. There is a long list of men whose lust for power has lead to their own destruction. Yet, there is no shortage of people who would do "whatever it takes" to win. Maybe that is how the term, the bigger they are the harder they fall came to exist. If anything, the way people act in this country can sometimes be really embarrassing.

  4. Proud of DBG turnung up to help with post-f,ood renovation which tragedy occurred just after my visit, and restoration had been completed. It looks magnificent again, and to ,earn that Philip Stern saw the current political debacle coming…he clearly understood that not knowing history means the same mistakes are made. Twas ever thus.

  5. It's wonderful to read about your passion for gardening and your dedication to creating a beautiful and sustainable environment. Your insights and experiences are valuable for fellow gardening enthusiasts.

  6. "I've recommended this blog to friends because of its amazing material. It's a diamond in the vast sea of online blogs."
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