Update: Post-Katrina Recovery of Public Gardens in New Orleans
Staff and volunteers are reviving green spaces.
By Lake Douglas, ASLA
It has been a year since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New
Orleans, and while questions remain about what will happen with inundated
neighborhoods and how city government will guide the planning process, some
public green spaces are recovering, bringing hope and encouragement to local
residents. Here’s an update on three of the community’s most prominent gardens,
all of which had extensive flood damage.
The New Orleans Botanical Garden, City Park
“Out of great catastrophe comes great opportunity,” is how
Genevieve Trimble, board president of the New Orleans Botanical Garden
Foundation, sums up post-Katrina recovery efforts for the New Orleans Botanical
Garden, located in City Park. Her optimism in seeing the opportunity for the
Botanical Garden to move forward, the financial support of a local foundation,
and countless hours of work by Botanical Garden staff and volunteers—some of
whom have come from other botanical gardens and garden clubs in America—have
resulted in replanting of the garden and a spirit of recovery for the
community. Within days of the catastrophe, representatives of the Azby Fund, a
local foundation that has supported past capital projects, were on site, making
preparations to locate displaced staff, create a plan for restoration, allocate
money and resources to clean up the devastation, and find plants to restore the
garden. By early October, staff had returned and work crews—rivaling in numbers
the work crews from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) period that built
the garden—were clearing downed trees, pulling up dead plants, and making
preparations for replanting what was lost.
Floodwater from the 17th Street Canal breach sat in the
garden for weeks, and plant losses were major. Among them were camellia hedges (Camellia sasanqua) that defined garden
rooms of the original WPA design (by landscape architect William Weidorn and
architect Richard Koch); the entire rose garden; a long walkway lined with
slow-growing sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans); mature southern magnolias (Magnolia
grandiflora) that screened the garden from surrounding areas of the park; a
collection of orchids; tools and equipment; the horticulture reference library;
and educational displays in the conservatory. Not permanently damaged by
floodwaters, however, were the centuries-old live oaks (Quercus virginiana) that provide the garden’s structure, though
they and other surviving trees were stripped of much of their leaf canopies.
Where there once was shade, there is now sun, and adjustment will have to be
made for ground covers and understory plantings.
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