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American Society of Landscape Architects


September 2006 Issue

Update: Post-Katrina Recovery of Public Gardens in New Orleans
Staff and volunteers are reviving green spaces.

By Lake Douglas, ASLA

Update: Post-Katrina Recovery of Public Gardens in New Orleans Lake Douglas

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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