One of the pleasures of traveling for lecture appearances is visiting old and new friends…and their gardens. As I headed to New Orleans last fall, I had one image in mind to seek out–courtyard gardens, which are synonymous with this magical town. I’m sure you will find this example (in uptown New Orleans, across from Audubon Park) as memorable and inviting as I did. Indeed, any visitor will depart with the same feeling that owner Ruthie Frierson loves so much about her own garden — that it imparts a sense of serenity.
There are many ideas and insights throughout this property. To me, the most instructive, in Ruthie’s own words, is that “the bricked courtyard serves as an artistic limb to unify the guest house and main house to the garden itself.” While this garden has evolved and changed over its forty-six years, reflecting the owners’ needs and desires, the first order of garden business still applies — start with a plan.
1. Create the structure and bones…walls of layered plant materials and brick and iron work create a totally private garden that completely frames the property.
2. Use bricks to raise each bed; filled with layers of plant material they will contribute a depth and structure to the overall picture.
3. Consider adding a “garden room” to the facade of the house that provides easy access directly into the courtyard.
4. Make year round fragrance and color a staple of your master plan — sweet olives, fragrant white jasmine on columns and arches on the main house and guest house, hedges of ‘Snow on the Mountain’ camellia sasanqua; ligustrum and bulbs , annuals and perennials insure that this will be a garden you will long enjoy.
5. Plan for various seating options to provide different views of the gardens (while a limbed-up Japanese maple adds marvelous seasonal color in the fall).
6. Introduce water into the garden; the sound and tranquility it imparts will soon become one of your favorite features. New Orleans designer René Fransen created the Palladian fountain for this courtyard, adding a pair of formally shaped ligustrum trees to frame the courtyard and provide a white flowered canopy when in bloom.
7. Bring home ideas from your travels…trellises and columns of flowering plants were inspired by English and French gardens.
8. Create reasons to stop and reflect as you walk from one garden area to another. On a path to the back courtyard, a vine repeats the curve of a planted wall fountain with maidenhair fern trailing out.
9. Add a bit of whimsy or nostalgia…Ruthie’s tiny, hidden away garden — complete with another fountain and four season’s sculptures — are a nod to The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, “an all-time favorite.”
10. Go Bold! In this little jewel of a garden, four Ligularia gigantica make a statement at each corner of the pond…
11. Don’t overlook the design asset of limbed-up trees in a small area. Here, the aged bare-trunked ‘Snow on the Mountain’ camellia sasanquas shade the bricked courtyard area.