Behind the Private Gates, Design, In the Garden

Inspiring Garden Design: A New Orleans Courtyard Garden

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Traveling (and gathering with friends) are the two pleasures that I miss the most in these challenging times. No wonder I find myself reminiscing daily about “this garden” or “that city.” So why not share my memories with you all? The list is long, but given that Mardi Gras is just around the corner (February 16th) I’m choosing New Orleans as our stop for this post. Of course, when I headed down there a few years back, I had one thought in mind…courtyard gardens, which are synonymous with this singular town.  I’m sure you will find this example (in uptown New Orleans, across from Audubon Park) as memorable and inviting as I did. Soon you will be embracing 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 be shared. 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 her 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. 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.

3. Consider adding a “garden room” to the facade of the house that provides easy access directly into the courtyard.

4. Use bricks to raise each bed…filled with layers of plant material, they will contribute a depth and structure to the overall picture.

5. 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.

6. Plan for various seating options to provide different views of the gardens (to include a limbed-up Japanese maple that adds marvelous seasonal color in the fall).

7. 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.

8. 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,” she notes.

9. Go bold! In this little jewel of a garden, four Ligularia gigantica make a statement at each corner of the pond…

10. Bring home ideas from your travels…trellises and columns of flowering plants were inspired by English and French gardens.

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.

I’m getting homesick just writing this post. Oh, to return to New Orleans and discover more of its captivating gardens! Ruthie, thank you for sharing your green paradise with those of us who cannot be there in person. XOX

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

10 thoughts on “Inspiring Garden Design: A New Orleans Courtyard Garden

  1. Lovely pictures, Bettie. In these challenging times, it has been uplifting to be able to seek refuge in blogs such as yours and do lots of armchair traveling. Thanks for always adding bright spots. Hugs!

    1. Thank you, Bobbi, it means a lot that in some small way I can bring friends and followers a spot of “happy” to their day!
      Stay well and warm, xB

  2. Very nice article. After biking through the garden district, the souvenir we bought for our own garden was a Bevolo gas lantern. Nice lighting for outdoor dinners in the Summer. Thanks for all your articles and photos, especially on cold days. Much appreciated.

    1. Oh, isn’t that the best part of travel? Bringing something home that will always remind you of that trip (unfortunately, some of my finds can’t fit in my suitcase…) xB

    1. How beautifully expressed, and yes! I couldn’t agree more…this is such a special garden (and lady who owns it).xB

  3. Bettie, was surprised and thrilled that you featured our garden again in your latest Private Newport Post. It has been posted on Facebook and by The New Orleans a Town Gardeners( GCA member club).
    Lou and I have now lived and worked in our garden for over 50 years. Our salvation during this horrific pandemic had been living and working in our garden – and reading!
    Your articles give me such joy in reading and in seeing photos of beautiful gardens- lots of inspirational ideas! You garden tops them all- and so does your creative and exquisite entertaining.
    Hope you will come visit us in New Orleans again – hopefully soon!
    Fondly, Ruthie

    1. Dearest Ruthie, how I love hearing from you! My memories of that afternoon… meeting incomparable you and all the wisdom I absorbed… have been such a pleasure to reflect upon and keep alive by writing blogs and posting on social media. Thank you for letting me share! Fifty years is a milestone and much to be proud of for you and Lou.
      Many mercis for your kind words about Parterre! And as soon as the coast is clear, there’s nothing I’d love more than to return to New Orleans. Until then… xBettie

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