This weekend, the New Orleans Spring Garden Show will fill the New Orleans Botanical Garden in City Park, and we’re fortunate to have such an outstanding horticultural event right in our area.
The show’s roots go back to 1980, when Severn Doughty, LSU AgCenter area horticulturist, came up with the idea and put together a group of volunteers to carry out the project. It was the first major garden show in south Louisiana.
I joined the committee in 1981 and was chairman from 1993 to 1999. Over the years, many people have dedicated their time and effort to the event, but I have to mention Betty Bagert in particular. She was one the original volunteers and still works on the current committee.
The early shows were held indoors at the Delgado Community College Cafetorium. In 1988, the show moved to the New Orleans Botanical Garden. The setting, with its colorful flowerbeds and attractive landscapes, makes the New Orleans event the most beautiful of all the Louisiana garden shows.
The show is now a cooperative effort among the LSU AgCenter (local extension horticulturists and Master Gardeners), the New Orleans Botanical Garden and the Metro Area Horticulture Foundation (through the Spring Garden Show committee).
Its impact extends well beyond New Orleans. Over the years, it’s been the model for garden shows held in Hammond, Covington, Baton Rouge, Alexandria, Lafayette and Lake Charles.
Early food for thought
Like other pursuits and passions, gardening is subject to trends. Through the years, the Spring Garden Show and the New Orleans Botanical Garden have reflected many of them — including food gardening, butterfly gardening, aquatic gardening and native plant gardening.
100 years of Extension Service
- You may not be familiar with the primary sponsor of the Spring Garden Show, the LSU AgCenter Cooperative Extension Service. This year, the theme of the show celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Cooperative Extension Service.
The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 established the service, a state-by-state national network of educators who extend university-based knowledge to the people. There are extension offices in every Louisiana parish.
The work of LSU AgCenter extension personnel touches many lives. The agricultural faculty works with farmers producing and marketing cotton, soybeans, crawfish, shrimp, rice, sugar cane, livestock and poultry. Horticulturists educate home gardeners and the green industry. Extension family and food science faculty provide information to families on child care, money management, safe food preparation and healthy diets. Faculty in the Extension 4-H youth program work with youth all over the state building strong citizens and future leaders.
The popularity of home vegetable gardens and fruiting trees, shrubs and vines is fairly constant. But at times we’ve seen an increased interest, particularly during economic downturns. Over the past six years, there’s definitely been a resurgence.
The Botanical Garden has had a vegetable display almost from the time it was created. Beginning in the early 1980s, I worked with a small group of volunteers to plant a demonstration vegetable garden. As the number of volunteers grew, the garden was enlarged and improved through the late 1980s and the 1990s.
Eventually the area was redesigned and further enlarged. Today it consists of seasonal vegetable displays surrounded by fruit trees that are interplanted with beds of annuals, perennials, roses and vines.
An idea takes wing
The concept of butterfly gardening became popular in the late 1980s. After a long tradition of attempting to exclude insects from our gardens, the idea of inviting butterflies in was incredibly innovative. And to plant larval food plants in the hopes that caterpillars would eat them was simply unheard of.
Botanical garden volunteers and staff put together one of the first butterfly gardens in New Orleans back in the late ’80s, and it’s still going strong today through the effort of dedicated volunteers like Mary Biundo.
This trend continues to gain popularity. At the garden show, Linda Auld will present a program on Saturday from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on “The Wonderful World of Butterflies.”
In the 1990s, aquatic gardens became all the rage. New technologies in pumps and liners made ornamental ponds and aquatic features more reasonably priced and possible for the average gardener. This trend may have cooled somewhat today, but the New Orleans Botanical Garden’s Lily Pond by the Pavilion of the Two Sisters remains a beautiful example of aquatic gardening.
Almost since the creation of the Botanical Garden, Richard Sacher of American Aquatic Gardens nursery has filled the pool every year with a lavish display of blooming water lilies and aquatic plants from spring to fall.
Over the past decade, more gardeners have developed an appreciation for native plants. There was a small native plant area at the Botanical Garden even back in the 1980s and 1990s. But the relatively new Native Plant Garden is a much larger and extensive display. It attractively showcases a wide variety of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers.
The Spring Garden Show and the New Orleans Botanical Garden have been important parts of my 30-plus-year career as a horticulture teacher with the LSU AgCenter, and I love them both.
Attending the Spring Garden Show is an absolute must for area gardeners looking to learn more about gardening in our unique climate. Don’t you dare miss it!