Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


The Midwinter Gardens Of New Orleans
by [?]

In New Orleans, where it has not conquered, there is no crowding for room. A ten-story building is called there a sky-scraper. The town has not a dozen in all, and not one of that stature is an apartment or tenement house. Having felled her surrounding forests of cypress and drained the swamps in which they stood, she has at command an open plain capable of housing a population seven times her present three hundred and fifty thousand, if ever she chooses to build skyward as other cities do.

But this explains only why New Orleans might have gardens, not why she chooses to have them, and has them by thousands, when hundreds of other towns that have the room–and the lawns–choose not to have the shrubberies, vines and flowers, or have them without arrangement. Why should New Orleans so exceptionally choose to garden, and garden with such exceptional grace? Her house-lots are extraordinarily numerous in proportion to the numbers of her people, and that is a beginning of the explanation; but it is only a beginning. Individually the most of those lots are no roomier than lots elsewhere. Thousands of them, prettily planted, are extremely small.

The explanation lies mainly in certain peculiar limitations, already hinted, of her–democracy! That is to say, it lies in her fences. Her fences remain, her democracy is different from the Northern variety. The difference may consist only in faults both there and here which we all hope to see democracy itself one day eliminate; but the difference is palpable. The fences mean that the dwellers behind them have never accorded to each other, as neighbors, that liberty-to-take-liberties of which Northern householders and garden-holders, after a quarter-century’s disappointing experiment, are a bit weary.

In New Orleans virtually every home, be it ever so proud or poor, has a fence on each of its four sides. As a result the home is bounded by its fences, not by its doors. Unpleasant necessities these barriers are admitted to be, and those who have them are quite right in not liking them in their bare anatomy. So they clothe them with shrubberies and vines and thus on the home’s true corporate bound the garden’s profile, countenance and character are established in the best way possible; without, that is, any impulse toward embellishment insulated from utility. Compelled by the common frailties of all human nature (even in a democracy) to maintain fortifications, the householder has veiled the militant aspect of his defences in the flowered robes and garlandries of nature’s diplomacy and hospitality. Thus reassured, his own inner hospitality can freely overflow into the fragrant open air and out upon the lawn–a lawn whose dimensions are enlarged to both eye and mind, inasmuch as every step around its edges–around its meandering shrubbery borders–is made affable and entertaining by Flora’s versatilities.

Shall we summarize? Our gist is this: that those gardens of New Orleans are as they are, not by mere advantage of climate but for several other reasons. Their bounds of ownership and privacy are enclosed in hedges, tight or loose, or in vine-clad fences or walls. The lawn is regarded as a ruling feature of the home’s visage, but not as its whole countenance–one flat feature never yet made a lovely face. This lawn feature is beautified and magnified by keeping it open from shrub border to shrub border, saving it, above all things, from the gaudy barbarism of pattern-bedding; and by giving it swing and sweep of graceful contours. And lastly, all ground lines of the house are clothed with shrubberies whose deciduous growths are companioned with broad-leafed evergreens and varied conifers, in whatever proportions will secure the best midwinter effects without such abatement to those of summer as would diminish the total of the whole year’s joy.

These are things that can be done anywhere in our land, and wherever done with due regard to soil as well as to climate will give us gardens worthy to be named with those of New Orleans, if not, in some aspects and at particular times of the year, excelling them. As long as mistakes are made in the architecture of houses they will be made in the architecture of gardening, and New Orleans herself, by a little more care for the fundamentals of art, of all art, could easily surpass her present floral charm. Yet in her gardens there is one further point calling for approval and imitation: the very high trimming of the stems of lofty trees. Here many a reader will feel a start of resentment; but in the name of the exceptional beauty one may there see resulting from the practice let us allow the idea a moment’s entertainment, put argument aside and consider a concrete instance whose description shall be our closing word.