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The Midwinter Gardens Of New Orleans
by [?]

Across the street in which, that January, we sojourned (we were two), there was a piece of ground of an ordinary town square’s length and somewhat less breadth. It had been a private garden. Its owner had given it to the city. Along its broad side, which our windows looked out upon, stood perfectly straight and upright across the sky to the south of them a row of magnolias (grandiflora) at least sixty feet high, with their boles, as smooth as the beach, trimmed bare for two-thirds of their stature. The really decorative marks of the trimming had been so many years, so many decades, healed as to show that no harm had come of it or would come. The soaring, dark-green, glittering foliage stood out against the almost perpetually blue and white sky. Beyond them, a few yards within the place but not in a straight line, rose even higher a number of old cedars similarly treated and offering a pleasing contrast to the magnolias by the feathery texture of their dense sprays and the very different cast of their lack-lustre green. Overtopping all, on the farther line of the grounds, southern line, several pecan-trees of nearly a hundred feet in height, leafless, with a multitude of broad-spreading boughs all high in air by natural habit, gave an effect strongly like that of winter elms, though much enlivened by the near company of the evergreen masses of cedar and magnolia. These made the upper-air half of the garden, the other half being assembled below. For the lofty trim of the wintergreen-trees–the beauty of which may have been learned from the palms–allowed and invited another planting beneath them. Magnolias, when permitted to branch low, are, to undergrowth, among the most inhospitable of trees, but in this garden, where the sunlight and the breezes passed abundantly under such high-lifted arms and among such clean, bare stems, a congregation of shrubs, undershrubs and plants of every stature and breadth, arose, flourished and flowered without stint. Yonder the wind-split, fathom-long leaves of the banana, brightening the background, arched upward, drooped again and faintly oscillated to the air’s caress. Here bloomed and smelled the delicate magnolia fuscata, and here, redder with flowers than green with shining leaves, shone the camellia. Here spread the dark oleander, the pittosporum and the Chinese privet; and here were the camphor-tree and the slender sweet olive–we have named them all before and our steps should not take us over the same ground twice in one circuit; that would be bad gardening. But there they were, under those ordinarily so intolerant trees, prospering and singing praises with them, some in full blossom and perfume, some waiting their turn, like parts of a choir. In the midst of all, where a broad path eddied quite round an irregular open space, and that tender quaintness of decay appeared which is the unfailing New Orleans touch, the space was filled with roses. This spot was lovely enough by day and not less so for being a haunt of toddling babes and their nurses; but at night–! Regularly at evening there comes into the New Orleans air, from Heaven knows whither, not a mist, not a fog nor a dampness, but a soft, transparent, poetical dimness that in no wise shortens the range of vision–a counterpart of that condition which so many thousands of favored travellers in other longitudes know as the “Atlantic haze.” One night–oh, oftener than that, but let us say one for the value of understatement–returning to our quarters some time before midnight, we stepped out upon the balcony to gaze across into that garden. The sky was clear, the neighborhood silent. A wind stirred, but the shrubberies stood motionless. The moon, nearly full, swung directly before us, pouring its gracious light through the tenuous cross-hatchings of the pecans, nestling it in the dense tops of the cedars and magnolias and sprinkling it to the ground among the lower growths and between their green-black shadows. When in a certain impotence of rapture we cast about in our minds for an adequate comparison–where description in words seemed impossible–the only parallel we could find was the art of Corot and such masters from the lands where the wonderful pictorial value of trees trimmed high has been known for centuries and is still cherished. For without those trees so disciplined the ravishing picture of that garden would have been impossible.

Of course our Northern gardens cannot smile like that in winter. But they need not perish, as tens of thousands of lawn-mower, pattern-bed, so-called gardens do. They should but hibernate, as snugly as the bear, the squirrel, the bee; and who that ever in full health of mind and body saw spring come back to a Northern garden of blossoming trees, shrubs and undershrubs has not rejoiced in a year of four clear-cut seasons? Or who that ever saw mating birds, greening swards, starting violets and all the early flowers loved of Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, Bryant and Tennyson, has not felt that the resurrection of landscape and garden owes at least half its glory to the long trance of winter, and wished that dwellers in Creole lands might see New England’s First of June? For what says the brave old song-couplet of New England’s mothers? That–

“Spring would be but wintry weather
If we had nothing else but spring.”

Every year, even in Massachusetts–even in Michigan–spring, summer, and autumn are sure to come overladen with their gifts and make us a good, long, merry visit. All the other enlightened and well-to-do nations of the world entertain them with the gardening art and its joys and so make fairer, richer and stronger than can be made indoors alone the individual soul, the family, the social, the civic, the national life. In this small matter we Americans are at the wrong end of the procession. What shall we do about it?