A nostalgic take on Louisiana gardens

Story and Photos by Jennifer Williams

Creating a garden with a nostalgic look is a very personal project. The task of recreating a memory can be daunting but beautiful, as the process takes you back to the plants of your favorite memories. A tiny pink rose, tucked into the buttonhole of grandfather’s suit jacket, cut fresh every Sunday morning from the ‘Cecile Brunner’ rose on the front of the house. The Iris that your mom moved to two different houses, that you later planted outside her window at the hospice care facility, so they would be the last thing she saw before she passed on. Take the garden bed full of large purple Dahlia that were always in bloom at piano recital time; your mom, insisting on pictures in your recital dress to be in the garden, so she could share with her friends, “Here is a picture of Mary in her piano recital dress and just look at my dahlias!” Helping in your grandmother’s garden; learning from the apartment tenant next door, Mrs. Partney, how to weed by pulling both the aboveground and belowground parts out of the soil; planting garlic in the flowerbed to deter bugs; and stringing beautiful leis out of Rhododendron flowers.

Adding vegetables to your garden can take you back while enhancing the beauty. Peas, like their ornamental counterpart, have the same lush foliage and delicate flowers, and they love cool weather, making them a great addition to the early spring garden.

Another place to look for inspiration when creating a garden to take you back to the “olden” days are the historic sites in your area. In Shreveport, the Northwest Louisiana Master Gardeners renovated and maintain the grounds at the Randle T. Moore Center, a historic property left to the city and used as a community center and home to the LSU AgCenter’s northwest regional office. When the NWLAMG agreed to take on the project, they looked to the history of the building to update the landscape to reflect the original plantings.

Narcissus and other spring bulbs are some of the easiest passalong plants to take with you as you move from home to home. Narcissus ‘Tahiti’ may be a newer variety, but is one that I have already moved with me.

The plantations across Louisiana can also offer great inspiration for a nostalgic gardening project. Oak Alley is one of my favorites, and while most of us probably cannot create the majestic oak-lined walkways, we can grab some inspiration from them for our own homes. Spring plantings of snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus), formal hedges of boxwood (Buxus spp.) and holly (Ilex spp.), and other favorites can be taken from history to our homes.

Take a trip to your favorite historical places, whether the garden district of New Orleans or an old plantation like Oak Alley, inspiration is around each turn.

Vegetable gardening is also a deep source of nostalgia for many. Thankfully, the trend of heirloom gardening has swept the country and there are countless options available to get your hands on old-timey favorites. Fill your garden with nostalgic choices such as ‘Purple Cherokee’ and ‘Gold Medal’ tomatoes, ‘Early Scarlet Globe’ radish, ‘Rattlesnake’ snap beans, and ‘Dragon’ carrots. Integrating flowers and edibles into one garden will take you back, and open an invitation to pollinators to come and help grow a bountiful harvest.

Old-Time Favorites: 
• Roses (Rosa spp.): The history of roses can be traced so far back that an entire semester in school could not cover it all. Hundreds upon hundreds of varieties have been bred over the years. Roses are relatively easy to propagate from cuttings and can be moved to a new location without too much stress on the plant. To really bring out the nostalgic charm, look for varieties in light pastel pinks and creams. 

• Daylilies: (Hemerocallis spp.) Thousands of options have been available over the centuries and passed down from generation to generation. Easily divided, you can share your grandmother’s favorites with family and friends.

The perfect plant for a beginner to pass along, daylilies have been passed down for generations.

Camellia: Easily grown from cuttings, this beauty has been a staple of Southern gardens for centuries. Newer varieties, such as C. sasanqua ‘Shi Shi Gashira’, can put a spin on nostalgic gardening. 

• Annuals, biennials, bulbs: Snapdragons, hollyhocks (Alcea spp.), columbine (Aquilegia spp.), sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), Narcissus, and many others can be found in most garden centers and catalogs.

Sweet peas climbing up trellises and front porches can add subtle color to your landscape.

Whether you are starting from scratch or reimaging your landscape, taking a walk down memory lane is sure to provide inspiration for your next garden project.




Where to get your hands on the plants that will take you back:

• Garden centers and mail-order nurseries that specialize in heirloom varieties.

• Plant swaps with your neighbors and family members. Research the different ways to propagate plants by cuttings from roses, rooting branches from plants easily like Hydrangea, divisions of daylilies and bulbs, collecting seeds from vegetables, etc. If you hesitant about trying your own hand at propagation, call your local master gardener group and see when their next plant sale is. Louisiana Master Gardeners are at propagating their favorite plants to share in their communities.

While there are only five native Louisiana irises (I. brevicaulis, I. fulva, I. giganticaerulea, I. hexagona, I. nelsonii) a multitude of varieties have been bred for their color combinations. The NWLA master gardeners are known for the many varieties available at their annual plant sale.

• If your family is ready to move away from the homestead, do not hesitate to take some of your favorite plants with you – just be kind enough to replace them with updated versions, as to not damage the “curb appeal.”

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