published AUgust 8, 2012

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New Orleans Botanical Garden After Hurricane Katrina

Orchids Thriving Thanks to Donations and Volunteers
Text and photos by by Arthur Chadwick



The Conservatory of the Two Sisters is the centerpiece of the
New Orleans Botanical Garden and houses their
tropical orchid display room

On the eve of the 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's devastating blow to Southern Louisiana, the New Orleans Botanical Garden has never looked better. Mark Menier, staff horticulturalist at the garden describes the Aug 29, 2005 Category 3 storm as a "blessing in disguise" despite the fact that the vast majority of their plant collection was lost. "Everything in the greenhouses that were four feet high or less was under water for two weeks while everything near the rooftops baked due to lack of electricity. Only the plants in the middle survived." Within a few months, donations arrived from all over the world and hundreds of volunteers worked long hours replanting.

Volunteer Orchid Curator Richard Bergeron has amassed a noteworthy collection of donated plants with a special emphasis on mounted orchids and vandas. Mounted orchids are those plants which have been removed from their pots and tied to natural objects such as driftwood or tree bark. It takes at least six months to get an orchid plant established since new roots must emerge and attach themselves. Daily misting is required to stimulate the root tips. Eventually, a mounted orchid gives the appearance of a plant that is growing wild.


Colorful vandas and mounted orchids greet visitors inside
the Conservatory at the New Orleans Botanical Garden.

Vanda orchids are some of the most colorful and floriferous in the entire plant kingdom. Also requiring daily watering, these epiphytes are tricky to propagate in our climate but when grown correctly are able to bloom several times a year. In addition, they never need repotting since the roots are grown in wooden baskets. The conservatory and two orchid production houses are equipped with automatic sprinklers which spray both the mounted orchids and the vandas at timed intervals.

The New Orleans Botanical Garden was created during the 1930’s as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to help combat unemployment. At one point, there were 20,000 people employed. Originally known as City Park Rose Garden, the 12-acre facility was opened in 1936. It is one of the few remaining examples of public gardens from the Art Deco period in the United States today.

Currently, the garden's collection contains over 2000 varieties of plants from all over the world set among the nation's largest stand of 200-year-old Spanish moss-covered oak trees. Among the many attractions and theme gardens is the Conservatory of the Two Sisters whose north wing is the orchid display room. Here the orchids are shown in a rainforest-like setting with large tree roots, a waterfall, and a walk-thru cave. Just behind the conservatory are the original brick cold frames and stove houses. The Conservatory of the Two Sisters gets its name from benefactors Marion and Erminia Wadsworth and features a spectacular dome of European architecture with a matching Pavilion at the other end.

The New Orleans Orchid Society as well as other plant groups meet monthly at the garden. Just across the street are the famed Sculpture Garden and the New Orleans Museum of Art. For just $1.25, visitors can ride a quaint street car from the French Quarter directly to the garden. www.neworleanscitypark.com