NOTE: Before your visit to the New Orleans Botanical Garden, check the Louisiana Department of Health website for COVID-19 vaccination and masking requirements.
Isn’t it funny how the urge to explore a city can begin with one event?
For example, there was the time when I started exploring New Orleans a few years ago, and an evening at the theatre turned into a weekend in the city.
My latest exploration of the Crescent City was sparked by an art exhibit on display near the entrance to the New Orleans Botanical Garden.
The Botanical Garden is located in New Orleans City Park and is an area of the park that I wanted to visit.
The events of 2020 prevented me from doing so, and it was a tweet from New Orleans City Park that inspired me to begin making plans:
This is the tweet that started the adventure!
It was difficult for me to contain my excitement!
The irresistible combination of a Dale Chihuly sculpture within a location that was on my must-visit list made me create a save-the-date on my calendar. Everything took a back seat to this event.
To add to my delight, I found out that Louisiana residents received free admission to the Botanical Garden on Wednesdays, courtesy of the Helis Foundation.
The Helis Foundation is a Louisiana private foundation established and funded by the William Helis Family in 1955.
According to The Helis Foundation website, the Foundation has the mission of “striving to advance access to the arts and continuing a family legacy of philanthropic support to the New Orleans community.”
Chihuly Rose Crystal Tower
After doing some research, I found an online article written by Sue Strachan of the New Orleans Advocate newspaper that surprised me.
Rose Crystal Tower made its first appearance at the entrance of the New Orleans Botanical Garden on November 2, 2018. There was an unveiling ceremony, and it was supposed to remain at the park through November 2020.
Thank goodness for extensions!
The Chihuly Rose Crystal Tower came into sight as I neared the entrance of the park. It reminded me of a beautiful rose in a bed of greenery. I could hardly contain my excitement, and took my first photo several feet away from the sculpture.
After standing in one place to admire this towering beauty, I got closer and took a few more photos.
A sign located within the greenery surrounding the Rose Crystal Tower included details about the sculpture.
- Rose Crystal Tower measures 22.5’ x 6’ x 6.5’
- The sculpture is composed of 342 rose-colored Polyvitro crystals and steel. Polyvitro is Chihuly’s term for a plastic material that has a look similar to glass.
After the excitement of seeing the Rose Crystal Tower in person, there was still a day of exploration and discovery ahead in the New Orleans Botanical Garden.
The New Orleans Botanical Garden
Admissions: Oscar J. Tolmas Visitor Center
The New Orleans Botanical Garden is accessed via the Oscar J. Tolmas Center, and here is a sign outside that reminds Louisiana residents that admission is free every Wednesday.
I presented my ID at the admissions desk which was right in front of me when I entered the building.
To my left was an acrylic stand with 2 maps for guests of City Park and the Botanical Garden to use.
The map at the top of the display features the layout of New Orleans City Park.
The map at the bottom features the layout of New Orleans Botanical Garden on the front and the names of each sculpture found in The Helis Foundation Enrique Alférez Sculpture Garden on the back.
TIP: If you prefer to use your phone to navigate the Botanical Garden and the Sculpture Garden, digital maps are available on the New Orleans City Park website.
A sign pointed the way to the doors that led to the 8,000 square feet of the Botanical Garden.
The Arrival Garden is a beautiful outdoor area that welcomes guests of the Botanical Garden with colorful flower beds and walls, large trees, and a magic jumping fountain.
From the vantage point of the Arrival Garden, I was able to catch a glimpse of the Rose Crystal Tower from another angle.
The Helis Foundation Enrique Alférez Sculpture Garden
Following the paved path that started in the Arrival Garden, I walked straight ahead and arrived at the entrance of the Enrique Alférez Sculpture Garden.
Using the map I received in the Visitor Center, I took a mental note that there are a total of 15 sculptures to see in this part of the Botanical Garden. The journey begins under a pergola with a concrete pathway.
Here, the story of Enrique Alférez, a Mexican born New Orleans artist and sculptor, is told in a series of wood framed posters.
Here are just a few of the facts from the posters:
- Enrique Alférez (1901-1999) created sculptures in New Orleans City Park and the New Orleans Botanical Garden (which used to be known as the “Rose Garden”) from the 1930s until the late 1990s.
- The Garden fell into a state of disrepair and neglect in the 1960s and 1970s. The restoration of Alférez’s art was the launching pad for the Friends of City Park to start the redevelopment of the New Orleans Botanical Garden in the early 1980s.
- Much of the art and architecture in City Park, including the New Orleans Botanical Garden, are due to the work done by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a federal public works project created during the Great Depression that put millions of people across the country to work building roads and parks.
For more information about the Works Progress Administration in New Orleans City Park visit the New Orleans City Park website.
The first few sculptures that I encountered were right inside the same pergola where I was reading information about Enrique Alférez, the New Orleans Botanical Garden, and the WPA.
I thought this was a brilliant way to introduce the art that literally defined the garden.
Tad Gormley Stadium, located in New Orleans City Park, was built by the Works Projects Administration in 1937. Alférez created seven different athletic figures for the large iron gates surrounding the stadium.
Three of the sculptures are pictured below:
Under the covered pathway I also found works called Reliefs Representing Working Men and Women.
relief: a sculptural technique where the sculpted elements remain attached to a solid background of the same material
The reliefs are cast replicas from the original reliefs on WPA bridges within City Park.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited New Orleans on April 29, 1937, to dedicate Roosevelt Mall in City Park.
President Roosevelt created the aforementioned Works Progress Administration (WPA) on May 6, 1935. The WPA made significant improvements to City Park, which included the installation of many Enrique Alférez sculptures and the creation of the Rose Garden, now known as New Orleans Botanical Garden.
An Eagle Monument that was originally on Roosevelt Mall is featured among the sculptures under the covered pathway.
The next sculpture I visited was one that I saw the moment I walked into the Arrival Garden.
Nude Girl With Shell is a bronze sculpture (c 1966) that sits amid a water feature surrounded by greenery and beautiful, blossoming crepe myrtle trees.
The sound of the water trickling down the fountain caused me to pause in front of the statue.
This was a place to stop and process what I had already seen, what was in front of me, and what was waiting ahead.
The gravel footpath before me led the way through the Sculpture Garden.
The collection of sculptures throughout the garden are made of bronze, cast stone and metal.
Repose (cast 1987-1990) is the 5th sculpture on the map.
Its relaxed appearance reflected the relaxation I felt while walking among the sculptures.
Gymnast was the next sculpture on the pathway.
Different angles show how Gymnast can (hand)stand on her own, and Repose is aloof about her antics.
After walking past these 2 statues, I walked under a wooden pergola with gravel underfoot that featured more wood framed posters of Enrique Alférez.
Here I learned that when Alférez was 12, he ran away from home because he was afraid of his father’s discipline after he “messed up” at school.
These were times of unrest and revolution, and he found himself behind government lines and face-to-face with the Pancho Villa rebel army.
Keep this encounter between Alférez and the Pancho Villa rebel army in mind, because it is the inspiration for a sculpture that is found further into the garden.
Two sculptures are housed under the pergola. My favorite, sculpted in bronze, was “Pas de Deux”.
In ballet, pas de deux is a dance for two people, usually a man and a woman.
Movement is very well translated in this sculpture. There is a sense of the connection between the man and woman in the piece.
The next sculpture along the gravel footpath was one of my favorites because of the way it is set in the Sculpture Garden.
Sculpture No. 14 on the printed map is titled “The Family”. It is made of zinc over cast stone.
In 1951, the sculpture was made for a municipal court building and was dedicated on a Saturday.
On Sunday, people going to church passed by the sculpture and sent complaints to city officials. The sculpture was covered and removed 2 weeks later.
Without care and attention the statue fell into disrepair. Eventually it was restored in 2015.
Further down the footpath, La Soldadera (Female Soldier) stands strong.
The positioning of this sculpture along the gravel footpath makes it feel like a guardian of the Sculpture Garden.
La Soldadera is connected to Alférez’s time in the Pancho Villa rebel army.
The soldier’s wives, sisters and aunts were the women who fed and took care of the men in Pancho Villa’s army. These women and their children lived in the same places where the men rested between battles.
According to the information on the printed map I carried with me, it is rumored that this statue is influenced by Alférez’s mother.
La Soldadera is both a loving mother and a fighter.
Look closely at the second photo to see what she has hidden behind her back while she is holding her nursing baby.
Under the 3rd and final pergola in the Scupture Garden, Arabesque and Gymnast show off their skills.
Like Gymnast and Repose in my earlier picture, a photo taken from another vantage point shows the contrast between La Soldadera and Gymnast.
What would this mother, who had to protect herself and her baby, have thought about this young girl that didn’t seem to have a care in the world?
A plaque in The Helis Foundation Enrique Alférez Sculpture Garden informs guests that the granite stones used throughout the garden are recycled curbstones from the streets of New Orleans.
I thought that this use of materials from the city that houses the Sculpture Garden was a great eco-friendly move.
Before I exited the Sculpture Garden, the final sculpture on the gravel footpath was Moses.
There are more sculptures that I did not include for you to enjoy in the sculpture garden.
I want you to have a few surprises waiting for you when you visit.
While you’re in the Sculpture Garden, take your time to explore, read, and learn about Enrique Alférez, a colorful person and unique artist that gifted New Orleans with his talent.
parterre: a level space in a garden or yard occupied by an ornamental arrangement of flower beds.
The gravel footpath of the Sculpture Garden naturally extends into the next section of the New Orleans Botanical Garden: the Rose Parterre.
Here, the footpath is made of brick, and is an aesthetic compliment to the layout of the area.
A reflecting pool filled with tropical water lilies is the centerpiece of the Rose Parterre.
A sculpture made of cast concrete titled Undine by Rose Marie Huth sits in the water.
To me, it felt like she was the guardian of the reflecting pool.
The water lilies in the reflecting pool are beautiful, and New Orleans Botanical Garden does a wonderful job of labeling each of them.
Photographing these beauties was a relaxing and enjoyable experience.
Conservatory of the Two Sisters
Behind the reflecting pool sits a coral colored structure with a glass dome.
The Conservatory of the Two Sisters was originally constructed in the 1930s.
A beautiful open atrium sits under the glass dome.
There are 2 exhibits to visit inside the Conservatory: the Living Fossils exhibit is on the left, and The Tropical Rainforest is on the right.
The Living Fossils exhibit features a variety of prehistoric plant life from all around the world.
Thanks to a state-of-the-art climate control system, The Tropical Rainforest looks and feels like a real rainforest.
Click below to take a tour of both rooms inside the Conservatory of the Two Sisters:
Southern Shade Garden
The Southern Shade Garden has a winding gravel footpath that led me through an area with several large shade trees. Underneath the trees are plants that grow well in shade.
The Shade Garden is a great place to stop and rest, and wooden swings hooked to the strong tree branches are available for guests to sit and stay for a while.
While my husband and kids enjoyed the swings, I continued to explore the Shade Garden.
The plants in the Southern Shade Garden are labeled. This is a wonderful feature for plant enthusiasts and those who, like me, enjoy plants for their beauty and desire to know their names.
Allow yourself to follow the natural flow of the gravel footpath, and you will find yourself back out on a brick footpath that you can cross over to visit the Butterfly Walk.
My time in the Butterfly Walk was brief, but I did capture a photograph of a butterfly bench that would be a great place to take an Instagram photo.
Yakumo Nihon Teien Japanese Garden
No effort to create an impossible or purely ideal landscape is made in the Japanese garden. Its artistic purpose is to copy faithfully the attractions of a veritable landscape, and to convey the real impression that a real landscape communicates. It is therefore at once a picture and a poem; perhaps even more a poem than a picture. Excerpt from “In a Japanese Garden” by Lafcadio Hearn The Atlantic, July 1892
The Yakumo Nihon Teien Japanese Garden is named after Patrick Lafcadio Hearn, a talented writer who lived in New Orleans from 1877 to 1887.
Hearn moved to Japan in 1890, where he met and married Setsuko Koizumi in 1891. In 1895, he became a Japanese subject, and took the name Koizumi Yakumo.
Hearn lived in Matsue for 15 months of his life, and was one of the first authors of Japanese culture.
The city of Matsue, Japan is the sister city of New Orleans and provided the gift of stone lanterns for the garden.
The first phase of the Yakumo Nihon Teien Japanese Garden was opened in July 2005 only to be damaged by Hurricane Katrina a few months later. It was carefully restored by the Japanese Garden Society of New Orleans and reopened in 2007.
Two phases of the garden are complete, and future expansion is planned.
The simplicity of the structure around the garden appealed to me.
The garden is accessed via a stone footpath lined with bamboo.
When I entered the Japanese Garden, it was clear that it was a place of calm and peace.
Ahead of me was a roofed structure with a wooden bench inside that faced the main area of the garden.
Above the bench was a window that looked onto a small garden.
I could tell that this was a space for reflection.
Inside the garden was a large stone. Stones often symbolize mountains in Japanese gardens.
In The Atlantic article “In a Japanese Garden”, Lafcadio Hearn writes about the need to understand the use of stones:
Another fact of prime importance to remember is that, in order to comprehend the beauty of a Japanese garden, it is necessary to understand—or at least learn to understand—the beauty of stones. Not of stones quarried by the hand of man, but of stones shaped by nature only. Until you can feel, and keenly feel, that stones have character, that stones have tones and values, the whole artistic meaning of a Japanese garden cannot be revealed to you.
Within the garden I found benches hewn from stone and wooden benches in shaded areas. When the weather gets cooler in the fall, I can see myself returning for a visit to the Japanese Garden just to take advantage of the peaceful seating areas.
New Orleans Historic Train Garden
The Historic New Orleans Train Garden introduced me to the history of New Orleans using miniature architecture sitting along a miniature train rail. It was designed and constructed by Paul Busse, a renowned landscape architect who has created countless award-winning garden railway displays all across the country.
From the moment I entered the train garden, I was entranced with the details of the tiny structures that told the story of New Orleans as it would have looked to those traveling the city in the late 1800s to early 1900s.
Each miniature piece is made with botanical materials, which is fitting for a display in a botanical garden.
How could I not have known that this world of wonder existed?
As I walked through the train garden, I noticed signs that were labeled “Neighborhood Stop”.
The signs informed me of the New Orleans neighborhood I was “visiting”, gave a brief history of the neighborhood, and which train or streetcar lines served them.
The Train Garden transported me back in time to a New Orleans that I did not know existed.
By now, you may be wondering “Where is the ‘train’ in Train Garden?”
Like all trains, the one in the Train Garden keeps a schedule. It runs on Saturdays and Sundays when the Botanical Garden is open and during the holiday lights festival called Celebration in the Oaks.
My visit was on a Wednesday, and even though I did not get to see the train make its way around the track, I walked through the pavilion located in the rear of the Train Garden.
Visible string lights throughout the pavilion and the Train Garden indicated that the area comes to life with light at night. (Sounds like a great reason for another visit, doesn’t it?)
After leaving the Train Garden, I followed the brick footpath back to the sections of the Botanical Garden that I had not yet explored. By this time, the map I received at the Oscar J. Tolmas Visitor Center was folded up and tucked away in my pocket, and I hadn’t looked at it for over an hour.
That only meant that I was in for a few more pleasant surprises.
A popular New Orleans’ wedding venue and the most formal area in the Botanical Garden, The Lord & Taylor Rose Garden (also called the Parterre) were ahead. This area is beautiful, and I could see why a bride would want to choose this area of the Botanical Garden to get married.
At the center of the Parterre is where the Shriever Fountain with the Water Maiden sculpture are found. The Water Maiden stands in this area as if she were waiting for guests of the Botanical Garden to discover her beauty.
Just when I thought that The Helis Foundation Enrique Alférez Sculpture Garden was the sum of the artists’ works in the New Orleans Botanical Garden, here stood another one of his creations.
My discoveries of Alférez sculptures was not yet complete, and as I gazed back toward the Conservatory and reflecting pool, I found Sundial. In the early 1980s the garden was enclosed and Enrique Alférez was commissioned to restore older works and create new ones.
Sundial, made of concrete and bronze, was placed in the garden in 1983.
Near the end of the Botanical Garden, The Flute Player came into sight.
When the garden was expanded in the mid-1990s, Alférez was recommissioned and he created The Flute Player. This sculpture is one of the largest Alférez works found in the Botanical Garden.
Go big or go home, right?
One year before Enrique Alférez passed away, the last sculpture was placed in the garden in 1998.
Renascence caught my attention because of her contemplative gaze into the trees above.
Her pose makes me wonder if Alférez himself was at an age where he often took time to think about the works he created during a career that spanned almost 70 years of his life.
The views of the New Orleans Botanical Garden on the way out were just as beautiful as they were entering it.
Even after hours exploring this beautiful space, I was not ready to leave.
Speaking of space, before I started the walk back to my car, I spent time viewing the Charles Bolden, Jr. Launch Entry Suit (LES) housed inside the Oscar J. Tolmas Visitor Center.
Bolden was an astronaut for 14 years and became the first African American administrator of NASA.
The LES is also known as the “pumpkin suit” because of its orange color.
Charles Bolden, Jr.’s LES was acquired on loan from NASA and will be on display for five years.
From a distance, Storyland appearances to be a place designated for children, but I discovered that it is a place created for children of all ages to enjoy.
Just as I was about to wrap things up for the day, my teenager surprised me and asked if we could check things out in Storyland. “For your blog, of course.”
I was happy to oblige.
Storyland was temporarily closed in July 2019. It underwent a revitalization that included:
- renovated exhibits
- activities incorporating STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and interactive play
- ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility, and
- increased diversity within exhibits.
An astronaut exhibit allowed me to try my hand at space exploration without going to space.
It was to be expected that “Alice In Wonderland” would be larger than life.
Storyland transported me back to the stories and fairytales that I heard and read when I was growing up.
A day filled with sculptures, flowers, and fairytales left my family and I feeling a little bit hungry, and we all knew the perfect place to enjoy a sweet treat before heading home.
The best thing was that we didn’t have to leave New Orleans City Park.
Café du Monde
Less than a 5 minute drive from New Orleans Botanical Garden and right before the exit of City Park, there is a full service Café du Monde that has indoor and outdoor seating.
If you’ve visited New Orleans, you may already be familiar with this iconic New Orleans cafe.
Most people visiting the city have enjoyed a plate of hot beignets and a mug filled with cafe au lait at the French Market location, which is the original location established in 1862.
Café du Monde City Park is, in my opinion, the most beautiful location of Café du Monde.
The building is surrounded by beautiful trees and the interior is styled with coffered ceilings. When you sit outside, there is a view of City Park structures and greenery.
My first visit to the Café du Monde City Park location was in January 2021 during one of the most spectacular holiday lights festivals in the country, Celebration In The Oaks. It was much colder then, and I ordered beignets to go.
This visit gave me an opportunity to relax and savor a delicious plate of beignets and cafe au lait while discussing the events of the day in the New Orleans Botanical Garden and Storyland with my family.
Prepare For Your Visit
Now that I’ve shared the details of my visit to New Orleans Botanical Garden, I’ll share what you need to prepare for your visit to this beautiful oasis in the Cresent City.
- The most important tool to prepare for your visit is to be aware of the COVID-19 protocols in Louisiana.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes. The Botanical Garden itself is 8,000 square feet. If you extend your visit and include Storyland and New Orleans City Park, that’s a lot of walking.
- Bring a packable raincoat/poncho and an umbrella. There are structures around the Botanical Garden where you can wait out a rain shower, but if you want to keep exploring when it rains, a raincoat and umbrella will keep you moving.
- Sunscreen and a wide brim hat may be necessary for all the time you’ll be spending in the sunshine.
- Apply insect repellant before entering the park.
- A reusable water bottle will keep you hydrated while you explore the gardens. If you bring or purchase bottled water, recycling containers are available throughout the park.
The New Orleans Botanical Garden is worth exploring more than once.
I plan to return to the Botanical Garden in the fall to experience Kitchen in the Garden, a culinary experience housed in an outdoor kitchen located in the garden.
What do you think of the New Orleans Botanical Garden?
Which part of the garden stood out as your favorite?
Footnote: Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana on Sunday, September 29, 2021, and impacted New Orleans and the surrounding area. Recovery efforts in City Park are currently underway, and may affect the operational hours of New Orleans Botanical Garden.