Monday, January 22, 2018

Joint American Iris Society and Society for Louisiana Irises Convention in New Orleans

by Patrick O'Connor and pictures by Ron Killingsworth

Plan now to attend the joint convention in New Orleans.  Perhaps this garden on the tours will tempt you!

The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, New Orleans, LA

The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden is one of New Orleans’ brightest attractions.  Like the City, it is both old and young.  Designed initially to display a permanent collection of over fifty sculptures by twentieth-and twenty-first century American, European, Latin American, Israeli and Japanese artist, the nearly five-acre garden was dedicated by the New Orleans Museum of Art in November 2003.  It sits in a prime spot in historic City Park, adjacent to the Museum and not far from the confluence of Bayou St. John and the remnant of Bayou Metairie where the park’s extensive system of bayou-like lagoons beings.

Located in one of the Park’s oldest sections, the Sculpture Garden is itself transected by a lagoon and crossed today by modern bridges that offer beautiful views of the Garden.  The original landscape design for the Garden called for Iris pseudacorus, the European native, rather than Louisiana irises.  Hurricane Katrina took care of the anomaly.  The magnificent Live Oak trees survived, but the lingering brackish water destroyed much of the under-story planting in City Park, including the pseudacorus in the Sculpture Garden.

Live Oaks and Spanish moss

A virtual blank slate was created along the lagoon banks.  Several iris growers and enthusiasts were among the volunteers who emerged to participate in the Garden’s – and in the Park’s – rebirth.  These growers donated Louisiana iris rhizomes by the thousands. The plants were maintained in pools and tubs and planted out by multiple groups of volunteers in several waves over a couple of years.

State Flower of Louisiana
Coincidentally, the Garden occupies the site of an historic iris garden that was created during the frenzy of iris activity in 1930s New Orleans not long after the plants were “discovered” in the wild and promoted for the benefit of modern horticulture.  Dubbed a “Rainbow Memorial,” the original plantings are long gone, but it is fitting that the Sculpture Garden created a path for the return of native irises.
Lagoon in Sculpture Garden

 Today, the Garden boasts fabulous new sculptures and is embellished by Louisiana irises in every imaginable color along the banks of the lagoon.  A permanent Display Garden features named cultivars to accompany extensive mixed plantings.

Each Spring, the Sculpture Garden, along with the Greater New Orleans Iris Society, hosts a Louisiana Iris Rainbow Festival.  The Festival is a one day event that features music and presentations on the irises.  It offers the public an opportunity to stroll among the fabulous sculptures and the beautiful irises and to enjoy the Sculpture Garden at a particularly beautiful time of the year.  Admission to the Besthoff Sculpture Garden is free, a rare and wonderful gift to visitors and New Orleans residents alike.

The New Orleans Botanical Garden offers the richest, most varied display of plants in the City.  Opened to the public in 1936 as part of a Works Progress Administration project, the Botanical Garden’s twelve acres are home to 2,000 varieties of plants surrounded by the Live Oaks typical of City Park.  City Park is the sixth largest urban park in the country and boasts the nation’s largest stand of mature Live Oaks.

Theme gardens in the Botanical Garden are dedicated to aquatics, roses, native plants, ornamentals, trees, shrubs and perennials and shade plants.  The Conservatory of the Two Sisters features a simulated tropical rain-forest and a magnificent fern collection.  Irises are scattered throughout the Garden and include a planting of recent cultivars near the Shade Garden.

The Art Deco style is evident in the Botanical Garden, which also features sculptures by the celebrated WPA artist Enrique Alferez.  His original sculptures are spotted throughout, but two new and exciting garden attractions were added last year:  the Helis Foundation Enrique Alferez Sculpture Garden, with additional sculptures by Alferez, and a beautiful arrival garden with a green wall and an infinity water feature.
Front of Museum of Art

To learn more about City Park in New Orleans go to their website.

To learn more about the 2018 AIS and SLI convention in New Orleans, visit the convention website

To make reservations at the convention hotel, visit the Hilton New Orleans Airport Hotel website (

For more information on the American Iris Society here.

To visit the Society for Louisiana Iris website click here

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