Chene Vert Garden On Tour
Sunday, April 12, 2015
The Friends of Hilltop Arboretum will kick off the 2015 spring garden tours with Chene Vert, an early nineteenth century style home and garden restored by Cheryl and Wayne Stromeyer on historic highland Road.
Local experts will be stationed throughout the garden to talk about the unique design features of this historic site as you stroll the grounds on a spring afternoon!
Providing a centerpiece for the historic restoration of Chene Vert, its gardens are an ongoing project. The 11 acres on which the house (c1825-30) now sits were initially prepared in 1991 prior to the relocation of the building from the Opelousas-Washington area in St. Landry Parish. The property is a remnant of an early Spanish land grant, an appropriate historic site for the house. Having an original, 4-room bousillage dwelling (c.1830) with earlier outbuildings, this tract provided an ideal place for Chen Vert to begin its second life – restored to the c 1825 ear of its construction. An old kitchen building from the site was restored adjacent to Chene Vert. As was typical, the house was again sited on high ground, which gives way to swampland, a good source of building materials.
An allee of live oaks, a cypress-bordered pond, and peripheral wetlands all complement the structures. Areas being developed include stands of swamp red maples, tupelo gums, cypresses, mallows, Louisiana irises, and other natives, both evergreen and deciduous. The various trees used to construct early Louisiana furniture are represented, including cherry, walnut, cypress, pine, poplar, hickory, mulberry and oak. The eastern fence line features native trees and shrubs for attracting wildlife. Areas to note include the small orchards of fruit and pecan trees, the fledgling camellia and magnolia groves, the cemetery with its sentinel cedars, and the newly installed muscadine arbor. Both a kitchen and herb garden is taking shape within the bounds of cypress board fence.
The house’s original site, a sugar and cotton plantation, reveal vestiges of a vanished garden. Masses of daylilies, narcissus, and jonquils, crinum lilies, four o’clocks, and parrot gladioli were moved from the old site to enhance the restored gardens.
Chene Vert’s parterre garden is an extension of the house’s restoration. It exists to provide pleasure for residents and visitors, as was the intent almost two centuries ago. Located directly in front of the house in the French manner, the parterre is arranged in geometric designs, bordered by yaupon hedges. Meant to be viewed from the upper gallery as well as along the gravel paths, the forma design is partially based on a c.1845 New Orleans Notarial Archives drawing of a house and garden in the French Quarter.
Antique roses and “pass along plants” form the heart of this garden. Antique camellias are also being collected, and a formal camellia garden is planned. Of the over thirty old roses, some originated from stock from local, historical house. Many pass-alongs have been planted graciously shared by lovers of historic landscapes. Verbenas, gardenias, bee balm and asters flourish along with other favorites of 19th century Louisiana and some of grandmother’s special loves. In addition, some herbs and edibles grow here. The old plantation bell and the sundial attest to times when the pace of life was more tuned to nature’s timings.
Research and experimentation are ongoing. Both the plant materials and their designs are subject to change with the seasons. Textures, colors, and groupings are all meant to complement the formality of the parterre. Besides innumerable experts and friends, sources have included the Persac and Paret paintings, the New Orleans Notarial Archives, the publications of N. Odenwald, S. Reeves, W. Welch, and L. Druitt, etc., and old prints and lithographs. From the start, the restoration of Chene Vert and the development of the gardens have been a true team effort, involving both professionals (especially Pete Newton) and craftsmen, lovers of old plants (especially Jack and Pat Holden) and good friends!