Heart of Louisiana: Botanic Garden
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - For 40 years, Independence Park was the first airport in Baton Rouge. But after the airfield moved, it was turned into a large botanic garden.
Even an early start is not enough for volunteer Claire Fontenot and her friends to avoid the summer heat at this downtown Baton Rouge garden.
“It’s much more interesting than going to a gym for exercise. You have the fresh air, you’ve got the birds. You have different people come by and visit the garden,” Fontenot said.
The group has been planting, weeding, and trimming an impressive collection of daylilies at the Baton Rouge Botanic Garden.
“We have between 900 and about 1100 different varieties of daylilies here,” Fontenot said.
This urban garden is located on the site of the capital city’s old airport, which was relocated in the 1970s.
“We’re standing on the site of the southeast runway of the original Baton Rouge airport, which opened in 1931,” said Buck Abbey, a landscape architect.
Abbey and others began designing the botanic garden 35 years ago. He’s watched the garden grow from paper drawings to an expansive blooming landscape.
“We organized the various garden clubs of the community that it was a good idea, and we wanted them involved,” Abbey said.
Those clubs create healing and herb gardens, a rose garden full of pink and red blossoms with a fountain and gazebo. There are daylilies and colorful irises. Some plants thrive in the bright sunshine while others do better in the shade.
“If you see something growing here, it’s definitely gonna grow for you at home,” said John Hough with the Botanic Garden Foundation. “So we don’t wanna think ‘bring in plants that would be, you know, wouldn’t do well in our climate.’ So we always emphasize the local plants that are available in the nurseries.
The gardens are owned by BREC, the Baton Rouge Recreation Department, and they provide a natural escape.
“They have very calming qualities. Now more than ever, people want to be outside visiting in nature and plantings with that attract butterflies,” said Reed Richard with BREC.
And the gardens are adjacent to the main branch of the Baton Rouge Public Library.
“Thousands of people visit the main library every week, and they see the gardens and they go, ‘Wow, I didn’t know this was here.’ And then they start strolling out in the gardens, and they see the educational features,” said Mary Stein with East Baton Rouge Library.
When asked which of the spots he’s watched develop and grow over the past 40 years is his favorite, Abbey said, “My favorite spot is probably one of the first projects we did. It’s the sextuple live oak grove. And so when you drive by this site, you’re struck by seeing six live oaks abreast.”
Those six long rows of live oaks are split by Independence Boulevard, and they provide plenty of shade for a stroll where you can also immerse yourself in the blooming colors of this sprawling urban garden.
For more information on the Baton Rouge Botanic Garden, click HERE.
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