Sunday, January 2, 2005

The Return Visit to Rip Van Winkle Gardens

Cel and I started the year great with a New Year's Eve night stay at the Cooks Cottage in Rip Van Winkle Gardens. That evening and the next morning we had the entire 25 acre subtropical gardens to ourselves. Bear in mind that this is mostly a subtropical garden and these picture were after several freezes and an extremely rare snowfall. Still I think you will see the beauty. Cel and I are in a lot of these picture to give things a sense of scale. Take the picture at left, perhaps you have a Duranta Repens in your garden. Mine is about 6 feet tall and maybe 2 feet wide.

Check out the jungle of Duranta under the oak at left. Guess I will be moving mine from its open full sun location where the frost nails it every year to a location similar toe the above spot. I learn so much at these gardens about placement and combinations of plants. Take look on the right. Now that is what I call Timber Bamboo. Perhaps one day I can talk the owners out of a few bamboo culms.

Here on the left under the 350 year old Live Oak, Cel is pretending to take a nap, as Grover Cleveland once did according to the plaque. On the right is a great Jelly Palm. It was very beautiful and has obviously survived many freezes including the 89 freeze. The gardens have many bamboos, gingers, palms, and other subtropical specialties. There were not many Azaleas, which is the norm in gardens here. It is a nice change, but I imagine these gardens are at their prime in the October/November time frame and not the usual springtime blast of traditional gardens. Jungle gardens on the next salt dome down the road share the bamboo, but are quite different. Catching both gardens would make a great weekend trip. We'll review Avery Island's Jungle Gardens soon.

Here are some more pictures of Rip Van Winkle Gardens to leave you with and some trivia on the gardens and more pictures.

Jefferson Island was originally named Orange Island after the groves of citrus trees which thrived here.  In 1865, actor Joseph Jefferson, who was famous for his portrayal of Rip Van Winkle, purchased the site to be his winter retreat.  He bought the 3,600-acre property for $7.81 an acre ($28,000.)  Jefferson gained his fame in his 4,500 performances on stage as Rip Van Winkle.  After Jefferson's death, the property was sold John Lyle Bayless, Sr. of Louisville, Kentucky in 1917.   His son, J. Lyle Bayless, Jr. began developing formal gardens surrounding the Joseph Jefferson home in the late 1950's, establishing "Rip Van Winkle Gardens," named for its former actor-owner.  Bayless, Jr. donated the home in 1978 to Live Oak Gardens Foundation, Inc., a non-profit foundation.

In November 1980, workers drilling for oil beneath nearby Lake Peigneur drilled too deeply and punctured the Jefferson Island salt dome. The lake began draining into the cavity, causing a powerful whirlpool that swallowed 65 acres of the gardens. This is still one of the worst disasters and strangest phenomena to occur in Louisiana.

The following text, continuing the history to present day, is from the Rip Van Winkle Gardens Website (link)

"Bayless died in 1985, the foundation that he had endowed and entrusted sold the property in late 1996 to Carolyn Doerle and her husband, Dr. Ron Ray. They set out to revitalize the site by offering many ways for the public to enjoy the tradition that Bayless and the Foundation started years ago.

Doerle ran the property from late 1996 until it closed to the public in July of 2001.

In October 2003 the gardens were sold to Live Oak Gardens, LTD which operates the nursery next door. Gardens' restoration began with the removal of debris and restoration of many buildings. Some of these include the Bayless Conference Center, Café Jefferson, the Caretaker's house, the Joseph Jefferson Mansion, Servant's Quarters and other buildings that were badly neglected for several years.

Mike Richard and Edward Fremin have many new ideas of what can be done here on Jefferson Island. One is to allow the public to enjoy the grounds and buildings again. The Bayless Conference Center, Café Jefferson, and the Bed and Breakfast facilities are all open and are being rented out at this time. Plans for expansion of the Bed and Breakfast facilities are underway at this time also."

OK, still don't have enough? Here is one last article on the fantastic history of Live Oak Gardens.

And our original pictures taken 5 years ago in February of 1999 on our first trip to Live Oak Gardens compared with pictures from last week with pictures taken in the same spots. The bamboo filled out a bit around the well (as has my stomach), but the bamboo seems a bit thinner where Cel is standing. By the way, don't make fun of me, but I am wearing the same shirt that I wore 5 years ago. It was not intentional. Hey, its one of my favorite shirts. What can I say? :-)