Afton Villa, St. Francisville, Louisiana

It’s time someone spoke about gardens. And from my remote seat at the VDP, what better place to start than with Louisiana’s Afton Villa, a garden with which many are likely unacquainted but truly is one of the grand private gardens of America open to the public.

Afton Villa, a Gothic Revival plantation house built in 1849 with a terraced garden, was the plantation of a prominent Louisiana family. It passed through the years to various descendants and owners, but in 1963 it burned to the ground. What had been a 40-plus-room plantation house was reduced to brick rubble and stucco debris, the property abandoned, and its garden overgrown.

Often traveling between Natchez and New Orleans, where they lived, Genevieve (“Gen”) Bub and Morrell (“Bud”) Trimble feared the worst, speculating that someone should instead buy the property and preserve it; indeed, that’s what they did. Rejuvenation began, not so much a restoration of what was there but, as Gen notes, a “new layer” instead, her layer.

One enters via a half-mile curvilinear allée of over 250 live oaks under-planted with mounds of azaleas, including the distinctive “Pride of Afton” red. Fittingly, the oaks form an arboreal Gothic arch, a subtle reminder of the long-gone plantation (below).

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The “Ruins Garden” has been planted where the house stood, and every year it explodes with thousands of purple pansies and white and yellow tulips from Holland, painstakingly planted every year (down here, tulips last only one season).

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Beyond the Ruins Garden is the box parterre garden (below).

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The garden then extends into the landscape beyond into different garden “rooms.” There is a daffodil valley populated with over 100,000 naturalized bulbs (and they do come back every year), and its centerpiece is a cluster of cherry trees (below), planted by a Japanese gardener who ended up with his family at Afton Villa after having been hastily “removed” from where they lived in California during WW II.

 

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Today, in spite of unpredictable weather (this year, we had ice and snow!) and the general uncertainties of managing a 250-acre estate, the garden is in great shape. Last year, Gen’s garden activities were recognized with the Place Maker Award from the Foundation for Landscape Studies of New York, and she is now, at age 92, in the final stages of writing a memoir of her life at Afton. It will certainly be an account worth reading, and her garden is certainly one worth visiting.

Lake Douglas
Baton Rouge/New Orleans

One Response to “Afton Villa, St. Francisville, Louisiana”

  1. So often, I wanted to visit these legendary gardens…I hope to do this one day with you! I look forward to your collection of books coming out on gardens, including this one.

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