Of Blog Posts, Rabbit Trails, and Some Beautiful Gardens

August 11, 2017

This is why I (Jane) have such trouble writing blog posts: I am a fact checker. I love tracking down information. In fact, when I was working as an editor, I would make a deal with a colleague (naming no names, but her blog is called Brittany L. Bergman) that I would fact check the manuscript she was editing if she would style (put in all the right codes so subheads come out as subheads, etc.) mine. 

In the process of fact checking, you so often come across other interesting, tangentially related things. While fact checking Saving My Assassin, I learned not only about Ceausescu and his regime, but also, along the way, about the healing properties of mud from Lake Techirghiol, and the word balneotherapy

While fact checking The Time Mom Met Hitler, Frost Came to Dinner, and I Heard the Greatest Story Ever Told, I learned about Beat poets, City Lights bookstore, anchor chains on sailboats, and when lilacs bloom in New England, among many other things. My love of tracking down information made me a very good editor, at least in that portion of the job.

It also makes me a very slow blogger. 

I was trying to post a simple photo gallery of Long Vue House and Gardens in New Orleans—this one a restful contrast to the crowded city of our previous New Orleans photo galleryIt was meant to be a quick and easy post to create: upload some pictures, maybe write a caption or two, and hit "publish."

And then . . .

I thought I'd better write an introductory note about the place. So I went to the Long Vue website and found that the gardens date from a period called the Country Place Era in landscaping. I didn't recall that from our visit, but it sounded interesting, so I googled "Country Place Era." About 12,600,000 results. Who knew? Even without Wikipedia (which I never trust, and neither should you without verifying it against several reputable sources), that's 12,599,999 potentially interesting and informative websites about the topic.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (about whose existence I was shamefully unaware until now) defines landscapes from the Country Place Era as "Large residential properties designed with an obvious, sometimes ostentatious, expression of affluence. Characteristic design features include formal garden styles, such as allées, terraces, fountains, and garden sculpture."

(Incidentally, I've never been confident of the pronunciation of allée and I've always wondered about its relationship to alley, so I took this opportunity to look it up. It's pronounced \ä-ˈlā\, which you probably knew, and comes from the French. "See more at alley," Merriam-Webster instructed, so I did and was shocked to find that the first definition of alley is not, as I have always thought, that little street that runs between backyards in the middle of a block, but in fact the horticultural definition. The narrow street is the third definition, after lawn and indoor bowling. Who knew?)

(But truth be told, I was brought up to trust the American Heritage Dictionary above all others—my father considered Webster's for instance, to be far too lenient in the matter of usage—and only converted to Merriam-Webster because it was the standard for the publishing house where I was an editor. I needed to see whether my narrow street ranked third with them as well. Ha! There my definition is first and those bowling venues have fallen to third. I am vindicated and no longer ashamed. What a joy is fact checking!)

Now where was I? Oh, yes—the Country Place Era. You can find a very helpful summary about it at the Library of Landscape History if you're interested. (And who wouldn't be?) Go to this list to find a Country Place Era garden near you once you've had your appetite whetted. (I wonder: which definition of whet is listed first—the kind having to do with knives or with appetites?)

By now I have 15 tabs open in my browser (and I've already closed quite a few), all because I wanted to write a simple introduction to this quick and easy blog post.

Which I have not done.

On the other hand, I've learned a whole lot of interesting things about landscapes, the late 19th century and what American societal influences led up to the Country Place Era (I didn't have room here to tell you all about that), significant landscape designers, and the role of Edith Wharton (did you know that she designed formal gardens and championed dividing gardens into "rooms" long before that became popular?).

So here are some lovely photos from Long Vue House and Gardens, an excellent example of the Country Place Era in late 19th-century American landscaping.

With no captions, because I want to look up a few more things about Edith Wharton and maybe re-read a novel or two.

Okay, maybe one caption: That whole mosaic patio is made of individually set stones.

As long as I'm writing a few captions, I may as well mention that the iris garden at Longue Vue is a big deal. It wasn't until I started trying to figure out why that I came across a magazine devoted to Louisiana irises and titled Fleur de Lis that I realized that—duh—the fleur de lis, that omnipresent symbol of New Orleans, is an iris. (By the way, if you google "fleur de lis magazine" the top dozen or so results will be for AK-47s. I wonder which definition of magazine is first in Merriam-Webster.) Anyway, we were either a little early or a little late (I've forgotten which) for the peak iris season, but here are some pictures.

When I am famous, these will be known as part of my Doors Period. 

My Dappled Light and Shadow Period:

Now, if you'll excuse me, while looking up Country Place Era, I encountered the phrase "Vernacular Landscapes," and I need to find out more about it . . .

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