Master Gardeners Helping New Orleans City Park Recover

Karen B. Blackburn, Souvestre, Robert J., Morgan, Johnny W.  |  12/21/2005 3:41:09 AM

Louisiana Master Gardeners Karen Hall, at left, and Mary Biundo, at right, recently worked with LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Karen Blackburn of Orleans Parish, center, at New Orleans’ City Park. Blackburn said she and the Master Gardeners, who are specially trained volunteers who work with the LSU AgCenter on such projects, have been helping to restore the park’s botanical gardens since early October. Each week the Master Gardeners work at pulling out dead plants and setting out new ones.

News Release Distributed 12/20/05

Nearly four months after Hurricane Katrina, the flowers are beginning to bloom again in New Orleans City Park, thanks to some LSU AgCenter Master Gardeners.

As soon as the ground became dry enough, LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Karen Blackburn of Orleans Parish started rounding up the troops – specially training LSU AgCenter volunteers – to see what could be done to bring the botanical garden back to life.

"We started to pull out dead plants and set in new plants as soon as it was possible to get into the park," Blackburn said, adding, "One thing that slowed us down a little was that we had to wait for the soil to dry out."

Early on, there was concern about damage that potentially had been done to the gigantic live oaks in the park, but Blackburn says it appears that other than being battered and tattered, many of them will survive.

"Magnolia trees seem to have been the hardest hit at this time, but we are asking homeowners to take a wait-and-see approach, because none of us has ever experienced anything like this before," she said.

The Master Gardeners in the area have been volunteering their time in an effort to set out new plants and to help in the overall cleanup of the park.

Karen Hall, an Orleans Parish Master Gardener, said they try to have a few members come to work in the park at least once a week.

"Some of our hard work will be on display for the next few weeks as the annual Celebration in the Oaks tour gets under way," Hall said.

The celebration runs Dec. 9-30 from 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. each evening, and the botanical gardens are its centerpiece this year. The annual event ordinarily involves a a variety of holiday exhibits, including those at the botanical gardens, and a drive-through tour of the park for people to view the oaks draped in holiday lights, but the driving tour has been suspended this year because of storm damage.

Hall, who has been a Master Gardener for almost two years, said she joined the group because she likes working in the dirt. Then she jokingly corrected herself, saying, "I forgot, I’m supposed to say soil."

Blackburn said there is lots of work to be done at the park and lots of donations of plants have been coming in.

"One of the plants that is doing really well since the storm is the Japanese Yew, which is an evergreen tree," Blackburn said.

She explained that the work provided by the Master Gardeners has been invaluable. In normal times, members of the group volunteer their time on various projects. But since the storm, they have really come through in a major way, Blackburn said.

The Louisiana Master Gardener is part of a larger, national program that began in Washington state in the 1970s. The Master Gardeners are an all-volunteer group coordinated by land-grant colleges and universities in each state. The parent organization in Louisiana is the LSU AgCenter.

Louisiana now has more than 1,500 active Master Gardeners who have completed at least 40 hours of intensive, practical horticultural training provided by the LSU AgCenter and who, in exchange, have committed to donating at least 40 hours of service to their communities.

The program started in Baton Rouge in 1994. In 1997, it was expanded to other areas of the state and is now offered in 19 parishes – although participating volunteers come from a much wider area of 42 parishes, according to Bob Souvestre, coordinator of the Master Gardener program for the LSU AgCenter.

For more information on the Master Gardener program or a variety of topics related to lawns and gardens, food and health, family and home and much more, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit


Karen Blackburn at (504) 838-1170 or
Bob Souvestre at (225) 578-1030 or
Johnny Morgan at (225) 281-0814

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