The LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden has been undergoing significant changes as it refocuses from a crops research station to a center for urban agriculture education. The process was begun in 2009 with the development of a Cultural Landscape Report and Master Plan. While the Cultural Landscape Report highlighted the elements of the Burden landscape that should be preserved because of their historical significance, the Master Plan outlined three primary destinations and points of activity that reflect the past, present and future of agriculture in Louisiana. The property was renamed Burden Museum & Gardens to create a unified public destination with multiple public and academic venues. The LSU Rural Life Museum and historic Windrush Gardens represent the 18th and 19th century plantation era in Louisiana history. The LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens represents present day horticulture through display and demonstration gardens, Burden Woods and Barton Arboretum. The AgCenter ornamental and turf and food and fiber plant research facilities support a sustainable agricultural future through research and extension programs.
A nonprofit friends group, the Burden Horticulture Society, was formed in 2007 to support the work of the Botanic Gardens. Using the Master Plan as a guide and with the support of the Burden Horticulture Society and other plant-related organizations, the Botanic Gardens has been transforming into a unique education and research facility and public destination.
The Rose Garden was updated with formal brick-lined beds and renovated and enhanced in 2014 to include two national trial programs: the American Rose Trials for Sustainability program (ARTS) and the American Rose Garden Selections trial program (ARGS). The AGRS program recognizes roses that are easy to care for, disease resistant and suitable for different regions of the country. The ARTS program conducts regional evaluations under low-input conditions, testing for the most disease- and pest-resistant, hardiest and most garden-worthy rose cultivars. Along with these two programs, the Rose Garden also contains other rose varieties best suited for the Gulf South. A group of volunteers assists with the maintenance of the Rose Garden.
The Vie and Hank Stone Camellia Collection was added to the Botanic Gardens in 2005. A gift from the Stones, who spent their lifetimes collecting camellias from around the world, this camellia collection contains more than 450 named camellias that include japonica, sasanqua, higo and hybrid camellias. This camellia collection serves as a germplasm repository for propagating and breeding camellias and is one of the largest collections in the Gulf South. Added in 2016, the Florence and Charles Crowder Camellia Collection includes the Crowders’ collection of more than 200 camellias that were registered in the United States prior to 1900. Many of these camellias had been lost or were no longer available to the public. This collection is planted according to the country of origin and is a significant addition to the germplasm available for propagation and breeding purposes. These collections are maintained through the assistance of the Baton Rouge Camellia Society, which also holds an annual camellia show and sale.
The Tropical Garden is a display garden that contains a collection of tropical and subtropical plants that are trialed for their landscape significance. As the growing season becomes longer and the winters milder, the use of these plants and their maintenance requirements in the Southern landscape has become more important. This garden contains gingers, heliconias, bananas, cycads, palms and seasonal orchids and bromeliads. The Baton Rouge Orchid Society assists with trials of new tropical plants and hosts an annual regional orchid show and sale at Burden.
Established in 2014, the Children's Garden is designed for people of all ages, but especially for children. All visitors are encouraged to touch, feel, smell and enjoy the garden space. A butterfly garden marks the entry to this garden, which features fruit trees and seasonal vegetables. Depending on the season, various edible plants are ready for harvest. Children are encouraged to snap off a tomato, pick a piece of broccoli or pull a carrot or radish and take a bite.
The Children's Garden is also designed so that teachers can learn how to implement, maintain and build curricula for school gardens. A set of 20 backpacks includes materials that can be used to complete three hour-long, hands-on garden activities that focus on butterfly life cycles, world geography and math.
StoryTime, supported in part by the Junior League of Baton Rouge, is a creative way of mixing storytelling, reading, imaginative play and craft activities throughout the gardens.
The All-America Trial & Display Garden highlights annual herbaceous ornamentals and vegetables from the current and past All-America Selection trial winners. The Botanic Gardens at Burden is the official Louisiana trial site for this program. Plant selections are rotated each fall and spring and are located at the Food and Fiber Research Facility.
As part of its sustainability plan, the Botanic Gardens offers a variety of facilities surrounded by lush garden settings that have been made available to the public for meetings, education programs, cultural events or other special occasions. The Ione E. Burden Visitor Information and Conference Center was built in memory of Miss Ione Burden and her love for education. The Steele Burden Memorial Orangerie was designed the well-known architect A. Hays Town. It was Mr. Town’s last design and was a tribute to his long-time friend Steele Burden in recognition of his landscape contributions to LSU and the surrounding region. An orangerie is part conservatory and part interpretive, originally designed to house or protect citrus trees during cold weather, hence the name. Today the Orangerie is the iconic focal point of the Botanic Gardens.
The open-air Pavilion with exposed beams and a handsome fireplace that overlooks the Burden Woods was built for the Trees and Trails and Project Learning Tree programs and also serves as an outdoor space for other educational programs and cultural events. The Memory Garden next to the Pavilion was completed in 2015 and features the memories of contributors to the Botanic Gardens as well as an intimate space in an outdoor setting.
Windrush Gardens are historic gardens that represent the life’s work of Steele Burden, who was naturally artistic and was a self-taught landscape architect. Steele toured the important gardens of Europe and worked in some of the surviving gardens of 19th century Louisiana plantations. Both earlier garden types influenced his approach to garden design and his life’s work.
Through both private and public partnerships, the Botanic Gardens continues to provide a variety of educational programs and events that use the specialty gardens, woodlands and facilities. These programs and events help provide funding to continue to expand and enhance the Botanic Gardens, using the Master Plan as its guide. Current fundraising is aimed at establishing a new Welcome Center that will serve as the primary point of contact to enhance the visitors experience, provide expanded facilities for educational programing and house the East Baton Rouge extension offices.
Jeff Kuehny is resident director at the Botanic Gardens at Burden.
The LSU AgCenter held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Children's Garden at the Botanic Gardens on Oct. 16, 2012. The garden was designed for children and families to touch, feel, smell and enjoy. Photo by Johnny Morgan
This is an aerial view of research plots at the Botanic Gardens was captured through drone photography by Gary Allen, a producer at Louisiana Public Broadcasting for a documentary entitled “Burden Museum and Gardens: A Family’s Gift."
A boy pets a goat in the petting zoo area of the Corn Maze Festival on Oct. 3, 2015, at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden. Photo by Olivia McClure
LSU Forestry Club president Mason LeBlanc, left, and member Nicholas Light, right, see how fast they can saw through a piece of wood during Arbor Day festivities at the Botanic Gardens on Jan. 21, 2017. Photo by Olivia McClure
Alpacas were part of the petting zoo at the Corn/Hay Maze Festival at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden on Oct. 1, 2016. Photo by Olivia McClure