Natchitoches, Louisiana is the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase territory, and it is an area rich in cultural and environmental history. Land use patterns from late 18th and early 19th century remain along the nearby Cane River, together
with structures built by early settlers of French, American, and Creole (African, French American and Native American ancestry) heritage. Many of the area’s historic structures are being preserved by initiatives of the National Park Service,
through its Cane River Creole National Historic Park and the Cane River National Heritage Area, a 40,000-acre preserve of public and private land that includes this property.
This rural 10-acre parcel on the banks of the Cane River south of Natchitoches was once a cotton field, part of property
that had been in the owner’s family for generations. A stand of native trees was on a lower terrace near the river’s
edge, and an upper terrace, about 15 feet above the riverbank, has commanding views of the river.
The property owners retained the landscape architecture firm to prepare a master plan for this site that would involve site planning for a new residence and outbuildings using specified program requirements for the architectural vocabulary (styles and materials) and land use patterns similar to those found along the Cane River in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
They emphasized the importance of the exterior spaces as the determinant for architectural placement because of their interest in gardening and their respect for the local environment’s
multicultural heritage. Land uses included orchards, vegetable and herb gardens, and special gardens (including perennial plantings, rose, and camellia gardens), together with outbuildings
supporting these uses. Program requirements, in addition to the main residential structure, included outdoor entertainment venues varied in size and function and fully integrated
with other site features, particularly the Cane River.
After lengthy site analysis and meetings with the clients to define and organize the program, the landscape architects developed a master plan with two central priorities: 1) integrating
the visual importance and aesthetic possibilities of the Cane River, which embraces the site in the design; and 2) using all architectural and garden elements to reflect the region’s
unique Creole culture. They identified six site-specific development issues: 1) being good stewards of the land in general and riverfront property in particular; 2) stabilizing serious
erosion problems on the site’s lower terrace; 3) using native trees and shrubs; 4) integrating recycled building materials where possible; 5) managing storm water for use
throughout the site; and 6) creating a “signature” garden element (the Circle Garden) to acknowledge the significance of the environment’s culture and the family’s
history on the site, and to express a simple, organized interpretation of the project’s extensive program.
Sharing the client’s respect for the past and their commitment to create a meaningful development that honored the region’s heritage, the firm determined a design
scheme with axial relationships that could effectively order multiple program elements and reflect historic Cane River land uses and architectural precedents. The residence, with a characteristic central hall and deep front and rear galleries,
is sited such that all rooms take advantage of different river views; secondary structures relate to the residence’s interior uses and create exterior garden rooms. We developed
an architectural vocabulary of regional design forms and recommended using historic building materials (recycled from older structures in the region beyond rehabilitation), satisfying the client’s
requirements for indigenous Creole architecture and immediately achieving an “aged” appearance.
As lead designers, the landscape architects were responsible for the overall concept, master plan, design development, construction documents, and project administration (including all hardscape and landscape installation and observation)
during the project’s eight-year realization. They were involved in selecting the architect; we developed concept guidelines in the master plan for all architectural elements, and we monitored the architect’s compliance with these
design concepts. Design staff coordinated the acquisition of recycled materials for exterior uses (architectural, walls,walks, paving, fences, etc.), efforts that expanded exponentially as the project evolved. We selected all plant material from
regional sources and developed seasonal planting schemes as required. We continue to work with the client on issues relatedto on-going maintenance specifications and procedures to ensure that the project remains consistent with its original design
Their master plan was integral to the organization and realization of the client’s program. Initial analysis and planning
allowed the design to evolve organically, maximizing river views and creating exterior garden “rooms” that function well and accommodate vehicular access, spatial circulation
among garden features, and service requirements. One of the development’s most interesting features is the vehicular entry sequence (including the project’s “signature” landscape
element), created by controlling visual access through screenplantings and subtle changes in elevation.
This design exhibits environmental responsibility in five ways: 1) the extensive use of recycled materials (brick, native aggregates, lumber) for all exterior surfaces and architectural elements such as paving, fences, structures, arbors, etc.;
2) intricate storm drainage systems use French drains to collect and direct storm drainage to the bog garden at the site’s lower terrace, facilitating natural percolation throughout the site and overflow into the river; 3) the planting scheme
includes native trees integrated throughout the garden, native plant associations in the site’s bog garden, and, when possible, fruits and ornamentals known to have been grown in the region during the 18th and 19th centuries; 4) recreating
natural bog planting associations at the river’s edge has resulted in the significant return of native wildlife (frogs, turtles, insects, and birds) to the site; and 5) the dedication of over 35% of the site’s acreage to working
orchards and vegetable plots represents the client’s commitment to the site’s agricultural use and its agricultural
heritage; all produce is consumed on site or given away.
This development has become a model within the National Park Service’s Heritage Area for successful contemporary uses of indigenous architectural styles and land use patterns, recycled materials, and gardens to explain the region’s
culture and history. The clients have hosted garden symposia and workshops for local residents who have developed new interests in native and old-garden plants and building materials that tell stories of the region’s past. The garden’s
use as a classroom has been good for the community’s rural population; for many, this is their first exposure to landscape architecture, the work of landscape architects, and the use of indigenous materials to celebrate the region’s