Skip to main content

The Garden on First Street: Julia Reed’s New Orleans Garden

Originally published in Southern Living Magazine, 2014

Two Southern tastemakers create the ultimate garden for entertaining at a New Orleans house made famous by its owner, renowned writer and hostess Julia Reed. 

Three days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, landscape architect Ben Page arrived on the doorstep of author and entertaining expert Julia Reed. At the home (made famous in her book The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story) Ben found downed trees, lost camellias, and amazing examples of survival.

“In the wake of tragedy, we saw the storm had cleansed the slate for reinvention,” says Ben. Rather than install a flashy lap pool or fancy outdoor kitchen, Julia insisted that Ben honor New Orleans’ history while using every inch of her Garden District property to form a series of outdoor rooms that would elevate the experience of hosting a party. Here’s what they did.

The Motor Court


The Big Idea: “When outdoor space is at a premium, make it multifunctional,” says Ben. The semicircular drive is used for parking, doubles as a cocktail terrace, and directs guests to the new side steps that lead to the front door and around the side to the back.

The Details: Antique brick in a basket-weave pattern adds richness to the drive.

The Terrace


The Big Idea: Reinterpret history. “In the late 18th century, New Orleans’ first residential outdoor spaces were strictly utilitarian,” says Ben. “They were paved areas where the cows stayed.” The refined take shown here is ideal for entertaining because it offers endless setup possibilities.

The Details: Ben chose a supersize random ashlar pattern for the Pennsylvania bluestone pavers, giving the open space an aged feel. Antique furniture echoes the minimalist, parklike vibe.

The Plants: Potted citrus and a few choice containers of succulents and bougainvilleas keep it simple.

The Studio Garden


The Big Idea: “This space has a true cottage feel,” says Ben. Designed to be lush and filled with sentimental blooms from Julia’s mother’s garden, it can be seen from the motor court, and is partially revealed from the street.

The Details: This verdant enclave is a nice counter-point to the paved motor court. The cozy bench, which is on axis with the Pennsylvania bluestone stepping-stones, gives guests a destination for intimate conversation or just relaxing.

The Plants: African iris, narcissus, and a variety of lilies color and perfume the space. Shrubs such as boxwood and pittosporum lend structure, while crepe myrtles provide shade and summer color.

The Arbor

The Arbor


The Big Idea: “A shaded outdoor dining room in New Orleans is a must,” says Ben. What could be more fitting for the home of a gastronome than a barrel-vaulted arbor inspired by 18th-century Paris.

The Details: Because it requires less maintenance, the metal framing is better suited for being covered by vines than painted wood is.

The Plants: A delightful tangle of crossvine and star jasmine quickly covered the structure, providing cooling shade. The vines are cut back periodically in late winter or early spring to keep them in check.

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden


The Big Idea: “Every garden should have an element of surprise or a moment of discovery,” says Ben. A pebble-mosaic fountain at the secret garden’s heart is inspired by ones Julia fell in love with on travels to Spain and Italy. It’s surrounded by the sunroom, the interlocking stone walk, and the terrace. Bold, textural plants laden with fragrance camouflage the source of splashing water until guests are right upon it.

The Details: “The interlocking walk is a gift to guests,” says Ben. “It offers a moment to pause and contemplate where their feet are going as well as where they have been.” The seemingly overgrown gingers are purposeful too. They are meant to be touched, to be pushed through, and they create an evocative look.

The Plants: No shrinking violets here. Holding court under regal Chinese fan palms, fine-textured boxwoods play off cut-leaf ‘Xanadu’ philodendrons and a variety of heady gingers, angel’s trumpets, and golden rays.

Notice the Details: Mosaic Fountain, Lush View, Interlocking Walk

Add romance with these unique elements.


Create an oasis that’s seen and heard from indoors by framing a vista with casement windows.


Encourage guests to savor each step with puzzle-cut stones that draw the eye and slow the pace.
Photo: Paul Costello

Julia Reed is the author of six books, including: But Mama Always Put Vodka in the Sangria, Adventures in Eating, Drinking and Making Merry; One Man’s Folly, The Exceptional Houses of Furlow Gatewood, The House on First Street, My New Orleans Story; Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialties; and Queen of the Turtle Derby and Other Southern Phenomena. Her next book, Julia Reed’s South, Spirited Entertaining and High Style Fun All Year Long, will be published by Rizzoli in May 2016.

Guided by client’s wishes, PAGE|DUKE Landscape Architecture’s mission is to create landscape and garden designs that are thoughtful, beautiful, inspiring, and timeless.