New Orleans’ Battlefield Prairie

Well, Kurt Culbertson’s done it again. After just receiving word a little over a week ago that his firm had been awarded the commission to design the new 100 acre Lafayette, Louisiana all-native City Park, his firm, the Design Workshop, was chosen this past Friday as designers for the major sprucing-up of the Chalmette National Historical Park, in time for its 200th birthday. That means we might get a battlefield prairie, just like the ones at Gettysburg and Valley Forge!

5026 Chalmette Presentation_130926_1234pm_NOTES

(click to enlarge photos) Image provided courtesy of the Design Workshop


The only green space in this industrial/residential area of the City, Chalmette Battle field, once bounded by a swamp to the north and still bounded by the river to the south, was the perfect troop-funnel for the British troops to pass, until they encountered General Andrew Jackson’s very-ready army, all dug-in.


Battle of New Orleans, Jean-Hyacinthe Laclotte (American 1765-1828

A bridge will cross the Rodriguez Canal which will be planted with native Large Blue-flag Iris (Iris giganticaerulea), a plant very likely found in the marsh next-door at the time of the  Battle. Funny thing, my brother Guy told me at lunch the other day that he’s about 85% sure a Rodriguez on my Grandma Aida Hymel’s side fought in this Battle. (image courtesy of the Design Workshop)

In the Chalmette Park design, Kurt colored the 50 acre central battle field the color red with the winter foliage of Little Bluestem grass, what the Acadians called paille rouge (or red straw), as a way to sympolize the “sea of red” on the field the day of the battle. (image courtesy of the Design Workshop)


above: the prairie grass, Little Bluestem (Scizachirium scoparium) in its full Autumn glory, taken at Midland prairie remnant just a stone’s throw to the Mermentau River. (photo taken in 1988 by Dr. Malcolm Vidrine, co-founder of the Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society). The seed for the Chalmette project would likely come from these very same genetic eco-types. They were rescued many years ago from the brink of extinction by the volunteers of the Society.


Though I expect a diverse prairie-meadow planting, I hope to use the Steven F. Austin Mast Arboretum and Pineywoods Native Plant Center’s horticultural selection “Grape Sensation’ as the main red in the scheme of things, to ‘color’ the central prairie meadow from late spring until fall like Kurt wants. This wonderful plant is a seedling variation of the normally white and very rare Texas species of Gaillardia aestivalis var. Winkleri. It blooms profusely and for a very long time: more than 6 months of the year.  And its a nectar-producing butterfly attractor of major proportions.

The argument for the design would certainly not have been as forceful if not for input from historian Tim Pickles and nationally recognized public works artist Larry Kirkland. Their help was invaluable. Mr. Pickles wrote the noteworthy book New Orleans 1815: Andrew Jackson crushes the British. Mr. Kirkland has artistic creations installed in some of the most high-profile locations in the country.

What a great team to work with and what a great concept for telling the story of the Battle, which will celebrate its bicentennial in January, 2015

chalmette 1

The cool shade of the woodland area will be sensitively developed for access with a raised trail leading to the spot where the honorable Gen. Packingham fell during the battle. (click to enlarge) photo courtesy of the Design Workshop


A massive obelisk is seen from near the point where Britian’s General Packingham fell during the awful battle. The prairie meadow field between, is large.


Sulfur-yellow Zephyr lilies (Zepharanthes citrina) are naturalized in the soon-to-be-native and diverse red-toned prairie meadow.


This area, in the southeastern section of the property has a substantially significant natural wet sedge meadow already existing


The National Cemetery at the east side of the battlefield is quite large and impressive. I recalled this site clearly from when I was last there in elementary school, over forty years ago. It was established in 1864 to inter the the Civil War battle dead of both Confederate and Union forces.


click to enlarge photos




I have had the privilege of working as a consultant for two years now with Design Workshop, during the design phase of the Lafitte Greenway Project, New Orleans. Lafitte is a linear park on the footprint of an old railroad line in the heart of the Treme (pronounced tre-may) section of the City. Its been fun, and very challenging but quite rewarding. We have had to clear some really high hurdles: huge stumbling blocks to our progress. When momentum slowed, Kurt, in his affable manner, would  just roll up his sleeves and get cracking on options, while keeping the ball steadily rolling along.

Ground breaking on the Greenway starts next month with a completion of construction date of around fall of 2014 and the completion and acceptance of the landscaping, about the first day of 2016 (maybe I’m off, with these dates a little). It should be a big shot-in-the-arm for the neighborhoods it passes thru From the Quarter to City Park, Batou St. John area.

What a momentous occasion, the day the ribbon-cutting will be.

check out some links!

the article about the Battlefield competition:

the Design Workshop website is pert special!

the article in the Lafayette Independent on the Horse Farm design competition:

see Mr. Kirkland’s art:                                   

and Mr. Pickles:

Cajun prairie Society

Thanks to the folks at DW for the power point images!!!

good day ya’ll!

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