Big Easy Magazine: “In the Golden Afternoon: Big Easy Magazine chats with the New Orleans Botanical Garden’s Paul Soniat”

I went to the New Orleans Botanical Garden to meet Director Paul Soniat on a crisp, sunny day where, to my surprise, flowers were still blooming as they wound around the garden’s brick walls and iron trellises. Soniat met me at the gate and took me on a quick tour, pointing our tropical vines and the occasional loofah, a gourd-looking plant that can be cleaned and used in the bath.

We passed a vegetable garden where brassica plants (kale, broccoli and the like) were still growing, and he explained that the garden has plans for a new outdoor kitchen to host cooking demos and other events. Past the train garden (fun for all ages) we went to the garden’s back offices, where the inner workings of the garden take place. Soniat is knowledgeable and friendly and has directed the garden for decades. He shows me on a piece of art in his office the watermark where the floodwaters hit after Katrina. The mark is some three feet off of the ground.

After inviting me to sit, we talked cultivars, climactic (hardiness) zones, new developments in the garden and whether bananas are trees or shrubs.

(This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity)

Hi and thanks for speaking with Big Easy Magazine! Can you give me a brief biography of yourself, and tell us about your role at the garden?

My name is Paul Soniat, I’ve been the director of the garden since 1982. In that time, we’ve developed Celebration under the oaks, some buildings, expanded the gardens, and that brings us to where we are today.

We have a ten-acre botanical garden, and there are different elements of it. There’s staff who maintain the garden, plants taken care of, we have an education department and some programming for kids and adults, and we also have a lot of special events. Garden shows in the spring and fall, music every Thursday from January to mid-November in the pavilion of the Two Sisters, a wide variety of genres. We have evenings with Ricky in April- October, in the Enrique Alférez sculpture garden. We have Latin music and mojitos then. It’s a real pleasant area to be in in the evening.

With a donation from the Helis Foundation, we’re free on Wednesdays for LA residents. So that has really increased our attendance and the diversity of people who have the opportunity to enjoy the Botanic garden.

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