Thanksgiving In New Orleans: Katrina Leaves Planted Determination

Over a year after hurricanes Katrina and Rita left trails of destruction through Louisiana, the resilient spirit of the Bayou State is again making news around the world. Yesterday, an international Reuters report featured the wave of picturesque trailer gardens sprouting up in New Orleans and Louisiana, including several photographs that capture a distinctively familiar local charm.

Where FEMA trailers once stood among scattered debris and hues of brown and grey, flower beds are coming up roses – thanks to the inspired vision of residents who, despite the relatively cramped confines of their trailer homes, decided there was room enough to display their house-proud sensibilities.

The trend first caught the eye of the Times-Picayune, who recently held a Trailer Beautification Contest and hosted an awards ceremony at Longue Vue House and Gardens to toast the winners. Among the celebrated gardeners were Joe and Mary Perez. Mrs Perez proudly said, “We do things differently here in Louisiana. We don’t sit back and let things be.”

Participants were also interviewed by Reuters, including contest judge Mary Hazen of the Louisiana Garden Club Federation, herself a FEMA trailer resident and avid gardener. “All of those gardens were healing gardens,” said Ms Hazen. “Any kind of garden is good for you. You lose what’s on your mind, and you dig, and you watch.”

This view was backed by Joy Harrison, president of the American Horticultural Therapy Association. She noted that the healing properties of ‘therapy gardens’ for war veterans and hospital patients have been scientifically documented for years. Ms Harrison said, “Many gardens are created for respite and solace, for the purpose of restoring one’s balance and sense of well-being. If you plant something in the ground, there’s a sense of hope and nurturing.”

Lorene Holbrook of Metairie plans to live in the trailer at the front of her property until her home is rebuilt. “Everything was brown and grey, and the trailer was no beauty,” said Mrs Holbrook. “When you’ve got some flowers out there, it looks like somebody cares.” As she and her husband planted their garden, they decided to keep a number of plants they believe may have been transported by hurricane Katrina. Their finishing touch was planting a lime tree, “because we’re rum-and-tonic people.”

This kind of quaint and hearty attitude is a famed Louisiana cultural asset; the widespread beautification of the humble FEMA trailer is but its latest manifestation.

Despite all the uncertainties attending the rebuilding process, residents know there is no place like home and they will continue to fight to rebuild, repopulate and beautify their communities. Indeed, it is this indomitable spirit that has always made Louisiana and New Orleans such a wonderfully engaging and charming place to live – and for this we can truly give thanks.

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