"Near the southernmost part of Louisiana's delta country lie a series of five wooded "islands" which rise up above the grassy marshlands and prairies that surround them. From 50 to 100 feet above sea level, these areas of high ground are as high as they are because they are sitting on top of mammoth, immovible columns of salt, which hold them up above the surrounding countryside. These monoliths of salt are two to three miles wide and five miles or more in depth."
We had driven to Jefferson Island to see Rip Van Winkle Gardens. Our sources of travel destination recommen-dations thought that the several gardens of flowers would be in bloom.
"In one century, Jefferson Island has moved from a place of tangled forests and marshlands frequented by buccaneers to one of pastoral quietness. The serene atmosphere has been created by the island's Eden-like gardens, which symbolize the natural landscape and yet reflect the fine art of landscape development."
Well, the setting was certainly serene and the walk around the pathways that connected the gardens encouraged a slow meandering pace. However, the flower gardens on that mid-April day were basically... well,... green.
The flowers shown here were special. They represented glimpses of color that had to be discovered among the green of new plantings.
"The exotic Rip Van Winkle Gardens is a massive scale-down from wilderness to flower in a design of interlocking small gardens, splashes that seem like passing suggestions of Paradise and responses to a need for peace and beauty.
"Atop a coastal salt dome on Lake Peigneur, Rip Van Winkle Gardens is 25 acres surrounding the Joseph Jefferson Home, built in 1870 by acclaimed American actor Joseph Jefferson. Jefferson purchased "Orange Island" in 1869 and built his winter home here for 36 winter respites from the stage. Though Jefferson performed a great many roles in the theaters around the world, it was the role of Rip Van Winkle, as adapted by Jefferson from the Washington Irving tale that ensured Jefferson's fame. He played the role more than 4,500 times" (ripvanwinklegardens.com).
Our drive up the lane had taken us past live oak after live oak before reaching the black wrought iron gates at the entrance.
Our walk around the Joseph Jefferson Mansion featured close-up encounters with more centuries-old live oaks.
At one of the highest points on the island stands the Joseph Jefferson Home. The 22-room mansion reflects Moorish, Steamboat Gothic, French and Southern Plantation styles and features a fourth-story cupola.
We had a tour of the Mansion, but we were not permitted to take photographs inside. This policy was especially unfortunate because of the beauty of the murals, furnishings, and family items in the home.
Our tour leader, Ed, was one of the most knowledgeable guides we have met. He spoke in a casual, unrehearsed style that made us feel as though we were visiting his own home and family.
The members of our group asked several questions, and Ed responded with detail, using the person's questions to add anecdotes to the factual informa-tion.
Ed was such a storehouse of information that we believed that we could join him for 10 tours and learn something new on each tour.
As we headed out the mile-long driveway, we passed peacocks which acted as though they had the run of the grounds.
On both sides of the road, ponds, surrounded by cypress trees, provided "viewing stands" for these spoonbills as they bid us farewell.