Thursday, March 08, 2012

Spring Blooms - March 2012

Spring blooms beckon Audubon pilgrims to St. Francisville, LA
by Anne Butler
The forty-first annual Audubon Pilgrimage March 16, 17 and 18, 2012, celebrates a southern spring in St. Francisville, the glorious garden spot of Louisiana’s English Plantation Country. For over four decades the sponsoring West Feliciana Historical Society has thrown open the doors of significant historic structures to commemorate artist-naturalist John James Audubon’s stay as he painted a number of his famous bird folios, and 2012, being the 200th anniversary of Louisiana statehood, promises to be a spectacular tour.
Welcome to the Audubon Pilgrimage in St. Francisville, La.
Features of the 2012 Audubon Pilgrimage include two historic townhouses, Hillcroft and Prospect, and in the surrounding countryside two early 19th-century plantations: Highland and Woodland, plus Afton Villa Gardens and Rosedown and Audubon State Historic Sites, three 19th-century churches and the Rural Homestead with lively demonstrations of the rustic skills of daily pioneer life. The fascinating Smithsonian Institution exhibit Journey Stories, examining who we are and how we got here, fills the Historical Society museum, and two other historic buildings downtown hold the popular antiques show and sale. Tour hostesses are clad in the exquisitely detailed costumes of the 1820’s, nationally recognized for their authenticity.
Historic Homes
On Pilgrimage weekend, St. Francisville’s National Register-listed historic district around Royal Street is filled during the day with the happy sounds of costumed children singing and dancing the Maypole; in the evening as candles flicker and fireflies flit among the ancient moss-draped live oaks, there is no place more inviting for a leisurely stroll. Friday evening features old-time Hymn Singing at the United Methodist Church, Graveyard Tours at Grace Episcopal cemetery, and a wine and cheese reception featuring a style show of glorious period costumes at Bishop Jackson Hall. Light Up The Night Saturday evening features live music and dancing, dinner and drinks. For tickets and tour information, contact West Feliciana Historical Society, Box 338, St. Francisville, LA 70775; phone 225-635-6330 or 225-635-4224; online, email
Rural Homestead
Throughout springtime, the gardens of St. Francisville are spectacular, with some of the state’s finest antebellum plantings showcasing what a felicitous climate, rich soil, horticultural know-how and unlimited labor could produce in the mid-1900s. Rosedown Plantation house is surrounded by 27 acres of formal plantings featuring a number of heirloom varieties, and it is open daily throughout the year. Afton Villa gardens are open seasonally, with landscaped terraces and parterres brightened by the blooms of thousands of flowering bulbs and the famed Pride of Afton azaleas along the oak alley. A third garden, Imahara’s Botanical, this year takes its place among the premier garden spots of the south, with extensive hillside plantings of azaleas, camellias, crape myrtles, hollies and magnolias, palms, oaks and fruit trees interspersed among reflecting pools and an old cypress swamp, plus a conference center with fascinating displays of Haiku carvings, a new Japanese garden and even Mount Fuji replicated among Feliciana’s hills; tours offered Saturday (10 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m.) and Sunday (1 and 3 p.m.) in March, April and May, plus larger group tours by advance registration (call 225-635-2001).
Historic Churches
March 31, the 2012 St. Francisville Spring Garden Stroll, presented by Feliciana Master Gardeners, provides access to unique private and public gardens both in town and in the surrounding countryside, with proceeds going to 4-H scholarships and local school gardens (call 225-635-3614 for information, or email Also on March 31 and April 1, Arts for All, the organization that fosters appreciation for the arts in West Feliciana Parish, sponsors a community art show at historic Audubon Market Hall on Royal Street in St. Francisville; says Arts for All president Becky Landry, the show continues a time-honored tradition of support for the arts and artists begun in the early 1800s when John James Audubon found the area’s landscapes and birdlife so creatively inspiring.
Night Entertainment
St. Francisville is a year-round tourist destination featuring a number of splendidly restored plantation homes open for tours daily: The Cottage Plantation, Butler Greenwood Plantation, The Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation and Afton Villa Gardens seasonally. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, offering periodic fascinating living-history demonstrations so visitors can experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some fine little restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from Chinese and Mexican cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups. Through mid-March the newly redesigned West Feliciana Historical Society Museum hosts the free Smithsonian exhibit Journey Stories, with a number of related activities and events.
For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-635-4224; online visit (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities) or