Le Tour des Jardins A Success Story of the Northwest Louisiana Master Gardeners (A condensed version of a document developed by May Elizabeth Berry)
In 1998 the first class of master gardeners was trained by Dr. Joe White and numerous LSU AgCenter specialists. As this was a new venture, it was decided to limit the class to 50 students. Once trained, these students wanted to be active and make worthy contributions to the community. This group of budding horticulturists soon became known as “The Northwest Louisiana Master Gardeners” and had the backing of the university’s professionals and their facilities. The members of this first class quickly forged many close friendships and began to work together on various projects. May Elizabeth Berry was aware of a successful garden tour in Baton Rouge and had visions of initiating such a tour in Shreveport. After conferring with Janet Forbes who had coordinated the successful Hilltop Arboretum Garden Tour there for several years, May Elizabeth received some helpful guidelines such as style of tickets, basic committees needed, how to obtain publicity, etc. from her. Realizing that it was a bigger job than one person could handle, May Elizabeth secured the help of two of her classmates, DeAnn Almond and Lou Osburn, to buy into the idea and design a plan. They then shared their plan and visions with Dr. White who was impressed and granted his approval. Subsequently, May Elizabeth convinced her other classmates that a garden tour would be a worthy undertaking and the new class members were all in favor of giving it a try. At first there wasn’t much to go on except a lot of nerve, energetic members and support by the Extension Service. May Elizabeth quickly became the Le Tour Co-Coordinator and publicity director, DeAnn was named the technical support person, Lou Osburn was tabbed the writer and Dr. White along with his secretary, Vera Bamberg, helped with other aspects of the effort. Together this team achieved early success in formulating this new garden tour. While this new organization had free use of the Barnwell Art & Garden building and the LSU staff, there was only the meager $15.00 membership fee of its members to adequately support projects of any size. So a voluntary collection was made at each meeting toward that end. In time, a grant from Shreveport Green in the amount of $500 provided the seed money to finance the first Le Tour des Jardins. As expenses for the tour mounted, the money ran out and May Elizabeth personally took care of all addition expenses with the hope she would be reimbursed if the tour proved successful. She was willing to bear any losses should it fail. Publicity for this new tour was gratefully received from Kathie Rowell and Maggie Martin. Kathie at the time was a feature columnist for The Times and Maggie is still a high profile reporter for that paper. May Elizabeth explained the goals and shared her dreams about the tour, but both ladies had their doubts about such a venture being a successful fund raiser. However, their help with publicity really opened the door for community acceptance. Both the current and incoming class members pitched in to help with the tour and Dr. White gave everyone up to 40 volunteer hours of credit for helping with this project. First task was to establish criteria for selecting gardens to participate plus perceived best time and date for such a tour. Also it was important to get reactions and concerns from garden owners who had agreed to show their gardens. Making rules and decisions, naming volunteer jobs, assigning jobs, designing yard signs and giving directions to each garden were part of the ongoing work. Insurance was made possible through the American Rose Society…which still helps in that regard. Money remained a problem and we all contributed when we could. A big decision regarded how to reward and thank the brave garden owners who signed on that first year. An elegant plaque was the choice and DeAnn Almond designed the ones still being used today. Don Crow assisted in finding someone to make a mold and from it make a plaque…out of clay. Nice, simple, elegant…but not permanent. No policies were in place the week before that first tour so several last minute decisions were required plus several others along the way. How to mark the tour gardens boiled down to using balloons as markers, but those used on day one collapsed and had to be replaced on day two. Good weather both days brought out unexpected, unbelievable crowds eventually totaling 700 visitors @ $10.00 each. The money problem had been solved! May Elizabeth’s and the master gardeners dream had come true! While success was measured to some extent in money, it was the happy faces, the smiles and the eager questions asked that proved the most satisfying. The public was delighted to visit local gardens, big and small. Visitors needed to see them and were inspired by them. The “wrap up” meeting afterwards recognized master gardeners who gave their all to make the tour a success. It was also decided to replace the original clay plaques with permanent ones now that there was money enough to do that. The organization decided that it could finally afford to purchase large Permanent Brass Plaques and bought 10 the following year for both the current and previous year’s “show” gardens…a permanent memory of their participation in Le Tour des Jardins. May Elizabeth’s dream, goal and desire for a successful garden tour indeed became real and continues to this very year 19 years since it first began. The name Le Tour des Jardins is copyrighted for the private use of the Northwest Louisiana Master Gardeners.