May in New Orleans is a pistil...and that’s not a spelling error. Spring fever is in full bloom, and the floral focal point is the city’s abundance of petals plucked and arranged in a bouquet of ways: on dinner plates, in beverages, art, jewelry, perfume and candles or simply as a backdrop for Instagram glory. What rises from the earth is nature’s paint on the local landscape. The city is a garden party for eating, shopping and playing among the flowers.
Eat and Drink
Edible blossoms are more than a passing fancy, appearing in both food and restaurant design elements. The Country Club recently underwent a major renovation, elevating the lush vibe of its gorgeous pool and grounds by bringing giant, hand-painted indigenous flowers to indoor dining rooms.
Coming in from the garden to the kitchen are handfuls of teeny, edible flowers and leggy green herbs. Longtime food industry gal Jo LaRocca has a sizable (and growing) edible flower garden she calls Jo Jo’s Garden. Grown for restaurant use in dishes and drinks, she and longtime partner J.N. Zink (the newly installed executive chef at The Franklin) once cultivated a salad they dubbed “A Walk Through the Garden.” That salad and the edible flowers LaRocca grows and sells are the inspiration for a variety of dishes Zink is rolling out at The Franklin. Look for torn leaves of lemon sorrel, garlic chives, Johnny Jump Ups and a slew of flower buds and herbs to pair with charred octopus or a beautifully re-envisioned yaka mein.
Inside the Ace Hotel, Josephine Estelle’s prettily plated dishes often include a smattering of small flower buds and herbs that are more than garnish; they bolster and add complementary flavor. We love the flower-dappled crispy sunchokes.
On the sweet side, Chaya Conrad’s insanely beautiful, floral-topped petit fours fill the case at Bywater Bakery, while rose and violet flavors add character, not soapiness, to the rolled ice cream at Dat Ice Roll.
Floral flavors have graced cocktails since forever. Evidence the orange flower-laced Ramos Gin Fizz, expertly made by Chris McMillian at Revel. Flower girl Laura Bellucci, lead bartender at SoBou, incorporates honeysuckle vodka, elderflower liqueur and her own floral and herb syrups in creative, ever-changing, seasonal cocktails. Alan Walter, the barman at Loa in the International House Hotel, famously forages wild for his distinctive take on cocktails, incorporating locally sourced Spanish moss, pine needles and ligustrum in and on the glass.
Get in on the latest Instagram trend of faking it with selfies in front of faux flowers at big-box craft stores, or get real and gape at the gardens, geese and gondola on a walk around the “Big Lake” at City Park. A few steps away, you can tiptoe through the tropical flora- and fauna-heavy “Carlos Rolón: Outside/In” exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Naked Gardening Day is May 5 (no, really!). Or you can get back to nature at Paradigm Gardens, an urban outdoor garden and dining space in the Central City neighborhood that’s always bursting with seasonal herbs, vegetables and edible flowers. Check its events calendar for incredible garden dinners and concerts helmed by top local chefs and musicians.
Fresh flowers can transform a hotel room. Lovely stems can be found bundled at the French Market, Whole Foods and the Sunday Shop, where unique stems and greens gathered by local flower goddess Emily Eberwine of Pick-A-Petal are also sold singly. Long-lasting, float-scale flowers, fashioned by artists who help create Mardi Gras' rolling masterpieces, are yours for the picking at Miette.
Smelling like New Orleans’ flowers is a breeze. Hové is storied for capturing and bottling local floral fragrances of magnolia, azalea, tea olive, camellia and Spanish moss to dab on wrists or behind knees. More deep, earthy scents, like night-blooming jasmine or lavender, are diffused into essential oils at Rosalie Apothecary, which also carries Louisiana-made Olive + Ani jasmine natural deodorant (it smells divine and works like a dream).
Pick a handful of hand-painted flower needlepoint canvases at The Quarter Stitch, bag beautiful botanical prints from the gift shop at the Historic New Orleans Collection and grab a bottle of “Garden District Azalea” calligraphy ink from Papier Plume. Step into Shoe Be Do for designer Dan Sullivan’s “Forbury Gardens” wedges, or pop in at Gogo for bright pop-art flower jewelry.
When April showers bring May flowers, New Orleans becomes bloom obsessed, and no leaf (or petal) goes unturned.