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“A whirlwind of activity:” Dr. F. Todd Lasseigne’s first weeks at Bellingrath

By Dr. F. Todd Lassseigne
Executive Director
Hello, friends and supporters of Bellingrath Gardens and Home.  I am honored to be writing you as the newly hired Executive Director of this great and wonderful, historic and horticultural institution.

When I was offered the position by the board of trustees of the Bellingrath-Morse Foundation in July, I certainly experienced one of those “out of body” sensations. So many thoughts flooded my mind: Moving to the Deep South after an absence of almost 30 years, the chance to take the helm of an iconic institution of the southern U.S., a new start for my wife, Heather, and me, being within a morning’s drive to my mother in my hometown of Thibodaux, Louisiana … Wow!

And then, of course, other thoughts flooded my mind: I was going to take over after the 20-year tenure of the great Dr. Bill Barrick – what was I thinking? I would be moving back to the hurricane zone (no more Oklahoma tornadoes to worry about, but sheesh!), and I was going to be within a morning’s drive to my mother in my hometown of Thibodaux, Louisiana? So many thoughts … so little time.

Damage to the Bayou Boardwalk after Hurricane Sally struck on September 16, 2020.

In all seriousness, my first month on the job – October 1 will be the start of my second month – has seen a whirlwind of activity, and literally quite the whirl of wind! I left Tulsa Botanic Garden with a staff complement of 31 to come to Bellingrath Gardens and Home with 57 staff members. Lots of new faces and names to learn, and remember. I knew I would be moving to Mobile where I knew few people, although I would know more Mobilians and “Baldwin County-eans” in 2020 than Tulsans when I moved there in 2011.

However, in driving down on August 28 to start the job on September 1, I was calmed by each mile, the mix of tallgrass prairie and “Cross Timbers” forests of Tulsa giving way to the mixed oak-pine forests of western Arkansas, these giving way to the Delta lands of southeastern Arkansas and western Mississippi, these leading to the Southern pine belt of southern Mississippi and Alabama. A green calming came upon me as I entered a flora that was so familiar and yet so distant in my memory. To know, now, that I would live and garden amidst live oaks, bald cypress, Southern magnolias, sweet bay magnolias, and so many other favorite plants of my childhood and formative years in horticulture is like a dream I’ve awakened to.

Even though the stronger-than-expected fury of Hurricane Sally did damage to Bellingrath’s Gardens – we lost a few hollies and pines, a magnolia, and various other plants – I was jokingly welcomed, according to my friends near and far, to this new job by none other than Mother Nature herself.  This storm – what would be termed by ecologists as a “stochastic event” – is something that we know all too familiarly in the Gulf Coast region. It is a side of the natural world that has affected Bellingrath in the past (Frederic, Erin, Opal, Danny, Georges, Ivan, Dennis, Katrina) and will assuredly affect Bellingrath again.

Although the Bellingrath Home is regarded as an element that will be preserved in an unchanged state, the Gardens will always change – by their own nature, and by reactions to the natural world. My job is to shepherd both, going forward, so that current and future generations can continue to enjoy the splendors and beauties created by Mr. Bell and Miss Bessie and those they employed in service to this special place.

I greatly look forward to meeting and interacting with you all – as time and gathering limitations allow – and working together with you, board, and staff, to take Bellingrath forward toward its 100th anniversary.