Some people track their kids’ growth by marking their heights on a wall. Others might plant trees for them to grow up alongside.
Visitors at LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens chart their lives alongside the sunflowers.
Katie Guitreau, the garden’s head of events, says she sees it all the time. She thinks of the center’s landscape manager Aubrey Hymel, who has worked there since she was a student.
Every summer, she’d have portraits taken in the garden. Then one year, the photos morphed into a maternity session. The next summer, she had photos taken with her newborn daughter. The summer after that, the photos pictured Hymel, her daughter—and her pregnant belly once again.
“Every summer, we have repeats,” Guitreau says, visualizing the rows of stalky golden flowers that grow taller than her own three young children.
Photographers and casual Instagrammers alike flock to the fields. It’s a chance to snap photos with your phone—or do the opposite and log off from screen time entirely. Surrounded by bumblebees and hundreds of flowers, it’s easy to forget this place is just a highway exit away from the racing cars on I-10. In fact, it’s easy to forget everything.
“It’s a refuge in the middle of the city,” Guitreau says.
She recalls when the sunflower fields began as a gamble on a batch of seeds back in 2013. She and a student worker got covered in dirt hand-planting six rows of seeds.
“We said, ‘Let’s just see what they look like,’” she says. “They turned out to be mammoth flowers. That summer, we noticed a lot of people walking over and looking at them.”
So they planted more. In 2014, they sowed two fields. The next year, they doubled the crop. During the best years—when rain and temperature conditions have been ideal—they’ve planted as many as eight fields.
They experimented with different varieties, trying to figure out which seeds would grow taller or bloom for longer. And they asked for feedback, polling visitors on what they liked or asking local photographers about which looked best in photos.
Today, people drive to Baton Rouge from places like Texas and Mississippi or Shreveport and New Orleans to experience this magical flower field.
And they always come with questions, giving the garden’s horticulturists a chance to educate them. Thinking back to her first days at the gardens when she started as a student worker nearly a decade ago, it’s just what Guitreau always wanted. By creating a space to take pretty pictures, she and her team have helped the masses to regard plants and gardens as lovingly as they do.
“I felt like this was the field of dreams,” Guitreau says. “Now, I tell people everything I know about sunflowers. Because if we cover the whole state in sunflowers, it would be amazing. Louisiana could be the Sunflower State.”
BREC’s Botanical Gardens at Independence Community Park
These specialty gardens near the Main Library at Goodwood are home to more than 400 species of roses, a butterfly garden and the recently completed Baton Rouge Sensory Garden with herbs and healing plants. brec.org
LSU Hilltop Arboretum
Louisiana trees and shrubs cover 13 acres at this educational shrine to plants and landscape design, including a 3-acre Cajun prairie-inspired meadow. lsu.edu/hilltop
Worth the drive: Sunflower Trail & Festival
Sunflower fields blossom in June and July in northwest Louisiana. Take a country-style drive through about 20 miles of fields of all sizes along Highway 3049 between Shreveport and Gilliam. Watch for the annual festival to return next June. Find it on Facebook
This story originally appeared in the December 2021 edition of 225 magazine.