Home And Gardens
New Lettering for North House Entrance
The first endeavor in May of 1992 was to develop and build a 650 foot (1/10 mile) long driveway located along the northeast property line.
As soon as the driveway was completed, 35 mature wax myrtles were planted down the right-hand side of the driveway. Anticipating the water needs of the new trees, a new underground irrigation system was placed along the length of the driveway and aerial sprinkler heads were placed every 20 feet..
One month and 50,000 gallons of water later, every tree along the driveway had turned brown and died. Dr. Briggs and Mr. Bourgeois learned their first excruciating garden lesson; read the book and plant the trees in the fall. No more gardening until fall-let's build a barn.
In 1999, 35 mature Leyland cypress trees were dug and placed down the right-hand length of the driveway. In 2000, an additional 35 mature Leyland Cypress trees were placed along the driveway.
in June of 1992 Dr Briggs ran an ad in the "Wanted Section" of the Times Picayune saying "Give me a building and I will move it".
He had over 70 people call him; unfortunately, none of the respondents had a building that fit his needs. The last little house (from the ads) that he went to view was on an abandoned Arabian stallion farm. The little "Jim Walker" home that the owner wanted to give to Dr Briggs again did not fit his needs; however, behind this little house was a cute 8-horse stable/barn.
This barn became Dr. Briggs's inspiration for the construction of a 14' X 24' tin roofed building.
In November of 1999, the original barn and its annex (which had been added in 1993) were wrapped in durarock and skimmed in stucco to resemble a French outbuilding of the nineteenth century. Dr. Briggs and Mr. Bourgeois then painted a faux brick front on the front of the barn.
Close inspection of the roof line of the barn shows two large speakers. In 1998 Dr. Briggs found the bell tower system, once used in the Cathedral, and had it brought to Hilltop. Now each day from 7:00AM to 7:00PM on every hour the angelus plays and the hour is counted in deep rich bell tones.
While working carefully with the topography of the land, which is hilly and rolling, in September of 1992 a large two acre pond was dug. The pond was admirably placed between the proposed Hilltop house site and the highway that fronted the property.
This was Dr. Briggs's and Mr. Bourgeois's first large water endeavor. The pond measures approximately 400 feet long by 200 feet wide. The western end is composed of a 25-foot tall earthen packed dam. The pond water level is maintained by natural rainfall from the surrounding properties. This project was much more successful than their first project.
The completed pond was stocked with bass, brim, catfish, and perch. Stocking the pond was accomplished by driving a large (FISH TANK) truck to the edge of the pond and pumping the little fish directly into the pond.
In early 1994, Dr. Briggs and Mr. Bourgeois went to visit a friend in Picayune, MS. As they drove up a small dirt driveway and rounded a clump of pine trees there sat a very charming country house on top of a little knoll. Within a month they had met with the architect and he had drawn up the new house.
With a lot of tweaking and fluffing, the plans for Hilltop were soon completed. Construction of the house began about 1 month later. The contractor completed the shell of the house (framing and exterior work) within the first 60 days and turned it over to them. At this point, the house was void of all plumbing, electrical, and interior finishes.
Within the next 6 months, with the help of some subcontractors, friends, and mostly sweat equity, the house was wired, plumbed, sheetrock, and completed. The original Louisiana cottage style house was home to Dr. Briggs and Mr. Bourgeois until May of 2002 when they decided to build a larger home that would envelope the original cottage.
The foundation for the original house
Framing of the original Hilltop house
Starting to plant gardens aroung the original house
Framing of Hilltop house
In 2004 Hilltop was dismantled and the framing of Northhouse was started.
Framing of Northouse house continues
The main house today
In late 1992, as the main house was being completed, conversations began to revolve around the building of a glass conservatory to house Dr. Robert Ayerst's (a life long family friend) bromeliad collection during the winter months and to act as a holding area to revitalize and grow the indoor plants for the city and country houses. For the next 18 months Dr. Ayerst and Dr. Briggs visited some of the great glass conservatories built along the eastern seaboard which included Longwood gardens, the Chrysler Conservatory, and the Long Vue Conservatory in New Orleans.
Slowly the size and character of what would later be called the "Ayerst Conservatory" evolved. After much research, Texas Greenhouse in Dallas, TX was commissioned to build the conservatory. In early July of 1994 the conservatory was shipped, via individual pieces, by rail to Hammond, LA. From Hammond, the pieces were shipped by an 18-wheeler truck to Hilltop. When the glass and steel pieces arrived at Hilltop, the cement and old brick base of the conservatory had been completed. For the next two months, an engineer (Jim Scoggin) from NASA, whose hobby was constructing conservatories, slowly pieced together the glass and steel puzzle.
he conservatory and its two surrounding gardens, the main garden and the prayer garden, were dedicated in October of 1994. To this day, a large brass plaque reading "Ayerst Conservatory" can be found hanging in the conservatory.
Planning for a marvelous and large addition to the Ayerst Conservatory was begun in late 2000. Work began in 2001 with the new conservatory once again being constructed by Texas Greenhouse and being shipped to Hilltop. Slowly the new conservatory was erected like a giant glass, aluminum, and steel puzzle. This marvelous addition (Phase II) of the Ayerst Conservatory was designed to fit into and completely occupy the original prayer garden.
After months of construction, the original and new Ayerst Conservatory were seamlessly married together by a domed breezeway. The expanded conservatory now contains over 1000 square feet under glass. While the original conservatory will be temperature controlled and have tropical plant exhibits, the larger addition will contain tropical and semitropical vegetation, accompanied by seasonal blooming foliage. Construction was completed in the fall of 2001.
Planning the foundation for the original conservatory
Planting trees around the original conservatory
Framing for the second conservatory
Finishing construction of the second conservatory
The secoind conservatory showcases seasonal plantings
Summer in the conservatory is filled with impatients
Springtime around the conservatory in full bloom
The Giraffe is a new addition to the conservatory in 2014
In the fall of 1996, the Charthouse was designed and the construction began soon afterwards. By April of 1997, the exterior of the building along with the bones of the three surrounding gardens, the Charthouse, Spalding, and Williamsburg gardens were completed. In early 1998, the studio was wired, plumbed, and sheet rocked. From that point on, hundreds of hours have been devoted to painting the mural on the ceiling, detail paintings on the floors, intricate woodwork, faux painted walls, a huge mural across the interior eastern wall, and a magic staircase that descends from the heavens of the arbor-like painted ceiling.
Dr. Briggs's favorite part of the studio tour is to press a button at which point the opening fanfare to the 1996 Olympics begins as the staircase from the ceiling descends from the crystal blue skies. What a show stopper!
Staking out the location of the studio
The studio takes shape on the far end of the main garden
Doors and windows go in.
The ceiling is painted to mimic an arbor
Painting begins on the mural across the back wall
The walls in the studio are covered with a mural
In February of 2000, the original orchard which was composed of 10 peach trees was dug up and replanted in a perfect geometric grids.
Each of the three rectangles of the grid formation was lined with 12" square stepping stones imbedded into the soil. The interior of the stepping-stones were then lined with a hedge of hundreds of Miniature azaleas.
The original composition of the peach orchard was enlarged to include apple, pear, kumquat, blueberry, plum, and fig trees.
The orchard in full spring bloom
Spring in the orchard
Blueberries in June
Closeup of Hydrangea tree bloom
The latest bed in the orchard is filled with peach trees