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Blooms & Bargains

Monroe-West Monroe shows off its gardens and shops for spring.

As spring spreads its wings across the South, connoisseurs of this colorful season know one thing with certainty – there are tulips, then there are tulips.

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Above: Memorabilia at the Coke Museum.

Below: A cheery welcome to Biedenharn Museum & Gardens waits for you this spring.

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The 3,000 tulips at the Biedenharn Museum & Gardens in Monroe, La., are massive flowers with dramatic lines and colors that come from hardiest stock in Holland's best nurseries. Combine this vibrant palette with the fountains, sculptures, and other landscape accessories of the Biedenharn, topped off with an ice-cold bottle of Coke for just a nickel, and you've uncovered an intriguing number of reasons for a spring getaway to Monroe.

Bottles, Blossoms, and Bibles

Located in northeast Louisiana on Interstate 20, the Monroe-West Monroe area may be better known in some circles as the home of Duck Dynasty. But generations before the long-bearded Robertson family began carving duck calls, the Biedenharn family was carving a different kind of contribution to the world.

In 1894 in nearby Vicksburg, Miss., Joseph Biedenharn, owner of the Biedenharn Candy Company, put Coca-Cola® in a bottle for the very first time, allowing patrons to enjoy the soft drink any time they liked. When his little assembly line was functioning at full speed, he could cap about 50 to 100 bottles of Coca-Cola an hour. In the end, his vision launched Coke on the path to the household name it is today.

A replica of the original soda fountain from the Biedenharn Candy Company in Vicksburg is one of the exhibits at the Coke Museum that documents how this family transformed the soft drink industry.

Next to the Coke Museum is the Bible Museum, another contribution to the community by the Biedenharn family. Daughter Emy-Lou Biedenharn was a successful opera singer who toured Europe prior to World War II. As she visited various countries and communities, she collected interesting Bibles and biblical scriptures on various items. Among the collection is one page from an original Guttenberg Bible.

The final building on the complex is the historical Biedenharn home that's open for tours. At the back of the home, you will find the lovely ELsong Gardens, English walled gardens that Emy-Lou spent much of her life developing.

A good weekend to visit the Biedenharn Museum & Gardens is April 22 and 23 for the annual Garden Symposium and Plant Sale. In addition to speakers and programs designed to improve your own gardening skills, the plant sale will make available cuttings from a Peggy Martin rose, Standing Winecup, and other hard-to-get species.

On June 3 and 4, return for the rededication of fountains and sculptures that were damaged in a tornado. Witness the “living fountain” performance art.

Enjoy more of the great outdoors as the animals at the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo celebrate spring. New animals arrive every spring, but the perennial favorite is a female hippo named Penelope. She's been at the zoo longer than any other animal or employee. She and her herd are the only Nile hippos in the state of Louisiana.

You'll also want to devote several hours to exploring Antique Alley in the old Cotton Port Historic District. Cotton Port was the town's original name, based on the agriculture product shipped south to New Orleans via the Ouchita River.

Antique Alley is a bit of a misnomer, however. Trenton Street, where most of the shops are located, is wide and spacious with plenty of parking and an abundance of flowering baskets and unusual facades. Of the 30-plus businesses located here, only about 10 are actual antique shops.

But great antique shops they are, answering anyone's personal style and interest. From Traditions that imports European antiques to Walsworth & Company that specializes in unusual home décor, the shops offer many ideas for an addition to your home.

But all is not old. The Spice & Tea Exchange is one of the busiest stores in the area, as is the Cricket Beaux Bicket children's boutique. All shops are extraordinarily busy during the community's art crawl, held the first Thursday of every even-numbered month. April will be your next opportunity to participate.

Where To Stay and Eat

The appeal for West Monroe and Antique Alley for a two- or three-day getaway increased significantly in 2012 when Tonya Hamilton remodeled what was originally an old hotel and pool hall in the Cotton Port District. The Hamilton House Inn B&B now has four guest rooms that reflect the atmosphere of Antique Alley by blending a number of antiques with modern pieces to create a décor that is both casual yet elegant.

Tonya serves a fabulous breakfast, but if you're craving more, the homemade pastries and other goodies at West Monroe's Tummy Yummy Bakery will satisfy every sweet tooth. Owners Bob and Ashley Wilson use fresh eggs from their farm in all of their baking. You'll also want to stock up on the pumpkin and apple butters, sweet and spicy pickles, and other creations from their farm.

For a decidedly relaxed setting for lunch or dinner, check out the Warehouse No. 1 in Monroe, a restaurant in what was once a cotton warehouse. All of your favorite Southern dishes – such as fresh, hot hushpuppies, and jalapeno cheese grits – are made all the more delicious with a lovely view of the Ouachita River just below. Finish your day and your visit to this charming community with a big slice of Key lime pie.

Whether you're searching for a perfectly formed flower or a treasured keepsake, a weekend in Monroe-West Monroe delivers.

Diana Lambdin Meyer is a contributor from Parkville, Mo.

March/April 2016 Issue

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BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact the Monroe-West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau at
(800) 843-1872

To visit Monroe/West Monroe, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. A list of offices to serve you is on page 6 in this issue or visit AAA.com.

Order free information about Louisiana through the Free Travel Information Card found online.


 


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