(1956 – 2022)
One of Southern Garden Symposium founders David Floyd
Some 34 years ago, Lawrence Smart had an idea to encourage tourism in West Feliciana Parish. He approached David Floyd, Director of the Audubon State Historic Site (Oakley Plantation). With an interest in historic Southern landscapes, Mr. Floyd was developing a long range plan for Oakley’s gardens, collaborating with the Friends group. Together the two men created an educational conference focused on gardening in the South.
Larry Smart and David Floyd invited two volunteers to join them. Madeline Nevill, a West Feliciana native, and Martha White, a Baton Rouge preservationist, were enthusiastic gardeners. The four called on Neil Odenwald, director of the noted school of landscape architecture at Louisiana State University, to discuss producing a garden symposium. It was decided Dr. Odenwald would invite speakers, and the ladies would seek volunteers and plan social events. As Martha White, the sole surviving member of the four, recalls, “we put on our first symposium in about six weeks.” Numerous volunteers joined in the effort and became charter members of the symposium’s first steering committee, staging the Oakley Garden Symposium for about 200 people in October 1988.
Through the ensuing decades, David Floyd was always volunteering for the organization, while serving in his professional life as Director of Oakley, then founding Director of Vermilionville, Chief of Interpretive Services of Louisiana State Parks, and finally as Director of the LSU Rural Life Museum. With the symposium he shared visionary ideas, practical suggestions, and in 1994 he was instrumental in acquiring land on Ferdinand Street for the symposium to develop a public park to be enjoyed by St. Francisville citizens. On symposium days David also performed menial tasks such as covering sunny windows for slide presentations and operating the lighting of Hemingbough from a dark obscure closet.
From its beginnings as the single day Oakley Garden Symposium, the conference transitioned to the Southern Garden Symposium, a two day event featuring workshops, lectures, and tours of historic West Feliciana gardens and structures. Southern hospitality has remained an integral part of the symposium.
David Floyd continued to develop his knowledge of historic architecture and landscapes. A skilled preservationist, he and his wife Marla moved a 19th century house to their West Feliciana property, restoring it into a beautiful home. They collected period furnishings, as well as dependencies and artifacts to enhance their gardens, recreating Louisiana designs of the past.
Upon David’s retirement from the Rural Life Museum, he became Tourism Director of West Feliciana Parish. He graciously agreed to be the Master of Proceedings of the Southern Garden Symposium, taking on that role after Neil Odenwald’s passing. Sadly, the pandemic forced the cancellation of the last two symposia.
Cancer has robbed us of David Floyd’s continuing guidance, enthusiasm, and hard work for the symposium. David died at his home on February 22, 2022. We miss our friend.