A disgraced governor and his camellias: the fascinating history of Lacombe’s Bay…

This photo from Aug. 8, 1939, shows former Gov. Richard W. Leche leaving the U.S. Marshal’s office after being fingerprinted.

Leche, who had been elected governor in 1936 after Gov. Huey P. Long’s assassination, purchased the estate in 1945 after serving prison time for fraud and misuse of funds and being pardoned by President Harry Truman.

Leche transplanted camellias and azaleas from his former home on the Tchefuncte River, expanding the gardens and walkways. This included a still existing circular path adjacent to the house that features camellias and boxwoods planted under live oak, pine and magnolia trees.

“Every week it’s something different,” Dolan said of the red, pink and white camellias in bloom along the path. 

The azaleas “that bloom profusely and have large flowers are all hybridized from wild azaleas. Those usually start blooming in March,” she added.

It was Leche who gave Bayou Gardens its name when he opened a horticultural attraction and commercial nursery on the property, Dolan said. He also built a barn to serve as a museum of native artifacts and a weapons collection.

While only the barn’s concrete foundation remains, the gardens still contain a fountain and its cherub statue — tucked amongst the trees and shrubs — that were used in ads for the horticultural attraction, Dolan said. Nearby, a grotto features an artesian spring with water that comes from the Abita Springs aquifer.

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