Blount Plaza

Granite Garden Sculpture by Jesus Morales

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The formal entrance to The Gardens stretches from the parking lot arbor in the east, across the entrance road, under the bridge that links the Garden Center with the Belvedere, and up to the Color Bowl, a raised octagonal planter, to the west. Interesting plants can be seen at both ends and the middle. Anchoring the east area is a specimen of the Birmingham palmetto, a very hardy hybrid palm that was first described in Birmingham. To the west, shrub and perennial plantings highlight the “Moon Tree," a large American sycamore that, as a seedling, orbited the moon on Apollo 14 in 1976. Next to this area is a color border, planted with hardy salvias and seasonal annuals.

Blount Plaza was designed by Charles Greiner and Alex Vare, and named for Frances D. Blount in honor of her fund raising efforts for garden renovations. It was dedicated in 1988 and welcomes visitors every day of the year with colorful containers and planters filled with rotating displays of bright winter pansies and spring bulbs, and lush tropicals in summer and fall. During day and evening special events, the plaza is transformed into a vibrant, multi-use, activity-filled space.

Commanding center stage is Granite Garden, by Jesus Moroles (1988), a sculpture of red granite in three parts. The ranks of rectangular uprights along the road symbolize human relationships; the rectangular uprights set in a rough circular field suggest human/nature interactions; the sinuous fountain shapes represent nature without bounds. This important, human-scaled work was funded by Arnold and Rose Steiner, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

 

Bruno Vegetable Garden

Lettuce

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Vegetables have been a part of The Gardens since 1973, but in the late 1980’s what was once a modest display grew to generous proportions, thanks to support from Bruno’s, Inc., an upscale regional supermarket chain. Throughout the year, plantings of both typical and unusual culinary vegetables are grown, tended and harvested: in winter, cool-weather crops such as kale, cabbages, broccoli, and turnip and collard greens can be seen; spring features snow and sweet peas, lettuce, kohlrabi and onions; summer brings ripe tomatoes, corn, peppers, squash and eggplants; and in the fall the okra towers and the pumpkin swells. Vine-shaded pergolas offer visitors a place to relax, and Frank Fleming’s Hare Wearing a Collar, the larger-than-life rabbit sculpture donated by Bill Ireland and Pauline Carroll, amuses children of all ages.

The Bruno Vegetable Garden was designed by Mary Carolyn Boothby, Jody H. Hamre and Carolyn D. Tynes, and illustrates numerous plants, ideas and techniques for the home vegetable gardener. In addition, thousands of local school children who come to The Gardens’ on Discovery Field Trips learn important lessons about where their food comes from. With plantings of cotton, soybeans and peanuts, we introduce them to the groundbreaking work of Dr. George Washington Carver. Our gardening efforts feed the hungry through Magic City Harvest, a local non-profit agency that coordinates food distribution to those in need. Since the partnership began over a decade ago, an average of 3,000 pounds of fresh produce per year has made its way to Birmingham’s hungriest.

Master Plan Note: Our approved master plan shows this garden being expanded.

 

Enabling Garden

Milletia reticulata

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Just east of the Bruno Vegetable Garden is the Enabling Garden, whose numerous features were designed to make gardening a comfortable experience for those with physical disabilities. Like many of our gardens, this one is wheelchair accessible, but it also has raised planting beds and window box-type planters that eliminate the need for bending and stooping.

For years, the Enabling Garden augmented our Horticulture Therapy program, which was expanded, re-branded as Plant Adventures and relocated to the larger and better-situated Arrington Plant Adventure Zone.

Master Plan Note: Our approved master plan shows this area being occupied by a new Medicinal Plants Conservatory house in the future.

 

Formal Garden

Metasequoia glyptostroboides

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Spreading out in front of the Conservatory is the Formal Garden, designed by Tommy Holcombe and Kerry Wood. The large, oval central greensward is a haven for sun lovers, and provides a majestic setting for the glasshouses of the Conservatory beyond. The Hammond clock,* shows hours designated by quaint Frank Fleming animal sculptures. The surrounding Cabaniss Walk, a crushed stone path, is a favored route for walkers and joggers. The walk is lightly shaded by a double allee of ‘Carolina Beauty’ crape myrtles that add their brilliant red, yet delicate, flowers from mid-summer through early fall. At the northern end, a majestic Metasequoia glyptostroboides, dawn redwood, adds its pyramidal grandeur to this elegant space.

The Formal Garden is most often seen from the entrance road, through the elegant wrought iron Queen’s Gates and across Wade Walk. The former were designed by George Gambrill in 1988 and given by Lura Fowlkes Lanier in memory of her mother, Lura Brown Fowlkes; the latter forms the east-west axis. Bordered by these gates and a high stucco wall, the garden is accented along its north-south axis by two fountains; the north fountain was given by Everett Holle in memory of Evelyn Hughes Holle, and the south fountain was given in memory of Juliet Perry Dixon by her children and grandchildren. In both locations, water cascades out of large iron urns, splashing and echoing into pools below and adding the pleasant sound of water to the adjacent plazas and seating areas. Several times each year, this grand garden provides a spectacular setting for concerts given by the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. The southwest entrance of the Formal Garden was given in loving memory of Marie Dawkins Bodenhausen by her family and friends and dedicated in 1993.

* This feature is currently inoperable.

Master Plan Note: Our approved master plan shows removal of the clock and surrounding ramps, and calls for the installation of a grand staircase and terraces in the future. The sculptures will be re-purposed.

 

Forman Garden

Anemone sp.

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This small-scale garden is full of ideas for the homeowner. It demonstrates the important design principle of bloom sequence, illustrated with small trees, shrubs, perennials and seasonal color; it shows that with careful plant selection many things are possible. The walk is paved and edged with tumbled interlocking concrete pavers, which offer a beautiful and affordable surface that is relatively easy to install for do-it-yourselfers. They are laid without concrete and are widely available at home improvement stores in many colors and types. Note also how the grading and mounding of the earth enhance the feeling of enclosure in this space.

The Forman Garden was dedicated in 2003, and was given to honor James Forman, Jr. by his family. It was designed by Louise “Weesie” Smith and features a palette strong in Alabama native plants. These include serviceberry, silverbell, baptisia, butterfly weed, catchfly, and deciduous azaleas. Plants from other nativities were also employed and include Japanese plum, quince and pearlbush. Seasonal flowers are rotated faithfully and combined skillfully to create blooming interest virtually every day of the year.

 

Herb Terrace

Gaillardia sp.

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On a sunny hillside above the Bruno Vegetable Garden sits the Herb Terrace, lovingly tended by loyal volunteers, our self-described Herb Army. The raised and terraced beds overflow with collections of culinary, medicinal, aromatic and cosmetic herbs. This is a garden where visitors are encouraged not to pick – but to “scratch and sniff” and experience the scent-sational world of herbs. Herbs are easy to grow in our southeastern climate and this garden features traditional favorites like rosemary and thyme as well as exotic fragrances and tastes of faraway cultures and lands such as lemongrass and patchouli. Displays are changed every spring, and late summer offers the broadest of trans-continental experiences, but this garden offers subtle interest through the year.

Although rustic in appearance, this garden is a good example of exactly how herb gardens should be designed. First, the cross-tie planters have been amended with a well-drained soil blend so the roots of the herbs – many of which are from much drier climates – don’t rot in our moist winters. Second, the terraces face due south and are virtually shade-free, maximizing the amount of light on the plants. Third, the garden has good “air drainage”; breezes freely move up, down and across it, drying foliage and lessening the chances of fungal problems. Lastly, a relaxing seating area on the uppermost brick terrace takes in the view.

Master Plan Note: Our approved master plan shows this garden being expanded, including the addition of barrier-free access.

Hill Garden

Ireland Gazebo

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This stylish garden acts as an architectural extension of the Garden Center, as elegant limestone staircases wind down from the bridge and Belvedere above and link building elements to the garden below. Given in memory of Nelson Page and Maye Leigh Hill by their daughter Jane Hill Head and their four grandchildren, the Hill Garden also acts as an activities area. Since its dedication in 1989, weddings, receptions and parties of all types have been held in this popular area with its slate, crushed stone and scored concrete paving, bosquets of trees and shrub borders. The Hill Garden was designed by Edah Grover and Lois Harrison.

Fine appointments grace this garden from end to end. Symmetrical lines of Vitex agnus-castis, chaste trees, with their summer flowers of blue, line a central lawn panel that leads to the Kayser Lily Pool and Cochran Water Wall beyond. The former feature acts as a mirror to the water wall and is planted seasonally with fragrant tropical water lilies and other aquatic plants. It was given by Simmie and Leo Kayser, Jr. The latter punctuates the view from the Belvedere and is the focal point looking north. Sheets of water cascade down the black slate wall and frame a sculpture of great blue herons, Interlude (Gary Price, 1991); lush seasonal plantings dance at their feet. The sculpture was donated by Katherine Ireland and the water wall by the children and grandchildren of George and Margaret Cochran, in their memory.

Below the Belvedere, the focal point looking south is Nike (Winged Victory) (Cordray, Parker 1991). A deconstructed contemporary interpretation of the Greek goddess, this striking sculpture was donated by Edgar and Margot Marx and their children, in memory of Simon Kessler, Margot’s father. The focal point looking east is a glass-roofed, century-old Amdega gazebo from England. Lovingly restored in 2006 by Robinson Iron, Alexander City, AL, this structure links the building lines of the neo-Classical Garden Center with the more modernist Conservatory. It was originally given by Mallie and Glenn Ireland, II, in honor of Katherine Ireland. To the east sits Limestone Sphere and Benches (Terry Slaughter, 2000) given by Margi Ingram in 2009 in memory of her parents, James J. and Dru Lucille Slaughter. To the west, wrought iron gates designed by George Gambrill lead to the Rose Gardens beyond. They were donated by the Naughton and Mauldin families in memory of their parents.

 

Japanese Garden

torii Gate in the Fall

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Officially opened by the Japanese Ambassador to the United States in 1967, this 7.5-acre site is actually an interwoven collection of gardens built in the Japanese style, replete with traditional architectural and garden elements. Here you can find the tea garden, the karesansui garden with its meditative compositions of boulders set amidst a bed of raked gravel, the hill and stream garden* with features such as the Seven Virtues Waterfall, and the small stroll garden set around Long Life Lake. Casual visitors will want to study the colorful koi, relax in the lakeside rest shelter, peruse the bonsai house** or take a class at the pavilion. Plant lovers will enjoy exploring bamboo groves†, examining our growing collection of momiji – the Japanese maples – and seeing prehistoric dawn redwoods and ginkgos.

Designed by Mr. Masaji “Buffy” Morai, the Japanese Gardens have been one of The Gardens’ most popular features since they opened. Largely through the hard work and guidance of volunteer Douglas Moore, major modifications to the upper section of these gardens were finalized in 1993 when the Japanese government named the area as an official Japanese Cultural Center. That important designation was made because Mr. Kazunori Tago, of Maebashi, Japan, one of the finest miyadaiku, or Japanese temple and shrine builders, created a traditional tea house here. Toshin-an, whose name means, “the house where those gathered can light a wick [of understanding] in each other’s hearts”, is a 16th-century Sukiya-style tea house, made completely from materials brought from Japan and built using only traditional tools and techniques. There are fewer than a dozen such structures in the United States, and none are finer than Toshinan††. An adjacent yoritsuki, or waiting hut, was also designed and built by Tago-san, completing the tea garden structures. Materials were donated by the citizens of Maibashi and additional funding was provided by the Shades Valley Council of Garden Clubs and Gardens of Inverness; the yoritsuki was dedicated in honor of Eva Woodin Gambrell. Members of the Japanese Garden Society of Alabama assist with maintenance of the tea house and partner with The Gardens in cultural and educational programming, along with the Japan-America Society of Alabama (JASA).

Delegations from Birmingham’s official Friendship City of Maebashi visit our Japanese Gardens every year or so, and especially to mark significant dates such as the 15th and 20th anniversary of Toshin-an, in 2008 and 2013, respectively. Shortly after the 15th, Mr. Tago presented a unique gift in memory of his good friend Douglas Moore, a traditional suikinkutsu, known as a “water cave” or “water harp.” Essentially a large, partially water-filled clay jar with a slotted lid, this feature is buried at the foot of the tsukubai (water basin) along the path to the tea house entrance. As water overflows the basin, it trickles through large stones and into the suikinkutsu, making subtle yet beautiful sounds. Visitors, who would traditionally be washing their hands prior to a tea ceremony, would be stooped down and only then would hear the faint subterranean music.

The Japanese Gardens are entered through a spectacular curved-top torii, or “gate to heaven,” painted a traditional bright orange-red. The original torii, part of the original construction in 1967, was replaced and made more substantial as part of a entrance renovation and master plan update in 1988 through funds given by the Drummond Company in memory of Elza Stewart Drummond. The current torii was renovated in 2007 by Dean Black, Springville, AL, and a time capsule installed in the nuki (the lower of the two horizontal pieces).

The entrance path is a gracefully sinuous tunnel of Yoshino cherries known as the Kayser Cherry Walk, given in 2013 in memory of Simmie Kayser by her family. The cherries include several propagated from the famous Yoshinos on the mall in Washington, DC, which were presented to The Gardens in 2012 by representatives from the office of the Consul General of Japan in Atlanta to mark the 100th anniversary of the original gift from the people of Japan. Further down the path, a tile-capped dobei (stucco) wall is punctuated by the entrance to the Japanese Cultural Center: the Taylor Gate, given by Dr. Wendell Taylor, with its heavy yet intricately joined wooden timbers. Mrs. Lamar Latimer (nee Taylor) funded a major renovation of the gate in 2011, with assistance from Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens through the Beeson Charitable Trust.

Across the stream from the tea house sits the Moore Japanese Cultural Pavilion, which is based on the design of a rural Japanese theater and was built in 1993. In 2011 it underwent a major renovation at the hands of Michael Moore, and was dedicated posthumously to his father Douglas Moore, its original designer and builder, in 2012. Three sides of the pavilion are removable, facilitating seasonal open air activities like classes such as sushi-making, performances such as martial arts demonstrations, and many other aspects of Japanese culture.

These activities are viewed from the Thorne Amphitheater, designed and built of Alabama sandstone slabs by ZEN Associates, Woburn, MA, in 2012. An interesting hybrid melding classic and Japanese design principles, this feature seats around 100 guests, and was funded by gifts from the estate of Barbara Drummond Thorne and daughter Beth Stukes.

The central watercourse (which along with its immediate surroundings is called the Hill & Stream Garden) consists of seven waterfalls and seven pools along its course, before it empties into Long Life Lake. This numeration is based on the seven virtues of bushido, the way of the samurai; these are benevolence, courage, honesty, honor, loyalty, rectitude and respect. Three wooden and two stone bridges allow water crossings. The arching Moon Bridge sits at the far end of Long Life Lake. The Bridge of Accomplishment, renovated in 2010 by Dean Black, Springville, AL, crosses over the lake. It symbolizes the twists and turns one must successfully navigate throughout life and is also called the “zig-zag bridge.” Cut-outs in the cedar panels are important Japanese cultural symbols including fans, cherry and chrysanthemum blossoms, and the leaves of bamboo and Japanese maple. The View-Receiving Bridge lies near the Moore Cultural Pavilion and is so-called because from this vantage point, all the structures in the Japanese Gardens can be glimpsed. The current configuration, designed and built by ZEN Associates replaced the much smaller original in 2011. It was funded by a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Lamar Latimer and Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens through the Beeson Charitable Trust.

Much of the recent work in this garden was called for in a 2007 renovation plan prepared by ZEN Associated. The firm’s principal landscape architects Shinichiro Abe and Peter White have an intimate knowledge of Japanese garden design and construction, and as their company’s name suggests, it is their sole specialty.

* This feature is currently non-operational.
** Please do not touch the trees. This area is monitored for security purposes.
† Closed during April and May to allow new growth.
†† Please enjoy at a distance. This area is monitored for security purposes.

 

Little Ones' Memory Garden

January view of Garden

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Uphill to the west of the Curry Rhododendron Garden lays the Little Ones’ Memory Garden, which was dedicated in October 2005. This is a unique, meditative garden, where the elements of gardens and of nature come together to help heal the grief caused by the loss of a loved one, such as a child. Led by volunteer Virginia Millet, the Little Ones’ Memory Garden Committee oversaw initial fund raising and garden development. This group, which assists with hand-on garden maintenance, is composed of dedicated volunteers including a number of peri- and neo-natal nurses representing area hospitals, as well as parents.

Designed by Richard Hartlage of DietzHartlage Associates of Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, the garden functions as a gathering space for groups from one person to two hundred. Five “memory walls” provide seating options and define rain gardens behind each. During periods of high precipitation, water collects in these areas, rather than quickly running off into storm drains; plants that prefer moister sites thrive in these created microclimates. Plantings encircle the central lawn area and enhance the feeling of an enclosed and private space. To more strongly relate to adjacent gardens, ferns and rhododendrons are featured in the plantings, which also include trees, flowering shrubs and other herbaceous perennials. This garden was funded by numerous private donors and Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens through the Beeson Charitable Trust.

 

McReynold's Garden

Begonia evansii

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Beth McReynolds was the doyenne of Birmingham floral designers and the arbiter of a style she helped to define and popularize. Blending English and Japanese elements with popular plants of the south, she nurtured countless pupils and her style still has many dedicated followers. Designed by George Gambrill and dedicated in 1981, the original McReynolds Garden was removed to accomodate the Blount Education Wing of the Garden Center in 1998. Shortly thereafter, it was relocated to its current location, a wooded area just south of the Southern Living Garden, and rededicated to Ms. McReynolds’ memory in May 2005.

Jody Hamre and Dexter Hambaugh designed the new McReynolds Garden, which again prominently features the plants she used in her arrangements. Many visitors will recognize the fragrant Florida leucothoe, variegated Japanese aucuba, sasanqua camellia, evergreen azaleas and French hybrid hydrangeas. Unusual plants, too, found their way into her creations and into her garden, and here you’ll also see Chinese fringeflower, stewartia, fatsia and Japanese holly fern.

The plants are set out in mixed drifts along a gently curved Bessemer gray brick walk. A small stone terrace incorporates a reflecting pool with antique statuary, adding an architectural note to the wonderfully human-scaled and naturalistic space. Funding for this project was provided by Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens through the Beeson Charitable Trust. Just outside the garden’s entrance sit the finely crafted, wrought iron Lawler Gates, designed by Jim Cooper and given in 1987 by Stanley D. and Sandra Goode Lawler in memory of their fathers.

 

Rushton Garden

Water Feature in Rushton Garden

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The original Rushton Garden was a European-styled garden in front of the Garden Center, featuring lime trees (Tilia sp.) in jardinaires, a formal fountain, and elegant seating amidst a crushed stone terrace. Designed in 1987 by noted landscape architect Robert Zion, and given by Colonel William James Rushton in memory of Elizabeth Perry Rushton, it functioned as an important outdoor activity area. In 1999, the addition of the Blount Education Wing to the Garden Center necessitated its relocation to the western side of the library, and a complete style change. Funded by Billy and LaVona Rushton, the new Rushton Garden saw Mr. Zion return to conceive one of his last creations. Here he crafted a beautiful garden that weaves together naturalistic plantings and water features with a crunchy pebble courtyard and curving stone walls, producing a lush, secluded and casual retreat.

The Rushton Garden provides beautiful and serene views from the Botanical Gardens Library and, located just outside that lobby, makes a great place for reading as the rushing sounds of the cascading waters drown out the surroundings. The gravel courtyard with its café seating is shaded by Dura-Heat® river birches, and the finely-crafted, adjacent stone wall doubles as a more informal bench. The Rushton Garden is a beautiful setting for small outdoor events and may be reserved as part of the Hodges Room in the Garden Center.

 

Southern Living Garden

Border Garden in Southern Living Garden

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Established in 1977, the only public garden that showcases Southern Living – the largest regional magazine in America – is divided into several outdoor rooms that offer countless ideas for homeowners. In one area, a flagstone terrace and seat wall offer a peaceful retreat near a serene pool where the beautiful Echo, (James Barnhill, 1992) admires her reflection. This lifelike and graceful bronze was given in honor of Emory Cunningham upon his retirement from Time, Inc. Nearby, a vast planting of Helleborus orientalis, Lenten rose, under Cornus mas, cornelian cherry dogwood, dramatically kicks off the bloom season in late winter.

Just across an adjacent path, the Southern Living™ Flower Border, re-designed by Mary Zahl in 2002, features vivid season-long color provided by perennials, annuals and foliage plants along a curved stone wall. Genesis (Chris Ramsey, 2000), dedicated in honor of former Southern Living™ editor Gary McCalla in 2001, adds a contemporary sculptural note as it gracefully emerges from the luxuriant plantings that peak in late summer and early fall. Opposite, the cleverly designed wall provides a backdrop for a shrub border showcasing the Southern Living™ Plant Collection from Plant Development Services, Inc., of Loxley, AL. This area also features a secluded lawn area in front that is a favorite place for sun lovers.

At the back of the garden, the Emory Cunningham Native Azalea Walk, designed by Norman Johnson, was dedicated to that distinguished president of the Southern Progress Corporation in 2001. Here, large specimens of hybrid and Alabama native azalea species, such as Alabama, Piedmont and Florida flame azaleas, add their stunning colors and intoxicating fragrances to the spring experience. The larger plants were given by The Gardens at Callaway, also to honor Mr. Cunningham. Other native plantings, including dwarf fothergilla complete the scene and frame a circular stone pool and fountain. A stylish slate-roofed gazebo provides seating nearby and offers views to the lush surroundings. Maintenance assistance in this garden is provided by Time, Inc.

 

Thompson Enthusiast's Garden

Entrance to Thompson Enthusiast's Garden

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This small space across from the Enabling Garden illustrates how all the essential parts of a garden can be incorporated into a modest area, in this case, one resembling the backyard of a suburban or urban townhouse. The symmetrical design features large ‘Natchez’ crape myrtles for canopy, hedges of Ternstroemia and ‘Foster #2’ holly for enclosure and small borders for color. Wooden fences, brick pillars and brick walks add structural elements. Utilitarian features include a compost bin, coldframe and a small tool house that are all fully integrated into the overall design.

Designed in 1987 by the team of Mary Carolyn Boothby, Jody Hamre and Carolyn D. Tynes, the Enthusiast’s Garden was a gift to Lucille Ryals Thompson from her husband Hall and their five children. Initially, espaliered dwarf fruit trees and small vegetable plots took advantage of the ample sun here. With time, surrounding trees and those in the garden have grown and shade has increased; the fruits and vegetables have given way to more appropriate and shade-tolerant annuals, perennials and evergreen groundcovers, illustrating the dynamic nature that is central to all gardens.