Accessible from the Education Wing of the Garden Center, the Arrington Plant Adventure Zone (PAZ) was dedicated in 2012 to Dr. Richard Arrington, Jr., Birmingham’s first African-American mayor, who served from 1979-99. With a background in zoology, Dr. Arrington’s support of The Gardens was underscored by his strong belief in the value of science education for all. Designed by landscape architect W. Gary Smith of Austin, TX, PAZ employs universal design principles, which accommodate people of all abilities, in a modernist style. Varied surfaces underfoot, sinuous raised planters of poured concrete in different heights, a range of plant textures and scents, and a broken-tile mosaic mural depicting local geology and flora are a few of the features. All of the elements of PAZ combine to allow a surprisingly flexible suite of activities to be accommodated in this modestly-sized, enclosed outdoor space.
Home to our Plant Adventures Programs (formerly known as Horticultural Therapy), these programs welcome participants of all abilities and focus on the significance of the interaction between people and their plants and gardens. Ample scientific evidence shows that access to outdoor spaces and engagement in even simple activities that stimulate mind and body improves manual dexterity, mental outlook and developmental progress, and certain activities provide excellent low-impact exercise for those suffering from many types of disabling illnesses. The acts of planting, growing, propagating and nurturing plants provide valuable psychological benefits as well. Our instructors work with participants from across the spectrum of ability, including those with cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s disease, autism and others, and programs both hands-on and passive occur here and in other areas of The Gardens, as appropriate.
October Aerial View
Click here to view the photo gallery of this garden.
Seen through the Queen’s Gates from The Gardens' entrance drive, the stately Conservatory dominates the open, verdant Formal Garden that lies before it. Designed in 1962 by noted glasshouse designer Dr. Henry E. Teuscher, of Montreal, Canada, ours bears a strong resemblance to his greatest creation at the Montreal Botanical Garden. The current three-house configuration was manufactured by Lord & Burnham, considered the foremost company of its kind for over a century. Our building’s modernist style, exemplified by the slanted eaves, is highly unusual in their catalog and only a few examples were ever built, fewer still exist. Invaluable for education, the Conservatory helps us communicate the need for worldwide natural resource conservation, especially to the thousands of children each year who attend our Discovery Field Trips. Six production greenhouses and maintenance facilities support the Conservatory, and here volunteers assist our staff in propagation, re-potting, plant grooming and other horticultural tasks.
Phase I of a major renovation was begun in late 2012 and marked the structure’s 50th anniversary. “Leading Lights” donors for this infrastructure-focused project included Bill and Lyndra Daniel, the Daniel Foundation, The Brooke Family Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, the City of Birmingham and Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens through the Beeson Charitable Trust. Work in this phase included lead and asbestos abatement, glass replacement, steel repairs, vent repairs and automation, new doors and hardware, barrier-free improvements, task lighting, upgrades to electrical and ventilation systems, shade/insulation blankets and a major renovation to the entrance. Jim Smith of Montgomery Smith, Inc., Burlington, KY, designed and oversaw the renovation, which was performed by The Pennington Group, Inc. Temporary exhibits have been installed to facilitate public enjoyment, education programs and other activities.
The Tropical House (center) is the largest clear span glasshouse in the Southeast and shelters a diverse collection of luxuriant tropical plants and understated displays of seasonal hothouse flowers. Tropical plants of commercial importance, such as coconut, banana, vanilla, coffee and cacao (the source of chocolate) are here, as are wondrous tropical species of palms, and rare and ancient cycads and tree ferns.
To the south is the Arid House, a children’s favorite, where many unusual and uniquely adapted plants, such as American agaves, aloes and cacti, Pacific rim plumerias and succulent euphorbias from Africa are displayed. Flowers here never fail to amaze and surprise; they can be seen intermittently through the growing season.
To the north is the former Camellia House. Our approved master plan had called for the evaluation and relocation of the indoor camellia collection in the area, and that was completed prior to the recent renovation when selected specimens were transplanted into the Hess Camellia Garden. Rotating displays of tropical and seasonal color welcome visitors.
New permanent exhibit designs, by landscape architect Rodney Robinson & Associates, Wilmington, DE, were approved in 2013 and will be installed as funding allows. In these, important themes of water, conservation and story-telling are woven through artfully designed displays, engaging features and beautiful and meaningful plant collections. Among other details, which can be seen HERE, the Tropical House will feature pillars of orchids and a rain curtain; the Arid House will show the unique ways water appears in dry climates. The former Camellia House will be transformed into a Eco-House, using solar panels to highlight educational elements and a Gulf of Mexico estuary display. Two additional houses, one at each end are called for as well. To the south, a Persian House with traditional arches and paving, and Mediterranean plants such as citrus and date palm; to the north, a Medicinal House, featuring plants of ethnobotanical importance and a strong conservation message.
Over The Gardens’ 50-year history, several features in and around the Conservatory have been superceded by more recent work: the Samford Orchid Display Room, given in memory of Mrs. Frank P. Samford by her daughter Ann Samford Upchurch and her grandchildren, was removed in 2006. It showcased a small, yet always colorful display of this fascinating plant family. In 1995, a new entrance to the Tropical House was added, given by Arthur Ilges Chenoweth, in honor of Barbara Derr Chenoweth; it was removed in 2013.
Garden Center is open M-F, 8-5p.m.
The 60,000 square foot Garden Center is a focal point of horticultural activity for the metropolitan Birmingham area and all of central Alabama. This neo-classical structure hosts well over 1,000 meetings, classes, flower shows, functions, fundraising events and private parties each year. A number of gracious rooms, some with kitchen access, are available for public rental.
The Garden Center houses Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ Administrative and Reservations Offices, Birmingham Botanical Gardens Library, Blount Education Center, Leaf & Petal at The Gardens (gift shop), Southern Living Lobby, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture and Environmental Center (with state-of-the-art plant diagnostic and micropropagation laboratories), herbarium, Gardens Cafe by Kathy G, Gerlach Plant Information Center and the Arrington Plant Adventure Zone.
As seen today, this elegant stucco building was developed in two phases, following the designs of two local architects. Most recently, the Blount Education Center, including the Southern Living Lobby and Linn-Henley Lecture Hall, was added in 1998 by Rick Sprague of Henry Sprott Long and Associates. Earlier, in 1988, John Carraway’s plan included the Strange Auditorium, restaurant and the Ireland and East Rooms above. In addition, Carraway beautifully united architecture and garden; his Plaza Bridge strides confidently over Blount Plaza, and the Belvedere commands a dramatic view across the Hill Garden directly below, to the Formal Garden in the distance. The Garden Center is open to the public from 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays and most weekends. The Garden Center is normally closed on city holidays.
Exhibits change bimonthly
Named for Gary G. Gerlach, Director of Gardens from 1971-2001, and opened in February 2006, GPIC is a multi-purpose educational area on the Garden Center’s first floor, accessible from inside the building or from outside on Blount Plaza, under the Plaza Bridge. GPIC is the location of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s (ACES) regional Horticulture Hotline, which centralizes gardening assistance and information across nine counties, and is the first stop for visitors with plant questions and plant problems. GPIC functions as an informational link between the living (plants/outdoors) and non-living (library resources/indoors) collections of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and is staffed by volunteer Master Gardeners under ACES’ direction. Rotating educational displays are changed seasonally. The center was designed by architect Ty Cole of Giattina Fisher Aycock, Birmingham, AL, and funded by numerous private donors and Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens through the Beeson Charitable Trust.
Lawler Gates face Cahaba Road
Click here to view the photo gallery of this garden.
The Lawler Gates are located between the McReynolds’ Garden to the south and the Southern Living Garden to the north. These intricately worked, French-inspired decorative iron gates were designed by South Carolina’s Jim Cooper and forged at the Lawler Machine and Foundry Company in Birmingham. Fittingly, they were given to The Gardens in 1987 by Stanley and Sandra Goode Lawler, and dedicated to the memory of their fathers, Edward Goode and Delmas Lawler, the latter having started the foundry in 1933. The Lawler Gates lead out onto Cahaba Road and are opened for special events only.
Click here to view the photo gallery of this garden.
The main entrance to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is off Lane Park Road, where a rough-hewn granite sign marks the way. The entry drive curves gently around Sonat Lake, named for Southern Natural Gas Company, the donor, which is now a part of Kinder Morgan. From here, visitors get a commanding view of the Formal Garden and Conservatory through the Queen’s Gates. Three massive water oaks dominate the highly reflective water body, and a seating area beneath them provides a popular shaded spot for family portraits. On the opposite side, a collection of moisture-loving hibiscus offer up their huge blossoms as summer treats. Aquatic plants featuring hardy water lilies and lotus grace Sonat Lake with their seasonally lush foliage and unique flowers. The area was designed by the local landscape architectural firm of Nimrod Long & Associates, and was dedicated in 1988.
The Moon Tree can be found next to the Dunn Formal Rose Garden in the upper portion of the entry plaza. It is an American sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, that was grown from seed that orbited the Moon with astronaut Stuart Roosa in Apollo 14's command module, while Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell walked on the lunar surface. Roosa, a former smoke jumper with the United States Forest Service (USFS), was approached about bringing the seeds into space and a joint National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA)/USFS project to study the effects of weightlessness on seed germination and seedling growth resulted.
Logo of Apollo 14 courtesy of NASA
Roosa carried 400-500 seeds in his personal kit, which stayed with him as he orbited the Moon in the command module Kitty Hawk in February, 1971. Unfortunately, the seed canisters burst open during the decontamination procedures after returning to Earth, and the seeds were presumed to be no longer viable. The seeds were then sent to the southern Forest Service station in Gulfport, MI, and to the western station in Placerville, CA, to attempt germination regardless. Surprisingly, nearly all the seeds germinated successfully, and the Forest Service had grown on 420-450 seedlings after a few years.
Between 1975 and 1976, as part of the United States' bicentennial festivities many of the seedlings were distributed to a host of state forestry organizations and other public sites. Not only did Birmingham Botanical Gardens receive a tree, other trees were planted in Brazil, Switzerland, at the White House and US Capital building, and were presented to such notables as the Emperor of Japan. Then-President Gerald Ford, speaking at a bicentennial Moon Tree ceremony, called the trees living symbols of "our spectacular human and scientific achievements." The Moon Tree at Birmingham Botanical Gardens was dedicated and planted on February 25, 1976.