Gardens of Nature
Discovery Field Trip in Barber Alabama Woodlands
Click here to view the photo gallery of this garden.
This six-acre remnant forest contains the botanical gardens’ oldest native trees, which can be easily seen from the wood-chipped trails that wind through. Dedicated to Julia W. Barber in 1993 and given by her family, the woodland features a self-guided interpretive trail that explores topics in Alabama woodland ecology. Through docent-led Discovery Field Trips here, thousands of school children each year learn about our state’s unique natural assets and the need for their local and regional conservation. The Barber Alabama Woodlands’ importance as an environmental education resource grew strongly under the guidance of volunteer Beverly (Becky) Smith, and is underscored in a number of our education programs.
The Barber Alabama Woodlands contains three distinct habitat zones. The stylized entrance is planted with a variety of plants that favor woodland edges and leads into the relatively dry upland zone. The wet bottomlands contain a swamp crossed by an observation boardwalk constructed of recycled plastics. An intermediate sloping area links the other two zones, each of which has a subtly distinct floral component. This area is an excellent example of the oak-hickory-pine forest that once dominated this state, but as a small, urbanized forest remnant it requires active management. Typical activities here include invasive exotic plant control, trail maintenance, culling undesirable and/or diseased native plants, and planting new native shrubs and perennials. New native trees are also being installed as well, both to diversify the species mix, and to replace senescing specimens which are recruiting poorly due to the high number of seed herbivores, such as gray squirrels and chipmunks, that are present. A number of these plantings are “plant analogues”: native plants are planted in this area, and analogous plants from Asia and Europe are planted across the main access road in the McReynolds Garden and Asian Glade.
With its varied habitats, this area is popular with birders, including members of the Birmingham Audubon Society who partner with The Gardens in a number of programs for children and adults. Interest in this garden waxes and wanes with the growing season, peaking in spring with bright flowers and again in autumn with the burnished tones of fall color.
Click here to view the photo gallery of this garden.
This nationally renowned, seven-acre naturalistic rock garden began in 1966 through the efforts of volunteers Barbara Orr (Bobbe) Kaul, Louise (Weesie) Smith, Margaret Wimberly and Sue Kinner. They retained noted Swiss landscape architect Zenon Schreiber, to transform a severely eroded stream corridor and a stone quarry dating from the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s, into a marvel of natural harmony and beauty. Schreiber’s skill, inspired by the American Arts & Crafts movement, is seen most vividly along the watercourse, where his stylized sandstone walls integrate with the native bedrock, and in how the winding, stone-lined paths blend seamlessly with the site’s challenging and varied topography.
This garden celebrates the incredible diversity of native Alabama woodland flora, and vignettes ranging from the sublime to the stunning unfold at each turn. From late winter through mid-summer, the natural palette of over 400 different trees, shrubs, vines and perennial and annual wildflowers literally changes every day as layer upon layer of emerging growth builds from the ground up; unfolding leaves, flowers and seeds paint a richly colorful and textural pageant. On a given day during this time, visitors can see a beautiful matrix of woodland perennials on the forest floor: rue anemone, bloodroot, yellowroot, trout lily, Atamasco lily, shooting star, golden star, May apple, toothwort, liverwort, bellwort, Solomon’s seal, and galax grow with abandon. They are joined by multiple species of ginger and trillium and selections of our native flowering shrubs including anise-tree, fothergilla, mountain laurel, oakleaf hydrangea, leucothoe, sweetshrub and buckeye. Of particular note are the numerous mature specimens of deciduous native azaleas, with their bright and often fragrant flowers.
Summer and fall wildflowers, among them false sunflower, black-eyed susan, coneflower, cardinal flower and great lobelia, continue the show until the bright hues of autumn, carried on the leaves of black gum, sourwood and Florida sugar maple take the day. A winter stroll reveals a stark and quiet contrast to the rich bounty of the previous seasons. At this time, the woodland takes on a meditative quality, having been reduced to the bare essentials of stems and trunks, in their cloaks of subtle and tawny oranges, browns and grays. Broadleaf evergreen leaves, from tiny and shiny to large and somber, provide distinct counterpoints.
The Kaul Wildflower Garden was dedicated in 1986 and staff and volunteers continue to add new species each year. A recent addition near the gazebo is a collection of bog-dwelling species such as pitcher plants and the curious never-wet, Orontium aquaticum, whose leaves repel water.