Ideas from Our Gardens to Your Home
From Japanese apricot blooms in winter to Iceland poppies in spring, coneflowers in summer, and serviceberry leaves in fall, the Forman Garden demonstrates what is possible with color in a Birmingham garden.
By Molly Hendry
It was a cold, blustery January day when I first discovered the Forman Garden tucked on the northern side of the Conservatory. I was walking briskly toward the warmth of the glasshouses when a burst of translucent, blush pink blooms just beyond caught my eye. The profusion of flowers seemed odd in the depths of January. I quickly detoured toward the soft pink haze to learn more about this intriguing winter-flowering tree. Hanging on the branch was a sign that read:
Prunus mume ‘Josephine’
I made a mental note that we need more of these trees around Birmingham since it seemed to be thriving in its location. It was a perfectly timed bloom, at a moment when you feel as if winter will never end, and its flowers gave a glimmer of hope that spring would indeed come. I learned something unexpected that chilly morning, something I wanted to apply in my own way.
Unbeknownst to me, in that instant, I was fulfilling the vision of the Forman family. The intent of the garden is both to teach local gardeners and to delight visitors from afar with an ever-changing display of color, creating interest in the garden throughout the year. Each day brings new opportunity and promise in the Forman Garden.
The name Forman honors the late James (Jim) Ross Forman Jr., who was an avid Birmingham gardener. Jim and his wife, Mary, downsized to a townhouse just up Lane Park Road from the Gardens, and with a smaller home came a smaller garden. The couple, though, didn’t let tighter space constrain their passion for gardening, and it didn’t take long for the front garden to become a community favorite. New brick terraces were installed on the slope next to the front drive. Often passersby would spot the couple out in the garden and pull off the road to ask the names of plants so they could re-create the plant combinations at their own home. When Jim passed away in 2002, his family chose to establish a garden in his memory across the street at the Gardens to continue the legacy of teaching others how to create a brilliant display in their own gardens.
Conceived by noted gardener and native plant advocate Weesie Smith, who collaborated with Nimrod Long for the architectural design and installation, the Garden serves as a stage for a rousing, yearlong show of floral color. From those first heralding blooms of the Japanese apricot in January, the cast evolves into Lenten roses and sweet-scented paperbush, which give way in spring to the bright faces of Icelandic poppies, envious peony blooms, and delicate Carolina silverbells, followed by a summer chorus of baptisia, phlox, lantana, zinnias, blackeyed Susans, coneflowers, and daisies and finally an epilogue featuring serviceberry’s vibrant fall leaves.
It is because of the continuing generosity of the Forman family that curious gardeners do not need to wait to catch a fellow gardener on the side of the road to answer their questions, but instead can stroll through this beloved Garden, which is always in bloom. And maybe on your next visit something might just capture your attention out of the corner of your eye as it did mine and divert your gardening path to a newfound joy.