If spring of 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that outdoor spaces are a saving grace. Public gardens are an especially wonderful escape, not only for visitors but professionals as well. With travel restrictions lifting, public gardens are reopening all across the South, so you can take along the kids while finding some inspiration for your own landscaping and design projects. Here are a few of our favorites, starting with:
Alabama’s Bellingrath Gardens & Home
This 65-acre estate on Mobile Bay’s Fowl River has been opened to the public since the Great Depression. Mobile Coca-Cola Company President Walter Bellingrath and his wife Bessie placed an ad in the paper inviting anyone who’d like to see their gardens to come free of charge. After an overwhelming response, they decided to open their gardens permanently in 1932.
After Bessie died, Walter dedicated the gardens to the community in her honor.
“These gardens in all their beauty represent her, and must be maintained as a fitting and permanent memorial to her, in the charitable, religious and educational uses to which they are dedicated,” he lovingly bequeathed.
Today, their estate remains one of the Gulf Coast’s top attractions. While the gardens are known for their dazzling camellias and azaleas, in June you’ll find a variety of Allamanda, Angelonia, Begonias, Caladiums, Cape Jasmine, Coleus, Crepe Myrtle, Crotons, Dragon Wing Begonias, Firecracker Cuphea, Frangipani, Hydrangeas, Gardenias, Milkweed, Morning Glory Bush, Pentas, Roses, Shrimp Plants, Salvias, Southern Magnolia, Spiral Ginger, Star Flower, Sunpatiens, Tropical Hibiscus and Zinnias.
Bellingrath’s Rose Garden
You won’t want to miss the spectacular rose garden, designed to resemble the Rotary Club lapel pin Mr. Bellingrath always wore. The rose garden contains 2,000 plants and 36 varieties of roses.
The gardens are run by a staff of more than 60 people, including more than 50 gardeners.
“It’s amazing what our team can do with some seedlings, some pinestraw and an eye for color and design,” says Sally Ericson, director of marketing and public relations. “Our gardeners love experimenting, and with this type of climate, a lot of things grow really well here.”
Ericson says they purchase plants from all over, but try to support local nurseries in Mobile and Baldwin counties, like Shore Acres. Many plants are also grown on site, including the poinsettias and chrysanthemums.
While Bellingrath is quintessentially Southern, there are a few surprising elements not typically found in coastal gardens. A 9-ton triangular monolith was brought in and carved from red granite from Missouri. Bessie also created a rock garden with winding stairs and a waterfall on a washed-out hillside on Mirror Lake. The sandstone rocks were quarried locally from Mobile.
The gardens and home also feature some incredible cast iron work, dating back to the Victorian age. Cast iron column tops salvaged from an 1832 bank building in Mobile now serve as planters. Fiske urns at the Conservatory are from the home of a cotton broker on New Orleans’ famed St. Charles Avenue.
The courtyard in the Bellingrath Home features a wall fountain with tiles from the former Rookwood Pottery Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, which were also used in New York City subways.
“We love coming to work each day to appreciate the outdoors, perpetuate the legacy of the Bellingraths, and provide the public with such a wonderful space,” says Ericson. “We’re ready for visitors!”