Abroms Rhododendron Species Garden

Rhododendron weyreichii

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The botanical genus Rhododendron contains hundreds of species of plants commonly known as rhododendrons and azaleas. This familiar group is broadly distributed in temperate regions all across the northern hemisphere. The diversity of naturally-occurring species (and their proclivity to interbreed) has led to the development of a plethora of hybrid types well-known and much-loved by the average gardener. Lesser known is that a surprising number of species revel in our southeastern heat and humidity, and we grow them here. Broadleaf evergreen species of rhododendrons from the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces of China include the fragrant R. fortuneii and the tough, yet beautiful R. hyperythrum. The latter features prominently in the new Southgate® series of hybrids from the Southern Living™ Plant Collection. Adaptable evergreen azaleas from Taiwan include the fall-blooming R. oldhamii, parent of the popular, repeat-blooming Encore® and Bloom-N-Again® brand azaleas. Deciduous azaleas, mostly from North America, include R. serrulatum that sports jasmine-scented flowers in mid-summer.

This garden was dedicated in 1991 by Harold and Judy Abroms in honor of their grandchildren; it was designed by Norman Kent Johnson. A hidden gem, it is often overlooked by the casual visitor but is a favorite quiet spot to the initiated who might enjoy reading a book under the rustic swing arbor, dedicated to Andy Abroms, or in the similarly-styled gazebo. For the true plant lover, it is a garden where plant surprises await discovery and some of the more uncommon plants in our collection can be found and admired. Some, such as Acer davidii, David’s maple, with its green-striped bark and golden fall color, have graced the garden for years. The evergreen rhododendrons in this garden are in peak bloom in late May, however, other species and deciduous azaleas flower before and after the main show.

In 2012, a number of plantings of small Alabama and Florida native azalea species were installed near the garden entrance and across the stream. These plants are the result of a number of conservation-based seed collections made in partnership with the Mt. Cuba Center in Greenville, DE, and Ron Miller of Pensacola, FL.

Master Plan Note: our current master plan calls for the removal of the obsolete concrete trough and the conversion of this watercourse into a more naturally planted intermittent stream.

 

All-America Selections Garden/Display

Tagetes sp

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All-America Selections are seed-grown annuals, vegetables and bedding plants that have been deemed superior by teams of experts. They are evaluated in AAS Trial Gardens across North America, and displayed in nearly 200 AAS Display Gardens to provide the public with opportunities to view the most recent winners. Begun in 1933, AAS has chosen over 650 winners to date, with several new plants awarded each year.

Located to the north and south of the Conservatory entrance and visible from the entrance drive, our AAS Display Garden greets visitors during the growing season with a blast of color. With the plants laid out in blocks, comparison between AAS winners past and present, and non-winners, is easily facilitated. Taken altogether, gardeners can not only decide which they like the best and in which months they are effective, but see how their form, flowers and foliage might be used in combinations. The AAS garden does not include vegetables, which are grown in the Bruno Vegetable Garden.

Note: This garden is typically planted by 1 May and removed by 15 October.

 

Asian Glade

Paeonia sp

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The Asian Glade lies in between the Japanese Gardens and McReynolds’ Garden, and features selected species, cultivars and hybrids of plants from Asia in a lightly-shaded setting with broad wood-chipped paths. A number of these plants have close relatives native to the southeastern US, and some of those can be found just across the access road in the Barber Alabama Woodlands. A number of little-known plants can be found here, including specimens of Bambusa and Fargesia species – bamboos that clump rather than run – as well as a small collection of Paeonia suffruticosa, tree peony, which is the national flower of the People’s Republic of China. Other plantings include cultivars of Osmanthus, the genus of fragrant, fall-flowering tea and holly olives. On the south edge of this garden, a former drainage ditch has been transformed into a boulder-filled naturalistic watercourse that accommodates stormwater runoff, yet is attractive when dry. A beautiful sweeping path of Alabama bluestone provides access to restroom facilities. The Gardens staff designed this area and Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens provided funding through the Beeson Charitable Trust.

 

Crape Myrtle Garden

Lagerstroemia faurei

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A gift from the Keep Birmingham Beautiful Commission of the city of Birmingham, this garden illustrates the important role that crape myrtles can play in landscape design. With their lower limbs removed, large varieties of these tough, urban-tolerant trees provide an intimate and functional canopy in this stone and brick court, providing enclosure and a respite from the heat. The beautiful exfoliating reddish bark of ‘Natchez’ defines the center, and ‘Biloxi’ and ‘Apalachee’, both with smooth, brown and beige bark, the perimeter.

Of course, the summer blooms are a favorite local flower and the crape myrtle has been designated the official tree of Birmingham. Often, flowering begins as early as late June and can last through mid-September and into October, with the peak bloom somewhere in the middle. Look for many more crape myrtles in the Japanese Gardens and throughout The Gardens. Designed by Michael Kirk, the Crape Myrtle Garden was dedicated in 1995. It is a favorite outdoor classroom and gathering space.

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

 

Curry Rhododendron Garden

Wishing Well

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This 3.5-acre garden features the broad diversity of hybrid rhododendrons and azaleas in all its glory. From late March to late May, blooms from white and cream to red and pink, and from purple and magenta to yellow and orange burst forth in this hillside area. Here, Exbury Azaleas, hybrids of native deciduous Azaleas, evergreen Kurume azaleas, bold Southern Indica azaleas and hybrid rhododendrons can all be seen. As an added attraction, this area also features the recently-developed Encore® series of hybrid azaleas. Developed by Loxley, AL-based Plant Development Services, Inc., these vigorous and colorful plants bloom in spring, follow with a modest repeat performance in mid-summer and, again, strongly, in the fall. A new collection of Alabama-bred Aromi azaleas, developed over decades by the late Dr. Eugene Aromi, is being brought together with the help of nurseryman Maarten van der Giessen of Semmes, AL and we hope to start adding these in 2015-16.

The garden was originally designed by Irvin T. Nelson and built in 1972 under the direction of the Rhododendron Society. In 1975 Clare Curry’s leadership resulted in the planting of over 2,500 rhododendrons, azaleas and companion plants. Though many of the originals have died, replacements and new varieties continue to be added, including trial plantings of the new Southgate® series of hybrids from the Southern Living™ Plant Collection. A natural hollow was transformed by nurseryman C. Beatty Hanna into the Curry Pool, a rocky waterfall and pond, where carnivorous pitcher plants are grown alongside. In 1991, a disastrous straight-line wind hit this area and knocked over scores of mature trees, eliminating much of the shade needed by the plants beneath. The intervening years have seen recovery of t

 

Dunn Formal Rose Garden

Topiary Tempietto

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Originally designed in 1963, and later modified by Robert Kirk in 1988, this beautiful and popular feature is laid out in a classic cross-axial style. The “formal” designation refers to this mirror-image symmetry, rather than to a particular type of rose, although strictly modern roses are featured. Take a deep breath and enjoy tea roses, floribundas, grandifloras, climbers, miniatures and shrub types that bloom in glorious colors from late April until frost. Here, old favorites such as ‘Peace’, ‘Chrysler Imperial’, and ‘John F. Kennedy’ mingle with newcomers like ‘All That Jazz’, ‘Dolly Parton’ and ‘Fourth of July’; our bounty of roses has made this spot a mainstay attraction since The Gardens first opened. Given in memory of William R. J. Dunn, Jr., by his family, the collection in this garden consists of over 150 types of hybrid roses. Formerly an All-America Rose Selection (AARS) Display garden, until that program was discontinued, new AARS award-winning roses are still added each year. A planting of the grandiflora ‘Coretta Scott King’ was added in 2013 and dedicated by Birmingham Mayor William Bell in celebration of 50 years of civil rights progress.

A clipped green wall of ‘Mary Nell’ holly creates solid enclosure along the north edge of the garden, and elegant structures provide architectural counterpoints. At the center, a delicate metal topiary tempietto by artist Mario Villa and dedicated to the Dunn grandchildren, arches over the paths and is a favorite spot for weddings. The tempietto was renovated in 2008 by Robinson Iron, Alexander City, AL, with funding from a gift from the estate of Beverley White Dunn.

In the southeast corner a small terrace offers an elevated view of the Garden Center and the Blount Plaza, with Jesus Moroles’ Granite Garden (1988), gushing below. A finely-crafted, columned cypress pergola, dedicated to Ms. Dunn by her family in 1988, defines the western edge of the garden and offers a shaded respite. At either end of the pergola, large urns, given in honor of Jeanne Cunningham by her husband Emory, billow with lush seasonal offerings. This garden has been actively tended by dedicated members of the Birmingham Chapter of the American Rose Society for nearly five decades.

Last Dance, by Gene Adcock (1994), was added in the east quadrant of the south border in 2005. This abstract bronze was donated by Lucy Dunn McLain in memory of her husband Duncan McLeod and provides a focal point in this area.

Operations Note: Closed to the public one day per week, normally Tuesdays, for maintenance.


Master Plan Note: Our approved master plan shows a matching sculpture node in the west quadrant, and the enclosure of the south edge with a clipped hedge and a new barrier-free access path. This will add a simple, but important, backdrop for the art, will enhance the feeling of a large outdoor room, and improve access.

 

Fern Glade

Selaginella braunii

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This cool, shaded hillside is home to one of our most extensive and important living collections. Hardy ferns from North, Central and South America, Europe, Africa and all across Asia grow very happily in our climate. Some species are displayed in broad sweeps, others in richly textured compositions with woodland shrubs and perennial companions. Others are arranged by genus in a synoptic garden that features Alabama native ferns in one section. BBG’s collection illustrates the broad diversity of this interesting plant group in which sizes vary from miniature to chest-high, and growth habits range from clumping, arching evergreen species to running and scrambling deciduous types. Every imaginable shade and hue of green can be seen in living color and the uncoiling new fronds, called fiddleheads, often appear to be clothed in rich suede and cinnamon.

Concrete paths winding through The Fern Glade have been imprinted with fern fronds and other leaves to create “instant fossils” that children of all ages enjoy. The garden is bisected by a tumbling stream that begins high above and drops down over shelves of exposed bedrock. Here, a boardwalk provides panoramic views and adds a tree-level perspective to the scene. The stream continues down through the garden and ends in a quietly splashing pool and sitting area near the entrance. Originally designed by landscape architect Charles Greiner, this area has been enhanced through the years by other designers, including Jeff Sexton, under the guidance of the dedicated members of the Birmingham Fern Society. Ginny Lusk and Dr. Dan Jones are but two of the tireless volunteers that have brought us national recognition by obtaining an official test site designation from the Hardy Fern Foundation. There are only 10 such designations in the United States.

 

Hess Camellia Garden

Fall Color

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Camellias are plants that are the envy of cold-climate gardeners and we have an excellent collection of these bold broadleaf evergreens on this lightly shaded hillside. Asian members of the tea family, camellias have become synonymous with the Lower South. Locally popular – and justifiably so – is Camellia japonica, the Japanese camellia, which blooms in many variations of pink, white and red during late winter and early spring. It is the state flower of Alabama, and kicks off the flowering season with gusto and pomp. Camellia sinensis, whose leaves are the commercial source of tea, sports its interesting, fragrant white flowers in late summer and fall. Camellia sasanqua, the sansanqua camellia, and its hybrids, flower profusely in the fall and early winter in shades of red, pink and white.

The main entrance to this garden is through the Sara Jones Arbor, a memorial designed by Rob Martin, built by Robinson Iron, Alexander City, AL, and dedicated in 2013. Funding was provided by private donors and Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens through the Beeson Charitable Trust. The main path surface consists of recycled tires and is porous, to aid in stormwater management and erosion control.

The oldest camellias here date from the late 1960s and it was around these that Carolyn D. Tynes designed the present layout in 1987. The garden is dedicated to Nettie Hess and was given by her family and friends. A gently sloping brick promenade with broad stairs at its feet leads to the centerpiece of the garden, a sunken circular terrace of brick with a gently splashing fountain and pool in the center. This is the Ralph and Ruby Davidson Camellia Fountain. Verdant seasonal plantings encircle the pool and elegant wrought iron benches, each adorned with a unique stylized camellia blossom, complete the restful mood. The accommodating layout and serenity of this spot makes it very popular for intimate weddings.

The Turlington Camellia Solar House, given to honor Dr. Lee F. Turlington, the Birmingham Botanical Society’s first president, also graces this garden. Designed by Louis Joyner, and renovated in 2006 with funds from the Beeson Charitable Trust, it illustrates how passive solar energy principles can be employed in a small propagation house. The Olivia Turlington Miller Sasanqua Circle provides another seating opportunity amidst the fall blooms; it was given by her family and friends. Both of these features were dedicated in 1987.

 

Hosta Walk

Hosta Walk

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Located along a crushed stone path just above the Ireland Iris Garden, the Hosta Walk offers visitors a compact look at this popular group of well-known perennials, much admired not for flowers – although many bloom quite well, but for their foliage. Old-fashioned varieties such as the late summer-blooming and fragrant ‘Royal Standard’ can be found here, as well as newer hybrids from across the globe. Come and find your favorites among the 100-plus varieties with leaves of yellow, chartreuse, blue and green (many of which are boldly variegated), textures ranging from glossy to seersucker, and sizes from the tiny 6” ‘Popo’, to the extreme, 4’ wide ‘Sum & Substance'.

Generally tough and reliable, shade-tolerant and relatively pest-free perennials are not easy to come by, and hostas fit this bill in every way. Some are unusually long-lived as well. Formerly members of the large and diverse lily family, recent research has led to them being placed in their own family, Hostaceae, while reinforcing their close kinship to agaves, yuccas and hyacinths. Our Hosta Walk was developed and is maintained with the generous assistance of the Birmingham Hosta Society.

 

Hulsey Woods

Premna japonica

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Given by William Hansell Hulsey in honor of his wife Susan, the Hulsey Woods sets a quiet sylvan tone, and provides understated entrances and exits to the adjacent Japanese Gardens. Originally conceived as an Asian woodland by the donor, the primary canopy is composed of tall, native oak, hickory and loblolly pine. However, new plantings, begun in the mid-1980s, and continued in earnest in 2004, feature natives of China, Japan and temperate regions of southeastern Asia. Many, including species of Asian ash, oak and maples are canopy trees and will slowly replace the others. Recent efforts to expand our collection of Japanese maple cultivars and tea olives were concentrated here as well. This area also features sasanqua camellias, and a number of rare and unusual Asian trees and shrubs. Many interesting blooms can be seen in spring, but autumn brings a strong second season with the fragrance of tea olive, the flowers of sasanqua, and the fall color of Japanese maple holding court from late September through late November.

In February 2005, the initial phase of a new path system and a central gathering space were dedicated as part of the centennial celebration of Rotary International. For this, each Rotary club was challenged to create a project that would benefit their community; funding assistance and hands-on participation were parts of the challenge as well. Under the leadership of members Michael Gross and Ty Robin, Shades Valley Rotary Club, who meet each Monday for lunch in our Garden Center, selected the Hulsey Woods as the location for their Centennial Project. Rotary Clubs from Birmingham, Shades Mountain-Sunrise, and Vestavia Hills, Alabama, and the Osaka Central club from Osaka, Japan, partnered with Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens, the city of Birmingham, Rotary International District 6860, Rotaract Club of Birmingham, Homewood High School Interact Club, and Boy Scout Troop 96 to complete the work.

That influence continued with the gift of a traditional Japanese bell, the Friendship Bell, from the Osaka club, which was cast in Taipei, Taiwan, ROC. The traditionally-styled belfry that houses it was originally designed in Japan; Birmingham architect Wayne Hester designed structural improvements and Douglas Moore and son Michael oversaw construction. An path and terrace of irregular Alabama bluestone leads to and embraces the belfry. These were given in 2008 by the Elmore and Hulsey families and dedicated to the memory Marilyn Williams Elmore. A bluestone landing on the main path was given the same year by Millie and Billy Hulsey. ZEN Associates, Woburn, MA, designed the features, which were built by masons William & Carrigan.

 

Ireland Iris Garden

View of Pool

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Framed by stately evergreen southern magnolias, twin gazebos and sturdy stone garden walls, the Ireland Iris Garden features four terraced borders where a variety of iris species, hybrids (including bearded and Dutch types), and related plants in the iris family are grown. This garden peaks in May and June, but a diverse assortment of choice flowering shrubs, grasses, perennials and annuals complements the irids, as the iris family is known, and extends ornamental interest into the late summer and fall. Designed by Norman Kent Johnson and John Tate, this garden was given by Bill and Fay Ireland and was dedicated in 1986.

From a quiet bench above, the main view leads across the first terrace, down a weathered stone staircase and to a central reflecting pool that commands a small lawn space below. A gracious stone walk encircles the lawn, allows close-up viewing of the opposing borders and links the twin gazebos. The original North Gazebo was given by Dorothy L. Renneker in memory of Sam B. and John H. Renneker. The original South Gazebo, was given by the James C. Lee, Jr. family and Elizabeth L. Frommeyer in memory of James C. and Elizabeth T. Lee. It is flanked by two rock gardens, where curious iris relatives from the southern hemisphere are grown, along with selected succulents, bulbs and dwarf perennials suitable for these features.

The Sunset Border sits across the main road from the Ireland Iris Garden, outside the garden wall. Installed in 2002, it is a contemporary version of a classic mixed border containing shrubs, grasses, perennials, bulbs and annuals. Although the colors in the border are varied, many plants feature flowers, foliage and fruit in a changing array of chartreuse, red, orange and yellow.

Operations Note: The twin gazebos are scheduled for replacement in 2014-15.

 

Ireland Old-Fashioned Rose Garden

Hibiscus syriacus

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Fragrant and colorful describes the roses that are featured in this area, which is arranged in three distinct garden rooms. All roses here were in cultivation prior to 1867, when the first hybrid teas roses were introduced in France, and as such are deemed “old-fashioned”. Known for their spring display and interesting histories, the more than 50 types here include China roses, damasks, Gallicas, moss roses, Bourbons, rugosas and more. Designed by Robert Kirk in 1988, the garden was dedicated to Annette Bickford Ireland and given by her family.

The central portion of this garden in entered through a splendid Moon Gate, given by William C. Ireland and Dorothy T. Fletcher (nee Ireland). The Rose Arbor, given by Joy Ray for her parents Earlston and Alberta, and her sister Kathy, dominates this area, and sees dozens of nuptials per year. The two side areas are entered through rose-festooned Twin Arched Gates, given in memory of Bernard S. Steiner by his wife Dorothy. All of the roses are interplanted with various companion plants selected for texture, fragrance and color. Shrubs in the rose family, including rose of Sharon, kerria, black jetbead and spiraea are planted in the rear of the garden in the dappled shade of towering pines, and offer flowers in early spring, before the roses take over. As summer marches on, waves of foliage and flower color roll through.

Operations Notes: The Moon Gate has been removed for reconstruction. This garden is closed to the public one day per week, normally Tuesdays, for maintenance.

 

Jemison Lily Garden

Hemercallis

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Defined by tall oaks and pines, and characterized by sweeping walls and stairs of native stone, the Jemison Lily Garden contains planting areas ranging in exposure from full sun to dense shade. Designed by Jay Starbuck, the garden was dedicated to the memory of Margaret P. Jemison in1986, and was given by her son John S. Jemison. Traditionally, the lily family was large and diverse, and contained many species both familiar and little-known; recent research has correctly split the former catch-all into about two dozen new families. This garden embraces many of the older designations and takes a less taxonomically rigid approach, embracing a number of plants that are called “lily” but are not true lilies at all.

Daylilies are the backbone of this garden; in their myriad of hues and flower forms, they create a kaleidoscope of color in June and July in the lower, sunnier portions of the garden. Award-winners, Alabama introductions and new introductions are prominently featured and are blended with hardy asparagus, Asiatic lilies, angel lilies, yuccas, rain lilies and canna lilies. At the top of the garden is the Walter Lily Overlook, a shaded and secluded brick seating terrace dedicated to Charles and Arline Walter. In this area, visitors can see lilies-of-the-valley, toad lilies, pineapple lilies, magic lilies, a full range of Solomon’s seals and selected plantain lilies, which are also known as hostas. Here also are voodoo lilies, bizarre plants that produce spring flowers of a most unusual fragrance/odor, perfect for attracting the right pollinators: those that are attracted to rotting animal carcasses.

A 2014 renovation to paths and drainage was designed by landscape architect Joel Eliason of Nimrod Long and Associates. Paths were re-aligned and generous native stone steps were introduced. A porous paving system, featuring recycled tires, was employed and along with new drains aids in erosion control and stormwater management. Numerous plantings were transplanted before the work began and re-established after completion. Funding was provided by Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens through the Beeson Charitable Trust.