Field Trip: Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Irises located in - you guessed it - the Iris garden!

Most Southerners have a thing about gardens. Many, like me, grew up with a backyard vegetable garden where many humid, summer hours were spent pulling weeds, or gathering the day’s burgeoning squash crop, or picking any encroaching critters off my mother’s prized tomato plants. Mostly it was a lot of work, and only as an adult did I think back on what a monumental influence that family garden has had on my way of living and thinking.

The red bridge in the Japanese Garden in Spring. I'm more relaxed just looking at this image. Photo courtesy of Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

Foremost is my innate love of the land that I carry with me always. Then there is the satisfaction found in completing a good day’s work and an appreciation for farmers everywhere (and all the wonderful things they grow). I could go on and on, but I’ll stop by adding just one more thing: that an unassuming family-tended garden showed me that there is beauty all around – at any place, at any given time. Just slow down and pay attention.

There are open spaces for kids (and Dads) to run and play.

That being said, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, located in the quaint hamlet of Mountain Brook, Al (just south and east of the Birmingham city limits), has to be one of the most spectacular public gardens I’ve visited. Yes, they do have a vegetable garden (complete with whimsical rabbit sculpture) and a collection of over 3,000 types of plants in 25 plus thematic gardens and a lovely glass conservatory.

Guarded by a large rabbit sculpture, the vegetable garden showcases some tasty cabbage (and pretty annuals too!).

At most times of the year the garden has something spectacular blooming or sprouting or happening. My family and me were lucky to live close by in the Homewood neighborhood so we visited here many times. It is a wonderful spot for spreading out a picnic either in the Ireland old-fashioned rose garden or the formal garden and grassy queen’s gates near the conservatory. Around every corner is a happy botanical surprise.

Iris blooming beside the pond in the Japanese Garden.

But I think our favorite area must be the Japanese garden. With it’s red curved-top torii, or “gate to heaven”, tranquil tea garden, wonderful stroll garden set around Long Life Lake complete with red footbridge, colorful koi and bamboo grove, it is surprising to realize that you’re still on US soil let alone in the state of Alabama. My 4 year old (and my husband!) loved ringing the friendship bell within the Hulsey Woods garden that is adjacent to the Japanese garden.

Fantastically beautiful Helleborus (hellebore) plantings dot the gardens.

Calling themselves a living museum, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens house the largest horticulture library in the nation and boast a nice collection of outdoor sculptures sprinkled throughout its 67.5 acres. There is also an onsite garden store and a café, that utilizes onsite-grown herbs and ingredients in it’s offerings as much as possible.

Honestly, I would need to write paragraph infinitum to describe all that is offered here. For the serious gardener, southern or not, it must be on your bucket list. And for the casual visitor to the area it should be a top attraction for you, especially if you have kids (or you’re a kid at heart) who love the outdoors. There’s plenty of room to roam and run and relax here – and maybe learn a little something too.

And by the way, admission is free for all, local and visitor alike.

Granite Garden is a sculpture of red granite by Jesus Moroles (1988) located near the entrance. There are shady benches surrounding it - so sit and contemplate awhile.

Honeybees working for a living near the Southern Living themed garden.

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