Thursday, December 3, 2009

Giving Thanks and Giving Back

This time of year is traditionally a time of giving - thanks, gifts, service and so on. It's no secret that 2009 has been a difficult year for businesses, families, individuals, politicians and, yes, cultural institutions like ours. In light of all of the year's troubles and uncertainty, we have that much more reason to be thankful. The 2009 Spring Plant Sale had its biggest year of all time, as did the Fall Plant Sale just a few weeks ago. Antiques at The Gardens brought in more than $300,000 and attendance to Cocktails in The Gardens more than doubled that of 2008.

All of these great events help us further our mission to promote public knowledge and appreciation of plants, gardens and the environment. Among The Gardens' largest undertakings are the free Discovery Field Trips we offer from September-May. In the 2008-2009 school year, the number of children from Birmingham City Schools attending these unique, award-winning field trips increased 9%; attendance from Bessemer City Schools increased an impressive 36%! Of course we would not be able to offer these programs for free if not for the help from Junior League of Birmingham or Vulcan Materials, who offer transportation reimbursement for Birmingham City and Bessemer City Schools, respectively. The Junior League also provides us with a team of dynamic and loyal volunteers to serve as docents on Discovery Field Trips.

Our Horticultural Therapy program won its first national award, the John Walker Community Service Award, this summer. The program keeps growing, servicing over 2,400 clients last year, with the help of increased media attention and grants. The launch of the P.L.A.N.T. program, which pairs exceptional students with mentors from independent living facilities, was a huge milestone.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Horticultural Therapy Program Wins John Walker Community Service Award

Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ horticultural therapy program has won the 2009 John Walker Community Service Award from the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA). This is the first national honor won by the program, which is managed by Horticultural Therapy Coordinator Susan Grimes with help from a team of dedicated volunteers. The John Walker Community Service Award is given each year to an organization that has made a “significant contribution to horticultural therapy in the area of program services provided for a community.”

“This award reinforces The Gardens’ outstanding commitment to service in the community,” said Ms. Grimes, who traveled to California this past week to accept the honor. “It places Birmingham Botanical Gardens in the same company as other prestigious gardens throughout the United States.” The only other public gardens to win the award in the past were Chicago Botanic Garden in 1987 and the Holden Arboretum in 1981.

Horticultural therapy uses gardening as a rehabilitation and life-enrichment tool for a diverse population that includes people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, physical limitations, mental and emotional impairment or other special needs. Some of The Gardens’ clients include United Cerebral Palsy, Children’s Hospital, St. Martin’s in the Pines and Putnam Middle School. For more information about Birmingham Botanical Gardens' horticultural therapy program, go to or call 205.414.3950.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fall Plant Sale Extended to Two Days!

Saturday, October 17
9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sunday, October 18
Noon-4 p.m.

As you've no doubt noticed, autumn has arrived and the weather is cooling down in a hurry, which means it's the perfect time for planting! Plants enter dormancy, soil is very warm with excellent moisture content to promote healthy root development and rapid plant establishment before spring.

We've extended our Fall Plant Sale to two days this year to offer more plants than ever before. The annual autumn event is a one-of-a-kind ritual for local gardeners, new homeowners and plant aficionados who come out to The Gardens to stock up on everything they need for their homes and gardens. Scroll down for a list of the plant varieties that will be available.

Proceeds benefit our mission to promote public knowledge and appreciation of plants, gardens and the environment. For more information, contact Shelly McCarty at 205.414.3965.

Below is a list of plants that we will have available this weekend:
  • Annuals
  • Bedding plants
  • Biannuals
  • Camellias
  • Daylilies
  • Fall lettuces
  • Ferns
  • Herbs
  • Hostas
  • Irises
  • Natives
  • Perennials
  • Shrubs
  • Trees
  • and much, much more...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Local Garden Clubs Reforest George Ward Park

Little Garden Club and Red Mountain Garden Club are teaming up with Birmingham Botanical Gardens and holding a tree planting ceremony at George Ward Park on Saturday, October 24 at 8 a.m. to reforest what is considered the gem of the Birmingham park system. The Garden Club of America (GCA) issued a challenge to its affiliated clubs across the nation to develop and enact a project in their local community focusing on trees to celebrate and honor 100th anniversary in 2013.

The Garden Club of America itself is doing a renovation project in New York City's Central Park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, Sr. The city of Birmingham commissioned his son, Frederick Olmstead, Jr., to develop the Birmingham park system, beginning with the "naturalistic" Green Spring Park, now known as George Ward Park. Since the creation of the park, however, not one native seedling has been able to take root and mature because of the poor soil conditions and erosion problems in the park.

Henry Hughes, director of education at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, has been collecting and germinating blackjack oak, post oak and red hickory seeds from the older park trees for the past two years for future planting. Part of the project includes scattering clippings and brush throughout the park to regenerate the soil’s organic nutrients; it is believed that seeds from the native trees will eventually germinate naturally, initiating the forest’s self-regeneration over time. Birmingham Park and Recreation Board, the Glen Iris Neighborhood Association and Friends of George Ward Park are also contributing to the project.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Notes from the Field: Part 1

Native Stewartia
by Frederick R. Spicer, Jr.
Executive Director

Flowers of Stewartia malacodendron (silky stewartia). Both species can have purple stamens, but the united style, clearly seen at the center of the flower, is diagnostic for S. malacodendron. The style of S. ovata is divided into five distinct parts. Image taken on 5/16/2008 at Oak Mountain State Park, Shelby County, AL.
In May of 2003, in a densely wooded buffer area off a cul-de-sac in a small residential neighborhood of Vestavia Hills, AL, I saw Stewartia malacodendron (silky stewartia) in the wild for the first time. Despite the inherent thrill (a minor Holy Grail for me, anyway) of seeing an uncommon plant in its native habitat for the first time, it was an otherwise inauspicious beginning for what has become somewhat of a seasonal rite for several botanical institutions now cooperating to study this handsome native plant and Stewartia ovata
(mountain stewartia), its close relative (see the maps at the end of this post for more information on native habitats in the U.S. and in Alabama).

These institutions (in alphabetical order) are Atlanta Botanic Garden (Atlanta, GA, represented by Storza Woods curator Jamie Blackburn), Birmingham Botanical Gardens (represented by me and Patrick Daniel, curator of the Kaul Wildflower Garden), Mt. Cuba Center (Greenville, DE, represented by director Rick Lewandowski), and Polly Hill Arboretum (West Tisbury, MA, represented by director Tim Boland). It would be a huge mistake to say this kind of work happens in an institutional vacuum, and only among those listed. A number of individuals, businesses and other institutions have played, and perhaps will play, a role in stimulating and augmenting our efforts.

However, one person, a nursing professional with an unassuming demeanor, an unabated love of nature and an uncanny knack for plant-sleuthing, deserves special mention for his important place as the team’s keystone. After all, he’s the one who knows where many of the Stewartia are. Jack Johnston has been hunting, and more importantly finding, native stewartias in the woodlands of the southeastern US for over two decades. Interested in plants and gardening since his youth, Johnston had seen pictures of stewartias in books, but it took a first-hand experience with a flowering Stewartia malacodendron in an Alabama forest to seal his interest. Remembering that introduction, Johnston says, “I was amazed by the beauty of those flowers.”

Jack Johnston harvesting seed of Stewartia malacodendron. He employs a six-foot long, specially-hooked stick carved by him for this purpose (seen at right-center of image). With it, he can easily extend his reach and grasp, and gently bend higher seed-bearing branches to hand. Image taken 9/14/2007 along the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River, Blount County, AL
From his home near Lake Rabun, in northeastern GA, Johnston has scoured numerous coves, hollows and riverine hillsides in AL, FL, GA, NC, SC, and TN for his horticultural Brigadoon. He quickly determined that special conditions were needed for either species to prosper in the wild. Young, crowded forests simply created too much shade. On the other hand, older, “stable forest conditions, with sufficient canopy gaps, were the most likely places to locate the plants. So I confined my searching to old forests, in specific locations with the right amount of moisture.” Johnston not only finds stewartias, he has also been collecting seeds, taking cuttings, propagating them (no easy task), growing them, and giving them away; he’s been a virtual one-person Stewartia promotion society, and he’s quite good at it.

My own experience with Stewartia was, until I moved south, confined to the deciduous Asian species, and it is with these species that most gardeners are familiar. In my former, more northern plant pursuits in New Jersey, I grew Stewartia koreana (Korean stewartia), S. monadelpha (tall stewartia), S. pseudocamellia (Japanese stewartia), S. rostrata (beaked stewartia), and S. sinensis (Chinese stewartia). With their gorgeous white summer flowers, outstanding fall color, pest-free nature, exquisite bark, and clean winter habit, they are among the most highly-prized four-season small trees; reams have been written about their enduring and endearing beauty. Yet these are truly plants of colder climes and they all have trouble growing in the unrelenting high heat and humidity, often coupled with droughts, found in most low-elevation southern locations.

We have several plants of Stewartia here at The Gardens, probably S. koreana, but they flower weakly and lack general vigor. I’m being kind; a more accurate description would be that they are generally in decline (bless their hearts). Similar stories can no doubt be found throughout the south, especially, I imagine, among northerners who moved south to satisfy their “zone envy”. A balmier clime gave them the ability to grow previously not-quite-hardy plants (and they could toss their snow shovels, too), but they lost the ability to grow some of their former favorites in the process, Asian Stewartia among them. Gardening, like life, is about choices.

However, the genus Stewartia (or Stuartia, in deference to our British friends, or other admirers of John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, after whom the genus was named but whose surname was misspelled by Linnaeus, the bestower of the generic plant name) is represented by two species in eastern North America and both have southern affinities: the aforementioned Stewartia malacodendron (silky stewartia) and S. ovata (mountain stewartia). From a strictly ornamental perspective, these are inferior to the Asian species, smaller, too, and in any event are not well-adapted to bitterly cold winters. The Rutgers Gardens, my collegiate plant-hunting haunt in New Brunswick, NJ, had a specimen of S. ovata. It looked like so much horticultural detritus next to its handsome Asian brethren, so I didn’t give it much thought at that time.

Subsequently, I saw both native species in several southern arboreta (North Carolina Arboretum and Biltmore Estate in Asheville) before moving here, and despite not having exfoliating bark and brilliantly multi-hued fall colors like their Asian cousins, their conspicuous flowers (and dapper dispositions in a favorable climate) were enough to make me covetous. Soon after arriving in Birmingham, local plant savant Michael Steiner (now a practicing architect in New York City) directed me to a small population of S. malacodendron in Vestavia Hills, not four miles from The Gardens. I crawled through the underbrush, and pulling the smilax thorns out of my arm, tripped into a small stream. After clearing some spider webs from my face, I looked up, saw the unmistakable flowers, and was instantly smitten.  I could have my southern home and stewartias, too. So I quickly obtained several small specimens and had them planted here at The Gardens; they promptly died. I planted one in my home garden; it died within days. Clearly I was doing something very wrong, but what? Tales of local gardeners were filled with experiences similar to my own. These plants were apparently very difficult to cultivate. But why?

Sometime plants are uncommon, as my friend the eminent Rutgers University plant-breeder Dr. Elwin Orton would say, for a reason. He was referring to plants with very limited ornamental appeal. To him, such plants were simply not worth having, as there were many better (read: prettier) plants that should occupy valuable real estate in finite garden spaces. But these were not some obscure Amelanchier or Crataegus lacking in horticultural distinction and without friends in botanically high places. These were stewartias, certainly with enough ornamental (if not nomenclatural) clout to hold their own. I was very curious about their apparent lack of natural abundance and garden popularity

I knew peripherally that our native stewartias had very limited native distribution, and this was confirmed with some research. I assumed (correctly, as it turned out) that their habitat preferences were pretty specific, a common trait with uncommon plants. I knew they were scarce in commerce, too, assuming (correctly again) that they were relatively difficult to propagate. Perhaps viable seed was difficult to come by, or cuttings were reluctant to root. Now I was learning that even very good gardeners had more than a little trouble getting either species to thrive in a garden setting. With so many easier things to grow, why would anyone waste time, money and (yes, Dr. Orton), space with recalcitrants? Oh, but this is precisely what some gardeners do (or wish they could do).

A short digression: the appellation “camellia” often replaces “stewartia” in the common names I hear locally, and in fact, those names are somewhat widely-accepted for our native species (but, interestingly, not for the Asians). This makes some sense: true camellias and stewartias are both members of the Theaceae, the tea family (Camellia sinensis, the tea of commerce, being the family’s standard-bearer), and the flowers of both are superficially similar in appearance and structure. Nevertheless, I sometimes feel that referring to one plant by using the name of another diminishes one, or both, of the plants in question. Camellia japonica, despite its heat-loving tenacity and the buckets of giant flowers it unleashes in the dead of winter, is a bit on the stodgy side, if you ask me; “graceful” is just not a word that comes to mind. So I’ll stick to stewartia; on its own it’s enough of a compliment.

Distribution map of Stewartia malacodendron 
(silky stewartia) by state

Populations within this overall area are widely and irregularly distributed due to specific habitat preferences. Populations typically consist of low numbers of individuals. They are generally found on sloping, well-drained soils in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain, in gaps in mature forests, and often near streams and rivers, but above seasonal flood levels.
Distribution map of Stewartia malacodendron 
(silky stewartia) by Alabama county
Spotty distribution is typical for the species and S. ovata (mountain stewartia) throughout their respective ranges. The latter is generally found in higher elevations such as in the Ridge and Valley and Southeastern Appalachian provinces, but has the same habitat preferences as the former.
PLANTS profile for Stewartia (stewartia). Retrieved August 24, 2009 from the USDA website:

Look for Part2...coming soon!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Do you have what it takes to be featured on the cover of The Garden Dirt?

We are looking for photos for the cover of our member newsletter throughout 2010! We'll choose six  photographs for the cover of The Garden Dirt and an article about the image and why The Gardens is important to the photographer. Each winner will receive also a free membership to The Gardens for one year and have their photo seen by 10,000 people.


Remember that this is a cover contest, not a photo contest. You must follow these rules when capturing your photograph.

  • Your photo MUST feature people using The Gardens. We will not consider any other photograph;
  • Photos must be at least 1600 X 1200 pixels at 300 dpi;
  • Images must be portrait (vertical) orientation. Horizontal photos cannot be considered;
  • There can't be any critical content in the top 1/3 of the image (see image to the right);
  • Photos must be submitted by the deadlines in the editorial calendar below.

The Garden Dirt is published every other month, so you've got several shots at winning! Give it your best shot (sorry, we couldn't resist the easy pun)!

Tentative Editorial Calendar*
Publication DatePhoto Submission DeadlineEditiorial Deadline
January/FebruaryNovember 2November 16
March/AprilJanuary 4January 15
May/JuneMarch 1March 15
July/AugustMay 3May 17
September/OctoberJuly 1July 15
November/DecemberSeptember 1September 15
*deadlines subject to change

Please submit your photos to Andrew Krebbs at Give us a call at 205.414.3950 if you've got any questions!

Here are some more examples of past covers:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Volunteer Opportunities at The Gardens!

When you volunteer at The Gardens, you are both giving something back to our community and helping us to fulfill our mission. Our mission to promote public knowledge and appreciation of plants, gardens, and the environment depends upon a diverse team to act as stewards of this great resource called Birmingham Botanical Gardens. A quality volunteer base is a collection of people from every background, race, religion, socioeconomic status, and age. We rely on countless hours of dedication from local gardeners, retirees, educators, business leaders, young people, and philanthropists who volunteer their time and expertise to maintain our gardens, grow giving, and enhance lives with plants.

Thousands of area school children count on our ability to provide science-based learning experiences through progroms such as Discovery Field Trips, Children's Summer Workshops, and HollyDay Magic; these educational journeys are all made successful with the help of our docents, committees, and other volunteers. In 2008, well over 200 volunteers gave more than 7,000 hours of their time in support of education programs alone (not to mention events, office support, and those who work in the gardens themselves).

From student to baby-boomer, gardening pro to marketing whiz, we have an opportunity to get involved and make a difference for everyone. If you want to help but you're not sure what you would like to do, give us a call (205.414.3950)! We're more than happen to sit down and talk to you about your life story and what you bring to the table.

Watch a video tribute to our fantastic 2009 Spring Plant Sale volunteers!

Below are some of the current opportunities, but rest assured, there are plenty more!

  • Thursday, October 8 from 5:30-8:30 p.m.;
  • Volunteers may work two-hour shifts from 5-7 p.m. or 7-9 p.m.;
  • Volunteer positions include: cashiers, checking ID, counting attendees, drink sales;
  • Each volunteer receives free admission plus one free ticket for a guest;
  • Contact Carolyn Snow at 414-3962 or
  • Saturday, October 17 from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. & Sunday, October 18 from 12:00-4:00 p.m.;
  • Set-up is Friday, October 16 from 12:00-5:00 p.m.;
  • Teen volunteers needed to load customers’ cars and work in hospitality;
  • Volunteers may work two or more hour shift(s), depending on day and time;
  • Adult volunteer positions available include cashiers, totalizers, counters, hospitality, membership, box builders, floaters, and line monitors;
  • Contact Carolyn Snow at 414-3962 or
  • Thursday, December 3 and Friday, December 4 from 3:30-5:30 p.m.;
  • 24 adult volunteers for planning committee;
  • 60 volunteers needed to assist children with holiday crafts and projects;
  • Contact Phyllis Sutton at 414-3958 or
  • Volunteers needed to assist with horticultural therapy sessions;
  • Volunteers needed for maintenance of beds, containers, and greenhouse.
  • Contact Susan Grimes at
  • Library assistants needed to help with daily activities;
  • Various time slots are open each day;
  • Contact Hope Long at 414-3931 or

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Already Halfway Through Summer!

It's hard to believe summer is already halfway gone! The Gardens are absolutely stunning right now, so if you can stand the heat, bring a water bottle, or even a picnic basket, and give yourself a tour and check out what's new! (And if you can't stand the heat, I recommend stopping for a delicious and affordable lunch in The Gardens Cafe by Kathy G. Or peruse through Leaf & Petal at The Gardens' ever-changing assortment of knick knacks, gifts, and plants.)

While Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens doesn't have a lot of events going on during the summer, there are other reasons to come by or get involved. The Southern Institute of Photography has one remaining workshop this summer; Wedding and Bridal Photography is a special weekend class Saturday, July 18 and Sunday, July 19.

Currently, Children's Summer Workshops are still going on after a brief recess for Independence Day last week. Our Children's Summer Workshops are a great way to continue your child's education during the summer months in a fun, new & exciting way. (Not to mention keeping them active and off the couch!)

We are offering a 20% Frequent Camper Discount to any children who have previously attended a workshop. Give us a call and mention that your child has been to one of our camps (or if your child is registered for an upcoming workshop, the discount applies to any other camps you register for). You will need to call Ellen Hardy at 414.3953 to register as a Frequent Camper.

Below is a list of remaining Children's Summer Workshops

Summer Garden Chefs (5K-2nd grade)
July 13-17
We’ll harvest summer vegetables from the Bruno Vegetable Garden, fragrant herbs from the Herb Terrace, mix up tasty cuisine each day using fresh ingredients we’ve harvested, paint an apron, and plant your very own kitchen garden to take home! Afternoon Session.

Summer Garden Chefs (3rd-5th grade)
July 13-17
We’ll harvest summer vegetables from the Bruno Vegetable Garden, fragrant herbs from the Herb Terrace, mix up tasty cuisine each day using fresh ingredients we’ve harvested, paint an apron, and plant your very own kitchen garden to take home! Morning Session. Afternoon Session.

Digging, Planting, Wiggling, Exploring (5K-2nd grade)
July 20-24
We’ll explore a different Garden every day, make nature treasures, and keep our eyes open as we look up close at some of the most amazing plants in The Gardens along with discovering many creatures such as birds, frogs, fish, and insects. Morning Session. Afternoon Session.

Painting, Pounding, Picking, Pressing (5K-2nd grade)
July 20-24
Come along for a summer adventure filled with splashes of color, pounding of leaves and petals, picking and pressing of plant materials, and more! Join the fun while making discoveries about our Gardens. Morning Session. Afternoon Session.

Art and Yoga Camp: Stretch Your Creativity (5K-2nd grade)
July 27-31
Facilitated by artist Hilary Moreno and yoga instructor, Susanna Whitsett, this combination camp will allow children to explore color, texture, shape, movement, sound, and silence. In addition, children’s literature, walks through The Gardens, and take-home projects will inform the daily themes. Morning Session.

Paint your Impressions of Nature (3rd-5th grade)
July 27-31
Explore the Gardens; discover the beauty that has inspired artists for centuries! Learn to paint in the style of Monet and other Impressionists while creating a style of your own. Mix colorful paints to create beautiful works of art. A special addition will be photography out in The Gardens and designing your own note cards. Morning Session. Afternoon Session.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Discovery Field Trips Bring Science to Life for Thousands of School Kids

The 2008-2009 school year was one of the most succesful for Discovery Field Trips in the history of Birmingham Botanical Gardens, continuing the record-setting trends for the year. Last year more than 10,000 school children visited The Gardens on nearly 450 field trips.

Discovery Field Trips, one of the programs at the heart of our education mission, are free to participants thanks to support for transportation from the Junior League of Birmingham and Vulcan Materials Corporation. Birmingham City Schools increased 9% over last year and Bessemer City Schools increased 36%, accounting for a great deal of the success.

We also owe our most sincere thanks to the wonderful volunteers for a successful year. These talented volunteers work as a team to welcome students and teachers; they guide them on educational journeys that bring the kids' classroom studies to life. All six award-winning Discovery Field Trips are science-based programs that correlate with the Alabama State Course of Study and are aligned with the National Science Education Standards.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Gardening Tips for July

Here are some good tips for gardening in Alabama during the month of May. We update these regularly each month, so stay tuned for more in the Gardening Tips series!

Tips courtesy of Alabama Cooperative Extension System; for more information, see

  • Protect figs and other ripening fruit from birds.
  • Continue to root shrub cuttings until late in the month and mulch to keep soil moist.
  • Remove faded blooms promptly from crape myrtle and other summer-blooming plants.
  • In lawns, watch for diseases. Mow regularly, and water as needed.
  • Keep roses healthy and actively growing.
  • Apply fertilizer as needed. Wash off foliage to prevent burning if any fertilizer falls on plants.
  • Water annuals and perennials as needed to keep plants active.
  • Iris and spider lily bulbs may be planted late this month.
  • Keeping flowers, shrubs, trees, and lawns healthy is the major task this month. This demands close observation for insects and diseases, and frequent watering.
  • Plant beans, field peas, rutabagas, squash, New Zealand spinach, and Irish potatoes. Plant cabbage, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and celery for the fall crop.
  • Plant tomatoes in Central and North Alabama.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cocktails in The Gardens Music Lineup

THIS JUST IN: Cocktails in The Gardens has its best music lineup to date! Cocktails in The Gardens presented by smart center Birmingham is in its third season, and it keeps getting better.

Birmingham indie-acoustic rising star Matthew Mayfield kicks off the first of three Cocktails in The Gardens on August 13. Todd Simpson & Mojo Child bring the blues to The Gardens on September 10 with their flare for southern and classic rock. Birmingham darlings The White Oaks, best described as a unique gospel-inspired, indie garage band, take the stage October 8 for the last Cocktails in The Gardens.

Last year, over 1200 came out to enjoy the music, food, mixing, mingling and cocktails. The Gardens Cafe by Kathy G is catering the spread of hors d’oeuvres and signature drinks this year. Tickets are only $10, but members of The Gardens get in free.

Many thanks to this year's sponsors: smart center Birmingham at Crown Automobile, Live100.5, The Gardens Cafe by Kathy G, RealtySouth’s Young Realtors Council, Southeastern Attractions, Fox 6, Birmingham Magazine, Birmingham Home & Garden and Cool People Care.

Staff Retreat

The staff of Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens closed the office for the annual staff retreat on Friday, May 29. On our way to our destination, we stopped at a dive called Twix & Tween in Centreville, AL and enjoyed catfish, fried pickles, onion rings and their famous icebox pies. We then went to Perry Lake, an oxbow lake of the Cahaba River, a characteristically “Southern” swamp with bald-cypress and tupelo trees covered in Spanish moss and supporting clusters of the shrub Itea, still blooming, at their bases.

We owe a special thanks to the Cahaba River Society's Randy Haddock for giving us the tour and allowing us to explore the unique and beautiful swamp right off the Cahaba, at no cost to The Gardens.

Below are a few pictures of the fun 'field day.'

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gardening Tips for May

Here are some good tips for gardening in Alabama during the month of May. We update these regularly each month, so stay tuned for more in the Gardening Tips series!

Tips courtesy of Alabama Cooperative Extension System; for more information, see

Fruits and Nuts
  • Continue spray program.
  • Keep grass from around trees and strawberries.
  • Peaches and apples can still be budded.
  • Newly planted shrubs need extra care now and in coming weeks.
  • Don’t spray with oil emulsions when temperature is above 85 °F.
  • Now is the best time to start lawns from seed.
  • Water new lawns as needed to prevent drying.
  • Keep established lawns actively growing by watering fertilizing and mowing.
  • Spray weeds in lawns with proper herbicide.
  • Spray or dust for insects and diseases.
  • Fertilize monthly with complete fertilizer or rose special.
  • Container-grown plants in flower may be planted.
  • Prune climbing roses after the first big flush offlowering.
Annuals and Perennials
  • Late plantings of bedding plants still have time to produce.
  • Watch for insects on day lilies.
  • Summer bulbs started in containers may still be planted.
  • Do not remove foliage from spring flowering bulbs.
  • Do not let seedheads form on tulips and other spring flowering bulbs.
  • Mulch new shrub plantings if not already done.
  • Avoid drying out new shrub, tree and lawn plantings.
Vegetable Seeds
  • Plant heat-loving and tender vegetables.
  • Start cauliflower, brussels sprouts and celery in coldframe for fall garden.
Vegetable Plants
  • Plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and sweet potatoes.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Spring Plant Sale 2009 - Most Successful Ever!

Despite a lingering financial crisis, last weekend's Spring Plant Sale was the most successful of all time. In its 40th year, Birmingham Botanical Gardens' annual sale brought in over $265,000 with nearly 7,400 visitors coming through the doors. There were more than 85,000 plants available with the Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' being the signature plant (which was clearly a hit, as it sold out on Saturday).

This massive undertaking was made possible by the hundreds of loyal and knowledgeable volunteers at Birmingham Botanical Gardens. As any volunteer-based organization can atest, these tireless workers are the heart and soul of Birmingham Botanical Gardens; from working events to sitting on committees to being field trip docents, our volunteers do it all.

Money earned at the Spring Plant Sale goes to Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens' education programs and activities. Friends' mission is to promote public knowledge and appreciation of plants, gardens, and the environment and to receive, raise and administer resources for these purposes. Some of these programs include Discovery Field Trips, Children's Summer Workshops, Adult & Family Classes and Horticultural Therapy. Last year more than 10,000 school children were able to take advantage of the free Discovery Field Trips to learn about science and nature.

Stay tuned for some fun videos and pics from the Spring Plant Sale

Friday, April 3, 2009

Gardening Tips for April

Here are some good tips for gardening in Alabama during the month of April. We'll update these regularly each month, so stay tuned for more in the Gardening Tips series!

Tips courtesy of Alabama Cooperative Extension System; for more information, see

Fruits and Nuts
  • Season for strawberry planting continues.
  • Start spray program for all fruits.
  • Plant raspberries and blackberries and continue budding apples and peaches.

  • Prune spring flowering shrubs after flowering.
  • Fertilize azaleas and camellias.
  • When new growth is half completed, spray all shrubs with a fungicide.

  • Planting continues.
  • New lawns may need supplementary watering.
  • Also, fertilize at 3- to 6-week intervals.
  • Keep ryegrass cut low, particularly if over planted on bermuda lawns.

  • Watch for insects and diseases
  • Keep old flower heads removed
  • Plant container-grown plants from nurseries or garden centers.

Annuals and Perennials
  • Plant early started annuals or bedding plants from nurseries or garden centers.
  • Divide mums or root cuttings.
  • Dig and divide dahlias.

  • Plant gladiolus, fancy-leaved caladiums, milk and wine lilies, and ginger and gloriosa lilies.
  • Feed bearded iris with superphosphate and spray for borers.
  • Avoid cutting foliage of narcissus or other bulbs until it has turned brown naturally.

  • Spray camellias, hollies, etc., for scale insects.
  • Carefully water new plantings of shrubs and trees.
  • Pinching out tips of new shoots promotes more compact shrubs.

Vegetable Seed
  • Plant tender vegetables such as beans, corn, squash, melons, and cucumbers.
  • Plant heat-loving vegetables in lower South Alabama.

Vegetable Plants
  • Plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, sweet potatoes, and parsley.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Class: Medicinal Plants of North America

Medicinal Plants of North America

Instructor: Tellur Fenner, Clinical herbalist/educator, Oakland, CA

North America is home to a diverse array of medicinal plants long valued for their therapeutic effects. We will explore both common and lesser known plants used historically and presently in American herbal practice. Indoors, we’ll discuss the basic taxonomical and phytochemical characteristics of selected plant families.

Outdoors, we’ll observe many species of medicinal plants of the southeast U.S. Preparation methods, harvesting ethics, and botanical safety issues will be addressed. We’ll conclude with a simple medicine-making demonstration.

Sunday, March 22
Noon – 5 p.m.
$40 Members/$80 Non-Members

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Gardening Tips for March

Here are some good tips for gardening in Alabama during the month of March. We'll update these regularly each month, so stay tuned for more in the Gardeing Tips series!

Tips courtesy of Alabama Cooperative Extension System; for more information, see

Fruits and Nuts

  • Continue strawberry and grape plantings.
  • Bud apples and peaches.
  • Start planting blackberries.
  • Remember, if weather conditions prevent prompt planting, heel the plants in by placing the root system in a trench and covering the soil.
  • Fertilize shrubs (except azaleas and camellias) according to a soil test.
  • Late plantings may be made, particularly if they are container-grown.
  • Watch shrubs for harmful insects.
  • Plant bermuda, zoysia, and centipede in South Alabama.
  • Seed bluegrass and grass mixtures in North Alabama.
  • Fertilize established lawns.
  • Watch new growth for aphids.
  • Begin a spray or dust program.
  • Begin fertilizing.
Annuals and Perennials
  • Tender annuals may be planted in South Alabama.
  • Check garden centers for bedding plants.
  • Plant gladiolus every two or three weeks if a long blooming season is desired.
  • Plant tuberous begonias in pots.
  • Plant dahlias.
  • Check and repair sprayers, dusters, and lawn mowers.
  • Control lawn weeds with chemicals.
  • Delay pruning of fruiting shrubs such as cotoneasters, pyracanthas, and hollies until after flowering.
Vegetable Seeds
  • Plant hardy crops recommended for January and February.
  • After danger of frost is past, plant tender vegetables.
Vegetable Plants
  • Plant cabbage, onions, lettuce, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts in North Alabama.
  • Plant tomatoes and peppers in lower South Alabama.

Visit the Gerlach Plant Information Center inside the Garden Center during March and April for the exhibit Tomatoes: there is more to this crop than you think!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cool Design Class This Saturday

Pictured above is the Forman Garden at The Gardens

Ever planted a spring flower bed and ran short of plants or had the front plants out grow the back plants? James Horton, Director of Horticulture at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, is teaching a class called Seasonal Flower Bed Design this Saturday (March 14) from 9 a.m. – Noon.

This class will teach the tricks of the trade when it comes to designing and planting seasonal color beds in the landscape. Subject matter will include measuring your beds, soil preparation, calculating the number of plants, what to look for when buying plants, color combinations, groupings, and much more. Summer and winter seasonal color will be covered. In a few hours you will be ready to design your own flower beds.

The class is only $30 for Members of The Gardens ($40 for Non-Members). Register online!

Spring Plant Sale

Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ Spring Plant Sale
Set For First Frost Free Day

Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ Spring Plant Sale is set for Thursday, April 16 through Sunday, April 19. The average annual date of frost-free temperatures in Alabama is April 15 which makes Spring Plant Sale perfectly timed for worry-free planting. The Gardens’ annual sale is the largest in the state of Alabama with more than 85,000 plants for sale.

Free to the public, the annual sale is The Gardens’ largest event of the year. Last year thousands from around Alabama the Spring Plant Sale saw tens of thousands of plants sold and raised more than $200,000 for education programs.

While so much national attention is focused on economic hardships and financial troubles Spring Plant Sale is not only free, but many plants start at just $2. Spring is a great time to plant gardens and there will be a vast selection of herbs and vegetables. The signature plant is the award-winning, drought-tolerant Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost', a hybrid plant only in its second year.

Susan Grimes and the Horticultural Therapy program will also sell pet grass and catnip to help raise awareness and money for the program, one of The Gardens’ best kept secrets. Horticultural Therapy utilizes gardens and the practice of gardening as a modality suitable for a diverse population that includes people of all ages with intellectual or developmental disabilities, physical limitations, mental or emotional impairment. Susan works with clients from all over the Greater Birmingham area, including United Cerebral Palsy, Children’s Hospital, Exceptional Students at Hewitt-Trussville High School, and retirees at The Oaks and Kirkwood.

Thursday, April 16
Preview Party* from 5-6:30 p.m.
*$45 in advance and $50 at the door

Friday, April 17
9 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Saturday, April 18
9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Sunday, April 19
11 a.m.-3. p.m.

For more information about Spring Plant Sale, please contact Event Coordinator Shelly McCarty at 414.3965 or If you're interesting in volunteering for this huge fundraising event, contact Volunteer Coordinator Carolyn Snow at 414.3962 or

Friday, February 27, 2009

Good Things Growing… March 2009

The lightly fragrant flowers of wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) can be blue, white or pale pink.

The Kaul Wildflower Garden contains only plants native to the southeastern US, and their spring show is one of the highlights of this season at BBG. Among many stars in this early, ebullient time, the three plants highlighted here are easy to grow in shade to part sun in average (not wet) garden soils.

Sanguinaria canadensis is called bloodroot because of the orange-red juice found in its leaves, petioles and rhizomes. The 8-10” tall plant is also known regionally as redroot, puccoon, red puccoon and Indian paint. Its 3” wide, white flowers typically have eight narrow petals and showy yellow stamens, and bloom before the single basal leaf is unfurled. Flowers last only a day or two but large populations flower from early March to early May and create a nice, staggered impact. Bloodroot is summer dormant; by late June all evidence of the plant is usually gone.

Phacelia bipinnatifida, scorpion-weed or fern-leaf phacelia, is a 15-24” tall biennial. The specific epithet bipinnatifida refers to the twice-compounded (bi-pinnate), silver-mottled, leaves; purplish hues are sometimes evident. Emerging quickly in late fall, the leaves persist through winter and make a nice companion plant for in and under deciduous shrubs. On second-year plants, the ½” wide, pale blue-purple flowers emerge on a stalked cluster that uncoils (like a scorpion’s tail?) as they bloom; flowers fade in color as they age; dormancy quickly follows seed dispersal.

Phlox divaricata, wild blue phlox, is one of our most beloved native perennials. In early to mid-March, the flat-topped flower clusters are borne atop 12-18” tall stalks that emerge from widely-spreading surface rhizomes. The lightly fragrant, ½”-¾” wide flowers are typically blue, but can be pale pink (rose), lilac-purple, or white as well. Wild blue phlox maintains its dark green leaves through the growing season; in winter, the leaves take on purplish hues, but remain effective in the garden.

A mass of wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) spreads out in the Barber Alabama Woodlands.

Lavender scorpion weed (Phacelia bipinnatifida) blooms along with wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
in the Kaul Wildflower Garden.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) inhabits undisturbed woodlands, and is a good indicator of healthy forests.

For more information on these plants, please go to

Good Things Growing… January 2009

Pieris japonica, Japanese pieris [PEA-AIR-ISS], is not the easiest plant to make happy in Birmingham but that doesn’t deter local garden shops from carrying it. Its drooping racemes of fragrant, white winter flowers and lustrous evergreen foliage are tempting, especially to gardeners who have seen mature plants in cooler climes. Japanese pieris is not well-suited to our heavy soils and relentless summer heat, but there are several related pieris that share this species’ attributes and are worth a closer look.

Hybrids of
Pieris japonica and P. floribunda (mountain pieris, a US native) include ‘Brouwer’s Beauty’ and ‘Karenoma’, and these are both worth trying. Both exhibit the nice flowering qualities of their Japanese parent and retain the heat tolerance of their American parent. New leaves emerge glossy orange- to bronze-red, providing another asset. Pieris ryukyuensis ‘Temple Bells’ represents the typical form of that species, found only Ryukyu Island, Japan. Both it and Pieris taiwanensis are not easy to locate in the trade, but their beauty and heat tolerance are legend

The ideal site for
Pieris species, cultivars and hybrids is one protected from winter winds and direct summer sun. Like most of its kin in the Ericaceae, or heath family, soil must be acid, well-drained and with ample organic matter; these plants will quickly die under an irrigation regime tuned to big-leaf hydrangeas. Expect slow growth from these plants, a trait all pieris are known for, valuable where space is limited but a woody, evergreen plant is desired.

Pieris japonica flowers dusted with mid-January flurries; buds and blooms are frost-tolerant. Shown here in early March, the flowers of Pieris × ‘Karenoma’ are often effective for two months, like many of its relatives.

Shown here in early March, the flowers of Pieris × ‘Karenoma’ are often effective for two months, like many of its relatives.

Visit for more information on growing Pieris.