Thursday, November 3, 2011

Birmingham Botanical Gardens

November chill and damp weather seem like enough to keep one indoors, but such a day suits me. There's little I like better than to shuffle through fallen leaves in autumn. Sounds seem muffled. Colors are bolder in contrast. Woodlands reveal their secrets when not draped by summer's verdure. Last Thanksgiving season I found a perfect day for exploring the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a living museum of plants - Alabama's largest. Over 10,000 specimens are displayed in 25 theme gardens throughout its 67.5 acres. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is also home to the largest public horticulture library in the U.S. Gardens are maintained and open to the public every day of the year, and admission is free. It's no small feat, but a healthy partnership between the City of Birmingham and Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens makes it possible.

Late November is not a time for visiting rose gardens, azalea collections and floral displays. But it was ideal for enjoying features often hidden or overlooked.

One can't visit the Birmingham Botanical Gardens without encountering art, from graceful fountains to whimsical sculptures. Landscape design is no less an art form, and it is thoughtfully exhibited everywhere from formal vistas to tranquil scenes and pathways.

Birmingham, Alabama is a southern city of Appalachia. It's fitting that the Southern Living Garden is located in the Gardens. The Southern Living Garden is often featured in the publications of the Southern Progress Corporation. You'll also find garden features such as a rustic, covered well to remind you that you're in the foothills. A tool shed, familiar to every gardener, becomes a garden feature in the company of magnificent crape myrtles, cool-season annuals, espaliered fruits and iron furnishings.

Vegetable gardening is near and dear to agrarian hearts. The cool-season vegetable garden effectively displays the kinds and colors of crops that extend the edible harvest.

The Japanese Garden is a favorite destination of visitors to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Within it are so many delights that the Torii is literally a gateway to gardener's heaven.

Water seems like an essential part of any Japanese garden, but it isn't necessarily. The stone garden, also known as karesansui, is an example of the art form that gives the appearance of water and terrain to carefully raked pebbles. The flaming red foliage of a Japanese maple contrasts well with subdued shades. Crimson leaves fallen into brooklets shimmer like koi in sparkling water. Black bamboo intrigues. A red bridge reflected in water beckons twice from afar. Scattered fans of yellow ginkgo blanket the grass.

A walk back through the woods brought me face-to-face with a sinister-looking but harmless apparition.

The Conservatory at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a welcome place to come in from the cold. Tropical displays, exotic flowers like Plumeria, and the succulent cacti collection will whisk your imagination to warmer climates and tempt you to shed your coat.

For those in the southeast who like to keep up with the newest tried and true plants, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is not to be missed for it is an official All-America Selections Display Garden. Here you'll have an opportunity to view AAS winners up-close. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is the only All-America Selections Display Garden in Alabama.

Like any great garden, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens come alive with new pleasures as the seasons turn. If you're fortunate enough to live nearby, you should visit often.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

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