It’s rare when Grumpy escapes the office nowadays, but sometimes he pries open the cell door with a crow bar smuggled inside an eclair and makes his getaway. This week, I lit out for a visit to the famous Bellingrath Gardens in Theodore, Alabama, just a short drive from Mobile. It was time well spent.
I was there to give a talk on “The Disturbingly Dissed Dozen” — 12 wonderful plants that no one seems to grow. I also took the opportunity to plug The New Southern Living Garden Book, as I am an unapologetic and shameless corporate shill. (It really is the best book on Southern gardening in existence. That should be good for an extra doughnut on Monday.)
But before that all got started, I had the chance to tour the 65-acre garden created by Walter and Bessie Bellingrath and opened to the public in 1932. Not every garden ages gracefully through the decades. This one has.
Magnificent live oaks draped in Spanish moss form a cathedral of foliage overhead. Beneath them, winding paths lead to a menagerie of garden attractions — some big, like the rose garden and great lawn; and some small, like this lovely little surprise here.
For as long as Grumpy can remember, Bellingrath Gardens has been known as Alabama’s garden showplace. No matter when you visit, there’s something beautiful to see. Spring is a highlight for many when thousands of azaleas bloom throughout the gardens.
In summer, a profusion of color lines every path — annuals, perennials, vines, and tropicals — as shown in the top photo. In fall, hundreds of 4-feet long cascading mums drip from bridges, balconies, and hanging baskets.
I wanted to know how you get mums to grow like this and was graciously offered a behind-the-scenes tour of the mum greenhouse. Only special kinds of mums will grow this way. Bellingrath steadfastly guards its supply of rare stock plants like the Knight’s Watch in “Game of Thrones.”
I know what you’re thinking. Bellingrath is really growing marijuana in its greenhouses. They will later tie mum flowers to the pot plants so the Feds won’t find out. Can’t confirm or deny, but it is an ingenious plan.
From Thanksgiving through New Year’s, all eyes focus on “The Magic Christmas in Lights” display. Three million lights sparkle on more than 1,000 figures. These figures aren’t the cheesy plastic reindeer and other junk you buy at Wal-Mart. Each custom-designed steel piece is fabricated and lit by Bellingrath’s own craftsmen.
Click here for more info about visiting Bellingrath Gardens. No, they won’t let you into the mum greenhouse. Grumpy can’t be disturbed while he takes cuttings.