Bellingrath Gardens: Colorful remembrance of times past
by Carolyn Carter
The fabled charm of the Old South is a rare commodity. But even in the midst of today’s tumult, an 800-acre garden, located 20 miles south of Mobile, Alabama, maintains the picturesque life and beauty of the proud South as it used to be.
The garden is Bellingrath. It combines the charm of a lovely southern estate with the incomparable beauty of masses of flowering plants that were brought in to give it color every season.
Bellingrath overlooks the Isle-Aux-Oies (Fowl) River not far from the Gulf of Mexico, in an area knee-deep in folklore and stories of past adventure. Mirror like lakes, vast rose gardens, intimate grottoes, expanses of lawn and a maze of flower gardens — a world that may never be again.
Displays of azaleas, camellias and roses, which grow in profusion, are the garden’s claim to fame. Each part of the garden puts on a different display with the changing seasons; but it is winter that brings to Bellingrath the most brilliant features of the year.
In December, the chrysanthemums are finishing their display as the camellias start to open. Poinsettias begin their annual show, which goes on into January. And February finds the fabulous array of azaleas in full bloom — more than 250,000 plants of about 150 varieties.
The camellias continue to bloom, lasting through the end of March.
Situated in the midst of the gardens is the Bellingrath Home, built of old brick and decorated with wrought iron. The house, filled with antique furniture, priceless silver and rare china that they collected from all over the world, is the home of the late Walter and Bessie Morse Bellingrath, who acquired the property in 1917.
The first plants to be tried at Bellingrath were azeleas and camellias, both of which flourished in that temperate climate, rich soil and the shade provided by trees of many kinds. As their estate developed and thrived, so did the Bellingrath’s interest in their garden. In 1927 they toured Europe, visiting many famous gardens, and they came home with new enthusiasm for landscaping their property.
By 1932, the gardens were widely known and so many people came to enjoy them that the Bellingrath’s decided to maintain the gardens for all to enjoy. After Mrs Bellingrath’s death, her husband created the Bellingrath-Morse Foundation, which now owns and operates the gardens, with two churches and three colleges as beneficiaries.
The landscaped gardens — some 65 acres in all — are now open to the public ($2 for adults, $1 for children) every day of the year. Near the entrance is a restaurant, open from 7:30 am to 5 pm, that serves breakfasts, lunches and sandwiches.
The wide terrace of the main house is bright with color in fall, as the formal, brick-edged flower beds are filled with chrysanthemums. Tubs of plants are used to accent walkways and steps. Handsome wrought iron chairs and table are in keeping with the setting.
Along both banks of the Isle-Aux-Oies River azaleas and dogwood blaze forth in spring. Plantings brought to water’s edge give double measure of beauty as reflected by the quiet river.
Poinsettias in tubs and in flower beds set a holiday mood on the terrace of the main house. Both red and white poinsettias are used, with accents of green foliage plants and evergreens.
Water-lilies bloom in pool beside the extensive greenhouses. Many acres of the 800-acre estate are devoted to cutting gardens, nurseries and gardens under glass.