A great blue heron is a fairly common sight at Avondale Park, a 40-acre public park in Birmingham, Alabama.
There are tasty little fish for a heron to eat in the spring water-fed pond. A small island at the pond’s center provides a human-free respite in this urban park. The natural spring has attracted locals and travelers to the area since pre-Civil War days (and Native Americans long before that).
In the 1930s, the city added a stone amphitheater designed by landscape architect Rubee Pearse. The spring flows from the depths of a cave, but unfortunately for any spelunkers out there, the city’s 1930s improvements included blocking the cave entrance. In 2012, the park installed baseball diamonds and restrooms along with other renovations.
After a recent lunch at Avondale’s Taco Morro Loco (so good!), a friend and I took a stroll around the pond. There were lots of ducks and one solitary blue heron. I approached him slowly, snapping photos with each step. Then he took off.
Check out the water trail as he lifts himself from the water.
This week, I sipped lemonade with my friend Betty in her garden. She has some lovely things in bloom this April in Alabama.
Betty wore a wide-brimmed hat and greeted me in the driveway. We used to work together, and she advised me when I began gardening and landscaping in earnest. I’ve mentioned her before in this blog, though not by name. She’s the friend who suggested loropetalum as a privacy border and who told me that dogwoods in bloom should look like floating clouds.
When I asked if I could write about her garden, she suggested timing our visit with one of her showiest April displays: purple irises blooming in front of a Crimson Queen Japanese maple.
When she bought this tree, it was small enough to carry home in the backseat of her four-door sedan. She’s nursed it through two droughts. “Only in the past couple of years has it really taken off so that this time of year it is really gorgeous,” she said.
The irises are passalong plants from her younger sister, a master gardener. Her sister helped teach Betty about gardening when she first moved into her house. Now Betty is passing along her knowledge to me–what a nice way for things to come full circle.
Here are a few other highlights from my visit.
“Souvenir de la Malmaison” Rose
Betty purchased this rose from the Antique Rose Emporium in Texas. Its name comes from the Paris home, “Malmaison,” of French empress Josephine Bonaparte. “The Russian emperor came to Paris to visit, and he saw this rose in her garden and named it,” said Betty.
From bud to gracefully aged bloom, the flowers of this antique rose look pretty at every stage.
Betty noted the blackspot, a fungal disease, on the leaves. (She said she forgot to spray the rose with anti-fungal solution before it leafed out.) The blooms are so pretty, I barely noticed.
Blue Pin Flower or Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa)
“I like things that are perennials that will come back another year and I don’t have to replant them” said Betty, whose goal is to have something in bloom at all times, spring through fall.
This cheerful blue pin flower is a prime example of a hard-working spring perennial. I also like how the creeping Jenny in the background fills in the bare spots between plants.
Seeing clematis thrive in this sunny location at Betty’s house confirmed for me that the clematis I planted at the base of my fence does not get enough sun. I must find a new spot for mine because these flowers are lovely.
After the garden tour, Betty invited me to stay for lemonade. We chatted on the back porch enjoying the view and soft light of early evening.
When I left, she sent me home with a pot of pink muhly grass (an extra patch dug up from her yard) and two of her favorite gardening books, Founding Gardeners and The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf, on loan. I will find a sunny spot for the pink muhly grass, and I hope to show off its blooms late summer or fall.
Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you enjoyed this post. I’ll close with one more photo of the irises and Japanese maple–because, frankly, I could not choose a favorite.
Take an evening stroll with me through Kaul Wildflower Garden, one of more than two dozen gardens at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
Alabama’s state tree is the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), and many young specimens grow along Kaul Wildflower Garden’s trails. This strong native tree is resistant to both disease and hurricane-force storms compared to other pines in the Southeastern US. I must also say that the young trees look a bit like Cousin Itt from The Addams Family.
I especially love the shady areas of this garden, where ferns and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), with its distinctive leaf shape, thrive.
A special mid-April treat for me was the mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) on the cusp of full bloom. The light was a bit low for a photo, but the end result looks like a pink firework against a night sky.
If you have an opportunity to visit Kaul Wildflower Garden, you’ll find many plants growing in abundance, but I encourage you to keep an eye out for the oddballs, such as the drawf crested iris (Iris cristata) below. You won’t have any trouble recognizing it as an iris; it’s just smaller. It’s endemic to the eastern United States, which means you won’t find it anywhere else.
Another sighting on my walk was the red flower below, which I believe is a scarlet catchfly (Silene subciliata). I spotted this plant only once in the garden, but it was close to the trail.
There are also habitat-specific plants, such as the statuesque pitcher plants and stonecrop in the next two photos. Stonecrop is so named for good reason. Here it makes a home on a small boulder.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what there is to see at Kaul Wildflower Garden, much less the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. And of course, its offerings depend on the time of year. For now I will close with the masses of yellow flowers blooming in the bog and surrounding area. Based on the leaf shape, I believe the plants are butterweed (Packera glabella), but I am not positive.
As usual, I used inaturalist.org software to help me identify plants to the best of my ability. If the iNaturalist community of citizen scientists corrects any of these IDs, I will update this post.
To capture April in Alabama I’m venturing beyond my garden. I took these snapshots during a recent neighborhood walk in Birmingham.
When oak trees first leaf out, their young green leaves shine in the sun as if golden. It always makes me think of Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” which begins “Nature’s first green is gold.” I love the sight of a huge oak five times the size of the house it grows beside.
The wildflowers (or weeds, if you rather) are out.
The flattering name of this plant is, wait for it, Philadelphia fleabane. I saw this member of the daisy family today blooming along nonresidential roadsides and in natural areas. It may look a little weedy, but it’s native to North America. (In Europe and Asia, where it has been introduced, it’s considered invasive.)
A friend once told me dogwood trees should look like clouds in the landscape.
I have to agree. This dogwood in bloom looks exactly like a cirrus cloud floating in the sky.
Japanese maples offer vibrant color at a time of year when most everything is green, white or pastel.
I recently wrote about my Shaina Japanese maple, which is a dwarf variety. On today’s walk I encountered medium and large varieties.
Magnolias bloom in the summer, but their dark, glossy leaves and massive trunks are beautiful all year.
The low-hanging branches of the magnolia below are so inviting. I will be sure to revisit this tree in the summertime when it is in bloom.
I believe I encountered an azalea that is native to Alabama!
If my ID is correct, this azalea is a pinkster flower (Rhododendron periclymenoides). If I get another ID from the iNaturalist community, I will update this post. I spotted this small shrub growing wedged in a tall, groomed evergreen hedge. It seemed out of place in the best way possible.
The topography of Birmingham can vary fairly dramatically within a small radius.
My neighborhood is all steep hills. The area I walked today (the adjacent neighborhood) is flat and carved with natural creeks and urban waterways.
Thanks for visiting. I’d love to see what spring looks like in your neighborhood, wherever that may be.
Manny (“Best Kitty Ever”) photobombed this week’s In a Vase on Monday post.
Don’t worry, I took the vase way before he had a chance to eat anything and make himself sick. In our house, the arrangements travel with me so they are always in my sight, or I close them up in the guest room where the cats can’t get to them. [Update: A vet friend reached out to me to let me know foxglove is cardio toxic for kitties. To reiterate, Manny nosed in during the photo shoot, but he was NOT allowed to chew on the plants. Please be always careful with your fur babies and what plants you allow them around.]
This post is part of a weekly meme hosted by Cathy on her blog Rambling in the Garden. Give her a visit to see what she and other gardeners around the world have put in a vase today. But first, here’s what’s in my vase on Monday, April 9, 2018:
Camelot Lavender Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea): This is my first time planting foxglove. When the creamy white blooms first started coming in, I did not believe the color would be purple, as advertised. But as you can see in the lower blooms, the purple develops after the blooms open.
Rosemary: A long stem of rosemary is sturdy enough to stand upright alongside the foxglove. I have a couple of rosemary bushes. They are reliable providers of greenery all year long, and I love running my hand over them to release their smell.
Heuchera ‘Mocha’: Also known as coral bells, heuchera is primarily grown for its beautiful foliage. Its blooms are not much to talk about. However, both the foliage and the flower stems contribute to this arrangement. The broad, dark leaves provide an anchor that calls attention to the fully open foxglove blooms at the bottom. The spindly burgundy flower stems, which match the height of the rosemary and foxglove, bring in complementary color and texture.
Repurposed glass Evian bottle (vase): I drink tap water most of the time, and I can’t remember the exact occasion when I drank Evian. But the bottle was definitely worth saving as a vase.
I will close with one last picture of sweet Manny getting a good whiff (before he was removed for his own safety)!
I love the urban wilderness of our backyard, but the truth is it’s filled with non-native, invasive plants that have been left to their own devices for decades.
Close to the city, shaded by trees, private. There are many reasons I am fond of our little chunk of paradise. Thickets of Chinese privet, blankets of English ivy and roving wisteria vines are not among them. (These plants are pretty, of course; they’re just not so great in a foreign land where they compete fiercely and choke out everything else.)
The journey to restoring the back section of our property to something resembling a native Alabama woodland will be a long one. I have a lot to learn and even more to do. For the time being, I am doing the only thing I can—starting small. The tiny patch you see in the photo at the top of this post has been one year in the making. It’s a humble beginning, but I hope it will be the first of many chapters in this story.
Before I tell you about the plants, I’d like to point out two events where you can purchase native plants, for shade or sun, if you live in or near Birmingham, Alabama.
To date, I’ve planted the following native Alabama perennials in my woodland garden.
Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum): This was my first purchase for the woodland garden last spring, and I’m happy to see it back and thriving this year. You can see flower buds hanging from the largest stem. I can’t wait to show it again when it’s in bloom.
Light requirements: shade/part shade
Soil requirements: moist
Size: 1-3 feet
Flowers: white, April-May
Attracts birds and butterflies
Purple trillium (Trillium cuneatum): I have long observed and admired this plant along nature trails, and I’m a little giddy about having one. Plus, it has cute nicknames, including little sweet Betsy, toadshade and whip-poor-will flower. I just purchased it, so I missed bloom season this year.
Light requirements: shade
Soil requirements: moist, woodsy humus
Size: 10 inches
Flowers: maroon, March
Bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia): The blooms are small, but so pretty. The foliage is delicate and feathery. I accidentally broke off a stem during planting, and I am now attempting to root it.
Light requirements: shade
Soil requirements: moist, rich woodlands humus
Size: 18 inches
Flowers: pink, spring-summer
Alabama phlox (Phlox pulchra): I purchased three of these when I found out they are rare in the wild. This species will have a little haven in my yard.
Light requirements: shade
Soil requirements: average
Size: 12 to 14 inches
Flowers: pink, April-May
Rare in wild
Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora): I planted this shrub off to the side of the garden since it will grow quite large in the years to come. It’s in the sun at the moment, but won’t be once the oak tree above it leafs out.
Light requirements: part/full shade
Soil requirements: average, humus rich
Size: 8-10 feet
Deciduous multistem shrub
Resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides): This is the one plant I did not buy. It fell, along with the branch, from an oak tree in the yard about a year ago. I actually have a few such branches, and I placed the two largest on either side of the woodland garden as a border. This fern shrivels in dry weather and bounces back after a good rain. I feel pretty confident about this ID, but I will update this post if the iNaturalist community produces another ID.
I hope the plants I’ve introduced to my woodland garden thrive and multiply as I continue to clear invasive species and bring in more native plants little by little. What native plants do you have in your gardens at home?
Today’s “In a Vase on Monday” features pink azalea buds clipped from one my drought survivors.
During the 2016-17 drought in the Southeastern U.S., I felt sure the beautifully green city of Birmingham, and perhaps the whole state of Alabama, was on its way to becoming a dust bowl. Everything, even the most established trees, looked parched. When there was the slightest hint of a storm brewing, all we got was clouds, wind, a few drops of rain, and whirls and whirls of dust.
Like many people, we lost quite a bit of landscaping, including all the azaleas across the front of our house. (They were planted there by the previous owner, and it was an ill-advised location. Too much sun.)
However, spring 2017 graced us with lots and lots of rain, helping our trees and shrubs recover. But during that first year, the drought’s toll was still apparent.
Though we lost all the azaleas in our front yard, the three in our backyard, protected by plenty of shade, survived. However, they did not bloom in spring 2017 when the rain returned. Similarly, my holly bushes did not put out berries in fall 2016. Everything was in survival and recovery mode.
Happily, fall 2017 saw the return of holly berries to feed the birds and squirrels, and spring 2018 has brought the return of azalea buds to our backyard. I can’t wait until the bushes explode with flowers.
The vase at the top of this post is a vintage apothecary bottle from my hometown of Augusta, Georgia. The writing on the bottle reads, “744 Broad St., Cabaniss Drug Co., Augusta, GA.” (Speaking of Augusta, if you want to see some stunning azaleas, even if you’re not a golf fan, tune in to the upcoming Master’s Golf Tournament!)
Thanks to Cathy and her blog, Rambling in the Garden, for starting the IAVOM meme. It’s helped me connect to other garden bloggers and makes blogging much more enjoyable. Be sure to visit her blog and see all the comments below her post to get a peek at what gardeners around the world have put in a vase on Monday.