The 65 acre gardens, which today is a magnet for visitors from all over the world, began life in 1917 as a fishing camp on the Fowl River for Walter D. Bellingrath, Mobile’s first Coca-Cola bottler. The Bellingraths were known for the fabulous gardens at their downtown Mobile home, the centerpiece of which was the city’s largest collection of azaleas, and they soon began landscaping their weekend retreat. Growing conditions along the river were ideal for azaleas and each Spring the blooms became more spectacular. When the Bellingraths first opened the property to visitors in 1932, a major traffic jam ensued. The couple decided to open the Gardens permanently and to make the site their full-time home. The 10,500 square foot Bellingrath Home, today the centerpiece of the Gardens, was completed in 1936 in a style Mobile architect George B. Rogers referred to as “English Renaissance.” Visitors enjoy inspecting the Bellingraths’ original furnishings along with bathrooms which were state of the art in 1936, and the kitchen with its vintage appliances.
The real draw, though, is the flowers. The Bellingraths began by having azaleas and camellias shipped in from across the South, and Bessie Bellingrath was also known to pay exorbitant prices for cuttings from local gardens. Today visitors can enjoy the Rose Garden, Asian-American Garden, formal garden terraces and a boardwalk through the property’s wetland area.
There’s literally something blooming year-round. Camellias blossom during the winter months, and azaleas begin blooming in March. For precise times of the azalea display, consult the Azalea Watch feature on the Gardens’ website. In April, the Gardens’ 2000 roses—including more than 35 varieties of All-American Rose Selections– begin blooming. Special events and weddings are held throughout the year on the property, which at Christmas is home to a spectacular light display.
For information on visiting Bellingrath Gardens and Home, check the website at www.bellingrath.org
photos courtesy of Bellingrath Gardens and Home