Birmingham Rhododendron Garden
The establishment of an American Rhododendron Society Display Garden within the Birmingham City Botanical Gardens in October, 1967 was a long step in the direction of more general use of rhododendrons in Southern gardens. Although azaleas (which comprise one species of the genus Rhododendron having long been grown extensively in many Southern areas the non azalea rhododendrons have seldom been tried and then not always successfully.
The information needed to insure success would seem to be from lists of varieties especially suited to Southern conditions and knowledge of special cultural requirements in the South. One of the best places to secure this information and make it available to the public is an arboretum or Botanical garden in a Southern location. Same six years ago Arthur Coyle of Waller Texas began to build up interest in a Southern chapter of the American Rhododendron Society. Heading the membership drive for the Southern chapter in the Birmingham area was Mrs. Clara B. Curry, fashion buyer for The Parisian Stores. Mrs. Curry, characteristic energy, brought in the largest number of new members and in the process won a prize of $100 worth of rhododendron plants. She decided to present them to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and was able to convince the powers to be that an area should be set aside in the gardens especially for rhododendrons. In this she had the cooperation of Don Hawkins, Park and Recreational Board Chairman, and M. D. Wallace Horticulturist and Acting Director of the Botanical Gardens. As a result two acres were set aside for this group of plants. Here varieties were tested far their adaptability to Southern growing conditions and cultural methods studied.
The plants were presented to Councilman Don Hawkins who in turn presented them to Mr. Wallace. During his acceptance speech Mr. Wallace announced the plans for the Rhododendron-Azalea Garden. Additional plants were donated by Van Veen Nursery and J. Harold Clarke Nursery donated a large number of varieties for testing. Mrs. Curry included rhododendrons and azaleas as door prizes in her fashion shows as well as personally giving memberships to the Rhododendron Society to leading garden club leaders.
We were growing and needed to form a local chapter for the deep South. Mrs. Curry looked to find a strong personality of great achievement in garden club and beautification work to be our President. She and Mr. Wallace choose Mrs. Harvey Hooks for our President. October, 1969 we became The Birmingham Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society.
J. Hollis Hughes (Hughes Rhododendron Nursery) of Warrior Alabama, who grows iron clad rhododendrons and a variety of azaleas was contacted to join the Birmingham chapter. Mr. Hughes donated 250 rhododendrons to our garden, which is now comprised of 10 acres in the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Mrs. Curry donated 100 plants at this time to help complete a new plot.
We worked with propagation schools, gave lectures to garden clubs held garage sales and put forth much effort to raise funds in order to expand our garden which was funded solely from our own efforts. Mrs. Curry resigned her fashion position to devote full time to being Garden Chairman and Treasurer of the Chapter.
In April, 1972, we procured the services of Irwin T. Nelson known throughout the world for his artistry in landscaping and developing outstanding color arrangements in his architectural work.
Our first Rhododendron Show May 6th 1972 was in the Eastwood Mall. The second show was held on April 26th 1973 in the Garden Center New Horticulture building at the Botanical Gardens. These shows were open to the public and well attended.
Our third show will be held April 27th and 28th 1974 in the Garden Center, Birmingham Botanical Gardens. It is open to the public.
In December, 1973, we completed the third addition under Mr. Nelson's supervision. Plot No. 5 was planted with 300 rhododendrons and 150 Exbury azaleas, surrounding a small pool in the area, with natural rock outcropping. Additions to the second garden will be a waterfall and pool 25 feet wide, and 36 feet long with natural rock with a display in pastel colors of rhododendrons and Satsuki azaleas. Surrounding the pool, these will be reflected in the water during blooming season. This is another of Mr. Nelson's artistic touches.
Alfred Martin President of the American Rhododendron Society visited us in May, 1973 and was delighted with our progress and hard work. He expressed gratitude for the contributions the Birmingham chapter had made to the American Rhododendron Society and the City of Birmingham. Mr. Martin has a very critical eye, and his many suggestions are to be followed in expanding the gardens.
We are planning to complete the final plot by the end of 1974. We have about 1500 established hybrids and upon completion, we plan to have over 2,000 plants. This will be one of the largest rhododendron-azalea gardens in the Southeast will attract more tourists to our state will enhance our economy and add to the beauty of our state.
Much credit for the development of the Garden must go to the committee who have worked unusually hard Mrs. Harvey J. Hooks, president Mrs. Clara B. Curry, garden chairman and treasurer; M. D. Wallace horticulturist at the Botanical Gardens and J. Hollis Hughes, consultant. Members of the Executive Board include: Mrs. G. W. Webb Paul Gourley, and C. B. Roden.