Determination Creates New Display Garden
Reprinted with permission from Shades Valley Sun, Birmingham, Alabama
Fig. 47 Mrs. George T. Curry in the Birmingham Rhododendron Garden
What started out as a dream some six years ago has today culminated in the beautiful Rhododendron Gardens at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, thanks to the untiring efforts of Mrs. George T. Curry, the Crestline Garden Club and the Birmingham Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society.
Today, boasting an investment of more than $60,000.00 and untold hours of dedicated hard work, the gardens are one of the largest rhododendron-azalea gardens in the entire Southeast. The focal point of the three acre gardens is the recently completed pool and waterfall in the center of the plot. While enjoying this beautiful addition to our fine botanical garden, it's difficult to imagine that this myriad of blooming plants and peaceful waterfall was ever any other way. However, in the beginning it was different.
The establishment of an American Rhododendron Society display garden within the Birmingham 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 many species of the genus rhododendron) have long been grown extensively in many Southern areas, and the non-azalea rhododendrons have been seldom tried, and then not always successfully.
The information needed to insure success would come from varieties especially suited to Southern conditions and knowledge of the special requirements in the South. One of the best places to secure this information and then make it available to the public is an arboretum or botanical garden in a Southern location.
Some 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 brought in the largest number of new members and won the prize of $100 worth of rhododendron plants. She decided to present them to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, and convinced the directors of the gardens that an area should be set aside in the gardens especially for rhododendrons. With the cooperation of Don Hawkins, park and recreational board chairman, and M. D. Wallace, horticulturist-in-charge of the Botanical Gardens, seven acres were set aside for the group of plants. Here varieties were tested for their adaptability to Southern growing conditions and cultural methods were studied.
Additional plants were donated by Van Veen Nursery, and J. Harold Clarke Nursery donated a large number of varieties for testing. In October, 1969 the Birmingham Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society was formed with Mrs. Harvey Hooks as president J. Hollis Hughes, (Hughes Rhododendron Nursery) of Warrior, Alabama who grows iron clad rhododendrons, joined the chapter and donated 685 rhododendrons to the gardens. Mrs. Curry donated an additional 300 plants, swelling the plot to two acres at that time.
Working to raise the necessary funds the group held propagation schools, gave lectures to garden clubs, held garage sales and many more events to support the gardens. The Rhododendron Garden was funded solely by their efforts and by donations of approximately $2,500 by friends and garden clubs. In April, 1972 Irwin T. Nelson, known throughout the world for his artistry in landscaping and developing outstanding color arrangements in his architectural work, was retained to supervise construction of the gardens.
The chapter's first Rhododendron Show was held in May, 1972 at East wood Mall, the second, in April 1973 in the Garden Center at the Botanical Gardens, as was the third in April 1974 and the fourth in May 1975. These shows are open to the public.
In January 1974 the third addition was completed under the supervision of Nelson. Plot number five was planted with 300 rhododendrons and 150 Exbury azaleas.
The new pool and waterfall is surrounded with pastel colored rhododendrons, now in bloom. Plans for the pool were worked out by landscape services. Beatty Hanna directed its construction.
North of the pool an area was created for the enjoyment of senior citizens and the handicapped by the Crestline Garden Club, of which Mrs. Curry is president. A great deal of the credit for completion of the garden goes to Mrs. Clara Curry who worked for months every day reconditioning and re-landscaping the gardens.
Names of garden clubs or individuals wishing to donate rustic benches or tables for the Rhododendron Garden will be entered in the rhododendron gift book in the library.
The rhododendron garden received the Sun Newspapers award for the most outstanding civic project in the valley.