Bellingrath Gardens In Bloom

When Walter Duncan Bellingrath established a camp on the banks of the Isle-Aux-Oies (Fowl) River, some 20 miles south of Mobile, Alabama, in 1917, he did so with the idea of making a recreational fishing spot for himself and his friends.

The wild countryside around consisted of native trees and shrubs—oaks, pines, sweet gum, black gum, tupelo, magnolia, sweet bay, bull bay, hickory, dogwood, holly, yaupon, ironwood, tulip tree, juniper, cedar, cypress, chinquapin, pecan, mulberry, sassafras, persimmon, cottonwood, wild olive, maple, alder, the rare gardenia, and many others.

Bellingrath GardenPin

Mr. and Mrs. Bellingrath little dreamed that on this same spot, 38 years later, one of the most fabulous gardens of our time would stand. Because of their grandeur and magnificence, garden lovers often enquire about their origin.

In 1927, the owners toured Europe to study renowned gardens there. Upon their return, they were inspired by the primeval beauty of their property and became filled with the idea of developing it.

At this time, the Bellingrath was fortunate in securing the services of a friend in Mobile, Mr. George B. Rogers, Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. He designed and executed the building and laid out the enchanting flagstone walks, fountains, rockeries, balustrades, and landscape effects. 

In 1935, he designed and built the Bellingrath residence. Endowed with a gift for excellent design, his interpretation of the owners’ dreams resulted in the Bellingrath Gardens’ perfection.

Finest Camellia Japonica

On the grounds, there are more than 2,000 mature specimens of Camellia japonica, undoubtedly one of the finest collections to be found anywhere in the Southland. 

All the large specimens were secured from private homes within a 300-mile radius of Mobile, exceptional care having been taken in the selection, grouping, and planting to give a permanent and lasting landscape effect.

These plants range in size from 12′ to 20′ feet in height and 8′ to 18′ feet in diameter. Many are 50 to 100 years old.

During the past 25 years, several outstanding new introductions have been added to the collection, which today includes over 500 varieties. 

The colors of the flowers range from the purest white to delicate, pale pink and from rose pink to deep and sheeny crimson. Many are often variegated, with marked splotches or stripes of every description. 

No other flowering plant can give such a diversity of flowering types — singles, semi-doubles, doubles, peony types, and some with pompom centers. Yet others have shaggy flowers, with center petals whorled and twisted.

Blooming In September

Camellias bloom in early September, continuing through the winter months into April, a flowering period of nine months. Some individual bushes will bloom for six months, owing to the ideal climatic and soil conditions in the Bellingrath Gardens. 

Camellias also thrive under the partial shade afforded by live oaks and other native trees in a setting where it is dexterously planted in a breathtaking landscape effect along walks and driveways by the river and lake.

Although Camellia japonica, a native of Japan, was introduced into Mobile through European channels more than 100 years ago, it has come into its own during the past 25 years. 

Since 1932, Bellingrath Gardens have placed so much emphasis on camellias through the winter months that general interest in these flowers has virtually paralleled the worldwide renown of the Gardens.

Lavish Azaleas

Azaleas always present a lavish pageant of color when in flower, and nowhere in the world are they found in a setting so fitting as in Bellingrath Gardens. Many giant indicas were introduced into Mobile from Europe over 125 years ago. 

Between 1930 and 1940, Mr. and Mrs. BeIlingrath acquired these age-old specimens — many ranging from 12′ to 15′ feet in height and from 20′ to 30′ feet in diameter- transplanted them to their place.

There are 5 groups or species of azaleas here. These are:

  • Indicum
  • Rutherfordium
  • Kurume
  • Macrantha
  • Belgian hybrids

Over 250,000 plants in more than 150 varieties are planted in indescribable landscape effects. 

The colors range from pure white through pinks and reds into deep lavender and crimson, and many of the flowers of the colorful Belgian hybrids are strikingly variegated.

Pageant of Azaleas

The flowering period covers several months. Azalea simsii vittata and A. Magnifica start blooming in early November. These are followed by the potted Belgian hybrids and A. rutherfondiana, which bloom throughout the winter. The early pink indicas usually burst into flower by mid-February. 

Then come the kurumes and the later blooming indicas, up into April. The sweet-scented, native azalea usually blooms in March, with colors in white, pink, yellow, cream, and orange. However, the full glory of the azalea season is generally from the middle of February until the middle of April.

Enchanting Seasonal Flowers And Foliage Plants

Aside from camellias and azaleas, there is a never-ending, enchanting display of seasonable flowers and foliage plants every week of the year.

Throughout the winter months, the large beds around Mr. Bellingrath’s residence are filled with potted plants from the extensive greenhouses. 

These include the following:

  • Poinsettias
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Easter lilies
  • Cinerarias
  • Yellow calla lilies
  • Begonias
  • Amaryllis
  • Hydrangeas

In The Borders And Woodlands

Many attractive shrubs and trees abound. Dogwood, redbud, double-flowering spirea, Chinese magnolia, mountain laurel, flowering crab, Satsuma orange, kumquat, flowering peach and cherry, crabapple, holly, yaupon, giant bamboo, and the sweet flowering olive, which fills the garden with its fragrance.

Bordering the spacious lawns, driveways, and walks throughout the gardens are:

  • King Alfred daffodils
  • Iris
  • Pieris
  • Mahonia
  • Impatiens
  • Rubrum lilies
  • Boxwood
  • Ophiopogon
  • The interesting berried plants (Ardisia, Aucuba, and Colorful pyracantha)

Succession In Early April

In early April, over 2,000 rose bushes are in full flower in the attractive Rose Garden. In succession come the following:

  • Oleander
  • Gardenia
  • Hydrangea
  • Mimosa
  • Crepe myrtle
  • Tung oil tree
  • Althea
  • Southern magnolia
  • Hibiscus
  • Buddleia
  • Daylilies
  • Plumbago
  • Lantana
  • Yucca
  • Bottlebrush
  • Ginger lilies
  • Russelia
  • Allamanda
  • African violets
  • Water lilies
  • Impatiens
  • Salvia
  • Petunia
  • Vinca, and many annuals

In the summer months, beautiful foliage plants are on display, such as:

  • Caladium
  • Crown
  • Dracaena
  • Pandanus
  • Acalypha
  • Dieffenbachia
  • Achyranthes
  • Pedilanthus
  • Ferns of every description

These include vines of the following:

  • Confederate jasmine
  • Carolina jasmine
  • Rosa de Montana
  • Honeysuckle
  • Ivies
  • Wisteria
  • Climbing roses
  • Begonia
  • Passion vine
  • Morning glory

Gardens Open Daily To The Public

Maintaining a garden of this magnitude entails employment throughout the entire year of about 30 trained gardeners.

This gives one a slight idea of the work involved, which would not be possible were it not for the loyalty and excellent service rendered by the gardeners who have been constantly employed since the gardens were started years ago. 

Now the gardens are open to the public every day of the year from 7.00 A.M. till sundown.

On February 1, 1950, Mr. Bellingrath conveyed the gardens perpetually to the Bellingrath Morse Foundation for religious and educational purposes.

All proceeds from admissions to the gardens, above the maintenance cost, are donated to churches and educational institutions named in the Trust Agreement.

Bellingrath Garden Story

The story of Bellingrath Gardens is now perpetuated on a large red Missouri granite Monolith presented by Mr. Bellingrath to the Bellingrath Morse Foundation. The Monolith, 9′ feet high and weighing 10 tons, is located in the center of the gardens. 

Its three large bronze tablets give full information concerning the development of the gardens to the thousands of eager visitors who wish to know the full story of this lovely wonderland.

44659 by A. A. Hunt