Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile AL

Vacationers who find themselves in the Mobile AL area are drawn to Bellingrath Gardens for its reputation as being world class. 

What’s surprising about the 65-acre garden is that it is easy to walk through because of the way the paths are set up with bridges, ponds, hardscape walking paths and benches.  The total estate is 905-acres.

The history of the garden is interesting and amusing.  The owners of the original estate, Walter and Bessie Mae, decided to build a retreat in 1920.

Bellingrath had made a fortune making Coca Cola into the summer drink of the south and was able to hire architects and landscape teams to turn the land into Bel Camp, a fishing camp for himself and his buddies.

Being a southern woman, Bessie loved Azaleas and she began planting them in abundance on the property. Then, in 1927 during a trip to Europe, they fell in love with estate gardens, came home and hired the famous landscape architect George B. Rogers to make one for their place.

As the depression deepened, Bessie’s friends told her about area residents in need. She would visit their garden and say that their camellia, azalea or other plant in bloom was missing from her gardens and could she please have a piece. Then, she would write the check for hundreds of dollars and depart with the prized plants.

The fishing lodge concept was transformed over the years and by 1932 the public was invited to visit the gardens for a 50-cent per person fee. One story has it that Walter wanted to recoup some of the money his wife had spent and other stories say the fee was instituted to reduce the traffic problems.

In 1935 the couple decided to have their 10,000 square-foot mansion built among the gardens and Walter lived there until 1955 when the home was also opened to the public. Bessie preceded him in death in 1943. In 1950, Walter created Bellingrath-Morse Foundation that provides funding for the operation of the grounds and mansion.

Bessie’s collection has grown to 250,000 azaleas in bloom that delight everyone who has the opportunity to visit.  The oriental garden has been designed to appeal to American tastes with a red half-moon bridge, flamingoes, swans, a Japanese teahouse and toriii gates. A path then leads to a Chinese pagoda.

Bellingrath has one of the world’s largest outdoor collections of chrysanthemums, making fall a beautiful time to visit. The collection includes cascading mums, topiaries, bedding plants and hanging baskets of mums. In Nov. the display is 60,000 mums in bloom. The cascading mums are grown at the greenhouses and are installed in the garden for the fall.

The rose garden of 2500 shrubs is beautiful, with something blooming nine-months of the year.  It was originally built in 1936 in the shape of a Rotary Club insignia. There is also a three-story cast iron fountain in the rose garden.

In the winter, 4,000 Camellia shrubs show their colors beginning at the Camellia Parterre, which is also the beginning of the formal gardens.

The Great Lawn was originally the farm next to the fishing lodge. Now the area is an event lawn planted with grasses surrounded by a flower bed that is 400-feet long and is filled with 4,000 plants each year.

The greenhouses at Bellingrath are where the action is for gardeners.  There are 40,000 square feet of seed planting, propagation of plant cuttings, over 300,000 containers and bulb starting, and tender plant storage.

Live Oak Plaza is not to be missed with its flower beds and a series of fountains, including Mermaid Fountain brought from New Orleans by Mrs. Bellingrath. 

Bellingrath Gardens Theodore AL


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