“The kiss of the birds for pardon / The song of the birds for mirth / One is nearer God’s heart in a garden / Than anywhere else on earth.”
This quote is by Dorothy Frances Gurney from her poem, “God’s Garden.” It is on a metal sign that my mother once had in her garden, and now decorates my own.
You are probably wondering why I am writing about gardens with this freezing weather upon us. Well, we just came back from a trip to Florida to visit relatives and I was able to stroll through a couple of gardens, since the weather was still very warm there. Lucky me. I will picture them now in my mind’s eye as I cover up my few tropical plants against the freeze.
The first was the Kanapaha (Kuh-NAP-uh-hah) Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, Florida. It was fabulous! After riding many miles on the road, this was literally a breath of fresh air. It was a combination of a tropical garden on one side and a woodland garden on the other.
I only had time to do most of the tropical part of the 62 acres it encompassed. It was breathtaking! Everything was plantus giganticus (how big things grow in Florida.)
One of the highlights of this garden was the huge Victoria lily pads. They were other-worldly, looking like bright green upturned bottle caps, with diameters of about 5 or 6 feet each. Native to the Amazon basin, they are the world’s largest lily pads. They filled the river as far as you could see. Large koi swam among them. Fantastic!
The gardens included several waterfalls, a butterfly area, an Oriental and children’s garden, and areas featuring roses, azaleas, and camellias. I walked and talked with my green-thumb mother there. I feel she is surely in a similar place in heaven.
Too soon, our destination called me back to our vehicle. Reluctantly, I bid adieu to that wonderful place and we hit the road again.
The other garden was not too far off I-10 out of Mobile, Alabama on our return home. It is called Bellingrath Gardens, and also featured the home of Coca-Cola magnate, Walter Bellingrath and his wife, Bessie. In 1917, he was advised by his physician to buy an abandoned fish camp on the Fowl River so that the overworked businessman could “learn how to play.”
In 1927, they hired a local architect to convert the property into a country estate which included flagstone pathways, fountains, a rose garden and heated conservatory. In 1934, a part of the gardens, filled with all kinds of flowers, live oaks and Spanish moss, were opened to the public. Completed in 1935, the home features old bricks and ironwork salvaged from historic Mobile buildings. On a tour of it, you get to see the beautiful antique furniture, porcelain, silver services, and crystal collected by Mrs. Bellingrath over a span of 35 years.
In a former garage and guest quarters there is a delightful display of Boehm porcelains that is the largest collection of American sculptor, Edward Marshall Boehm. It was donated to the museum by Mobile’s Delchamps family.
So there, you got a triple whammy – gardens, house, and porcelain exhibit. One was a display of nature’s creations, the others by the hands of men. All were beautiful and a treat for the senses.
So, if you happen to be traveling east on Interstate 10 or going south on I-75 in Florida, take a little time to walk in a garden and smell the roses. It will refresh your soul.
A former longtime Baytown resident, Ginger Stripling now lives in Mont Belvieu. Contact her at email@example.com,
Attention: Ginger Stripling.