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Mobile Botanical Gardens

Taylor McGaughy, Auburn University
The Mobile Botanical Gardens in the Parkhill neighborhood of west Mobile, Mobile County, features forest trails, a longleaf pine grove, and thousands of floral specimens. This botanical collection is the largest on the U.S. Gulf Coast and covers 100 acres. It contains many examples of local and regional plant life and also includes plants, flowers, shrubs, and trees from around the world. The mission of the Mobile Botanical Gardens is to promote environmental education and inspire nature conservation initiatives through public exposure to and appreciation of their collections.
Prior to the settlement of Mobile in 1702 by French colonists, an immense longleaf pine forest inhabited the area that now houses the Mobile Botanical Gardens. Much of this forest was cleared for lumber in the 1930s, so the 35-acre conservation area within the botanical gardens is technically a second-generation forest. The acreage of the Mobile Botanical Gardens was restricted from development throughout the first half of the twentieth century because a nearby lake served as the city's water supply until the 1950s. In 1974, the South Alabama Horticultural and Botanical Society began leasing 100 acres from the city with the intent of developing and maintaining a botanical garden.
The Mobile Botanical Gardens's signature exhibit space is the Fragrance and Texture Garden, which was the first established in 1974 specifically to enable the visually impaired to enjoy a horticultural and botanical experience. Plants included in this garden were selected specifically for their scent and feel. This picturesque area includes benches, a Japanese-style bridge, a small pond with a waterfall, and many perennial and seasonal plants. The ReBloom Garden was spearheaded in 2002 by the Mobile Tricentennial Commission to showcase the vast array of plants indigenous to the Gulf Coast region that can be used to add color and diversify gardens throughout the year. This project was created to inspire home gardeners to experiment with local plants in their yards. The park's longleaf pine stand is designated as a Treasure Forest, a distinction given out by the Alabama Forestry Commission for forests that meet high standards of wildlife diversity, recreation, aesthetics, and environmental education.
The Mobile Botanical Gardens also hosts one of the most wide-ranging collections of azaleas in the United States. The Rhododendron and Azalea Garden contains more than 1,000 evergreen azaleas that bloom from early March until mid-June in a diverse spectrum of colors. The variety of specimens in this collection create a virtual art gallery of plants. The Japanese Maple Garden is populated entirely with saplings transferred from the collection of a Mobile-area nursery owner and is dedicated to his memory. This garden is particularly stunning in the fall and winter, when the Japanese maples exhibit their most robust color and texture. The Herb Garden is located in a canopy of the longleaf pine forest. Planted in elevated brick beds, the Herb Garden is populated with medicinal, culinary, fragrance, and practical household value. Trees, shrubs, and perennials ring the Herb Garden and demonstrate how herbs can be incorporated into a variety of garden styles and types. The Gulf Coast Herb Society, an initiative dedicated to herbal education, partnered with the Mobile Botanical Gardens to sponsor this garden. The Bamboo Courtyard features bamboo as a background to perennials, shrubs, and seasonal annuals that draw many species of hummingbirds and butterflies. The Butterfly and Pollinator Garden, aimed at attracting butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects, is currently in the planning stage but the site already hosts the sculpture Transformation as its centerpiece. Created by local artist Bruce Larsen, it is a metallic statue depicting a butterfly recently emerged from its cocoon.
The woodland area is planted entirely within the longleaf pine forest and includes a number of themed gardens. The Rose Garden borders an open, sunny forest clearing and contains mostly old heritage roses, which thrive in warm, humid climates like Alabama's Gulf Coast. An elevated bridge leads patrons directly from the paved portion of the Mobile Botanical Gardens into the award-winning WinterGarden and the woodland area. An alleyway of crepe myrtles lines a service road, providing an alternate route to the WinterGarden. The five-acre WinterGarden was named a "Garden of Excellence" by the International Camellia Society and features more than 850 camellias, many of which are no longer available commercially. A fern glade adjacent to the WinterGarden is fed by natural springs, as is a maze constructed entirely of tea plants.
The Mobile Botanical Gardens hosts events and art classes and hosts annual spring and fall plant sales, enabling gardening enthusiasts to purchase plants displayed at the botanical gardens for their own personal use. The Mobile Botanical Gardens are located at 5151 Museum Drive in Mobile.
Published:  November 15, 2017   |   Last updated:  November 15, 2017