Huntsville Botanical Garden

I’m doing a series of blog posts about Dan’s Amazing Alabama Adventure, which is the story of when Dan Heims, President of Terra Nova Nurseries, visited me. This post concentrates on the morning we spent at Huntsville Botanical Garden (HBG). I’m working on an article about HBG, and sometimes writing a blog post helps me organize my thoughts. HBG was originally going to be one paragraph in an article about Dan’s visit, but I was so impressed by what’s going on there, and I so loved all the stories, that I decided it should be a stand-alone article for the February issue of Alabama Gardener magazine. I have more than enough material, but I’m not sure how I want to organize the article, so I’m going to recap the day in hopes that it helps me.

When we arrived at HBG there was already a group waiting to greet us. Standing outside was Paula Steigerwald, President & CEO; Harvey Cotton, former Vice President; and Niki Sothers, Director of Horticulture. We watched a short film about the new guest center that is under construction. I’m so excited to see it when it’s finished in spring of 2017! Paula told us that previously HBG had a different plan for the new building, but they wanted more “WOW!” so they scrapped the first plan and started over. I’m certain it was an excellent decision because what they are building now is going to be amazing!

We headed into the garden, and Harvey told us a story that is going in the article. It happened in the early years of the garden. There was a man who volunteered for years on a regular basis. It was only after the bonsai society built the garden with the miniature railroad that the man brought his grandson to the garden for the first time. That event inspired the garden to add more kid-friendly attractions.

Huntsville Botanical Garden

From the bonsai garden, we loaded into a long golf cart. We drove by the new guest center that’s under construction. I commented that it still had a long way to go, and I asked if it was really going to be finished by spring. Paula said that her daughter is getting married this spring, and the wedding will be in the new building. She said it in such a matter-of-fact way that I believe her, and I feel sorry for any construction worker who slows progress. Do not mess with a determined mother-of-the-bride!

Huntsville Botanical Garden

I’m certain that the visitor’s center is further along now, but this is what it looked like on September 14, 2016.

We drove around the children’s garden and entered the butterfly house.

From left to right is Niki, Dan, Paula and Harvey.

From left to right is Niki, Dan, Paula and Harvey.

Huntsville Botanical Gardens butterfly house

Here I learned that Paula is a turtle-whisperer. She can pat the water and call the turtles to her.


Turtle whisperer

No one else has permission to do this, only Paula. If you visit HBG, DO NOT touch the turtles.

Huntsville Botanical Gardens

The flowers in this picture are pentas, and butterflies love them.

We got back in the cart, and Paula continued the tour.

Huntsville Botanical Garden

The fern garden has 150 – 170 species and cultivars, about half are natives.

Huntsville Botanical Garden

Paula entertained us with stories about the garden’s wonderful volunteers and how they contributed to the garden’s growth. I heard about the Vernon Bush azalea trail and the Herb Lewis birding trail. My favorite story was about Harold Holmes and HBG’s trillium collection. You are going to have to get a copy of the magazine if you want to hear that story.

Harold and Vernon were both volunteering on the day we visited. They gave us a tour of the propagation areas. Dan and Harvey went with Harold to see the trillium seedlings, while Vernon showed Paula and me the native azaleas. Dan loves spending time with fellow plant nerds and said that was his favorite part of the day.

Huntsville Botanical Gardens, Azalea seedlings, Vernon Bush

Vernon shows Paula some seedlings.

After the tour, we all had lunch and Paula asked if we had any advice for HBG. Dan considered the question for several moments and said, “Be unique.” Good advice, but I think they have that covered. We saw example after example of unusual stuff.

Bottle tree, Huntsville Botanical Garden

This bottle tree at Huntsville Botanical Garden is the largest bottle tree in any public garden.

Huntsville Botanical Gardens, patriot missle

A lot of missile defense work goes on in Huntsville. That is an actual unarmed Patriot missile. You don’t see that every day.

I’ve thought about using ‘Be unique’ as the theme for the article, but I just don’t know yet. I know that I want to say that volunteers founded the garden in a grassroots effort. I’m going to tell the stories about how the garden grew. And I’ll talk about where it is heading. I want to make the new guest center sound so exciting that people will want to contribute money, even if it’s only a small amount, because if they do, when they walk into the new guest center this spring, they’ll feel proud that they helped. I know that I will.

Huntsville Botanical Gardens Guest center

This blog post may not be inspiring, but it has helped me sort my thoughts. Here’s a link to more information about the new Guest Center and how you can contribute. If you want to see how the article turns out, pick up a copy of the February 2017 issue of Alabama Gardener magazine and flip to the back page.

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2 Responses to Huntsville Botanical Garden

  1. Ann Dillman says:

    When you talk about those volunteers back in the day, I hope you mention the ladies of the Federated Garden Clubs who were instrumental and adamant about the garden. Evelyn Lucas, Nell Bragg, Carlene, Elrod, Dot Mapes… I don’t believe the garden would have gotten off the ground when it did if not for their efforts.

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