Aldridge Gardens, a 32-acre public garden in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, surrounds a lake on property that was once the home of Kay and Eddie Aldridge (www.aldridgegardens.com). I first knew of the Aldridge gardening family through Aldridge Garden Shop and Nursery, a great source for plants that was located for decades on Red Mountain, across from the entrance to Vulcan Park.
Eddie and his father, nurseryman Loren Aldridge, discovered and patented the stunning “Snowflake” variety of oak-leaf hydrangea that is now popular throughout the South and beyond. Aldridge Gardens is a perfect showcase for the Snowflake and dozens of other varieties of hydrangea, azaleas, and other flora. Sculpture is placed throughout the garden, and a Veterans’ Memorial Arbor and Pentagon Plaza are located at the far end of the property, recently accented with fading wisteria dripping from the arbor.
The Aldridges first saw the property when they were on-site in the ‘60s to plant three magnolia trees for the Coxe family who lived there at the time. They saw the potential for a public garden on the site and Eddie Aldridge’s dream for a “garden of destiny” was born. He and Kay bought and lived on the estate in the ‘70s and negotiated the transfer to the city of Hoover in the ‘90s with the understanding that the grounds would remain a public space in perpetuity.
A half-mile trail goes around the lake and separate paths diverge into other areas of the garden, along with woodland trails through an urban forest and alongside a meadow. Some areas feature gardens dedicated to specific plants. On a recent May morning, I spotted six tortoises sunning themselves on a fallen tree that was partially submerged in the lake with other tortoises coming and going around them.
The Gardens are off a bustling road and near a busy interstate, but after a few minutes on the grounds, that noise seems to fade away as birdsong and quiet streams take focus. On a sunny day, the dappled shade creates contrasts in light that glimmers from the water and profuse foliage all around. Honeysuckle creeps up among other plants and the perfume of jasmine permeates here and there. Snowflake hydrangeas are predominant, however, in their Aldridge Garden’s home-place.
Aldridge Gardens is just one of many splendid and occasionally unexpected green spaces to be found in the Birmingham area. Having it three miles away from my house makes it ideal for a quick getaway while running errands. Two Snowflake hydrangeas in my backyard, acquired last year to celebrate my move back to Birmingham, are doing just fine and provide a hint of the nearby gardens on days when I can’t get away. The snowflakes have not quite peaked yet, but they are magnificent nevertheless and give promise for a lush summer to come.