By Sally Pearsall Ericson In the 1920s and 1930s, when Bessie Bellingrath wanted to beautify…
By Dr. F. Todd Lasseigne
To me, one of the joys of visitors coming out to Bellingrath Gardens and Home is that they get to see both the Gardens and the Home as working entities, albeit in differing capacities. From Tom McGehee’s cadre of Home Guides who tell the stories of Walter and Bessie in their home, visitors can feel the “lived experiences” of the Home. In a related capacity, the Horticulture, Maintenance, and Turf & Irrigation staff are hard at work during the weekdays, delivering to our visitors the experience of a “working garden.”
We are neither the perfect, anesthetized experience of a theme park where all of the dirty work happens after closing time, nor are we an institution that only opens four or five days a week so that major projects can be performed while visitors are not present. Beyond this, of course, are our Café, Visitor Services, and Gift Shop staffs, all of whom work hard to make visitors as comfortable and happy as possible.
All of these facets of BGH conspire to create a never-ending to-do list, the mother of all to-do lists, you could say. Gardens, you may know, are the slowest of the performing arts, and they are never finished, after all. Historic homes, likewise, aren’t known for their lack of maintenance and attention to detail. Since the turn of the New Year, staff at BGH have welcomed thousands of guests, while also working on a great many projects, big and small. From an initial list now numbering over 500 tasks, some 233 of these have been completed. The list never stops growing, of course, just as with our plants.
From the mundane to the major, here are some examples of things we have accomplished. Although we’re happy for you to notice these items, in some ways we feel even better if you didn’t notice them!
1) In early January, we sprayed some of our Dianella (variegated flax-lily) plants with dormant oil because of a scale infestation. Had I just waited to send the work request until late February, the 22° freeze would have taken care of the scale infestation even more quickly because the Dianella foliage was frozen dead and had to be cut back and thrown in the compost pile. Oh well. You win some, you lose some.
2) Even today, we’ll still find an occasional hanging branch or two left over from Hurricane Sally. In early January, I saw one stuck in a branch crotch of a live oak and asked a staff member to climb up a ladder to get it. Within an hour, a nice gust of wind had blown it to the ground, negating the need for the ladder. I guess I should’ve been more patient, lol!
3) In early January, we decided to cut down five 20’-tall ‘Savannah’ hollies (two of which were struggling due to lack of light) because Chuck Owens and I noticed that a beautiful large Ginkgo tree behind the hollies was hidden. We were able to remove the hollies by late March, and now the Ginkgo can be viewed and enjoyed.
4) In early February, we had a contractor spade out three large weeping yaupon trees from the front side of the Admissions Building to transplant them to our entrance sign on Bellingrath Road. Two are doing well, but the third specimen is looking rough. We’re in a “wait-and-see” mode on this.
5) In midwinter, I noticed an old, unused propane tank that was located behind our security building. At first, I thought to have it removed and sent to a metal recycler. However, quick thinking from a couple of staff members resulted in us finding a metalsmith who was able to cut it in half and fashion two new fire pits. You’ll see these at this year’s Magic Christmas in Lights!
6) In early January, I decided that we should relocate the picnic tables on the west side of our parking lot to a new location on the east end of the Great Lawn. This idea came up while we were planning “Beers and Blooms.” Today, these tables are used by our visitors, and we are happy to see visitors traversing the Great Lawn and see the gardens from another angle.
7) Bellingrath appears to have cornered the market on the world’s supply of the green-foliaged version of Aspidistra (cast-iron plant). We decided to remove a patch of it surrounding a sweet gum tree on the back terrace of the Boehm Gallery. Instead of more Aspidistra, visitors can now see more flowers. And who doesn’t want to see more flowers?
8) Our Coca-Cola machines were acting up, sometimes taking people’s coins without dispensing product (how dare they?!), and as such we called and arranged to get new machines, complete with credit card readers, last month. Whoop, whoop!
9) Hurricane Sally did quite a number on the ground cloth on our nursery pads where we grow our chrysanthemums and other plants. Chuck worked with our Greenhouse staff to tack down the old cloth, rip out the weeds coming up through the cracks, and install brand-new ground cloth on top. Voila!
10) The three ceiling fans in the Atrium (the small conservatory attached to the Gift Shop) had seen better days such that two were not working in February. Ralph Drury and his Maintenance Department staff procured new fans, and by mid-April installed them such that we now have properly functioning ceiling fans in this area.
Everyone has to-do lists in their lives, gardens, homes, businesses, churches, places where they volunteer, etc. We have ours, too, and it feels great to check them off the list individually virtually every day of the work week! Come and visit us, friends and supporters, and come see the fruits of our daily labors in bringing Bellingrath Gardens and Home to you.