Birmingham Botanical Gardens (aka BBG, or the employees’ moniker “Bham BG”!) is one incredible sight and is known for being the most beautiful, most visited free attraction in the entire city. And there’s a lot of beauty in Birmingham. BBG features the largest public horticulture library in the U.S., plus conservatories, a wildflower garden, two rose gardens, a special Southern Living garden, and two Japanese Gardens with carefully, conventionally crafted tea houses. Education programs run throughout the year and there are over 10,000 schoolchildren who take part in the revolutionary, nationally renowned, free science-based educational classes and field trips each year.
BBG is Alabama’s largest “living museum” with over 10,000 different plants in its live collections. The Garden has over 67 acres with over 25 gardens, plus over 30 works of original outdoor sculpture with miles upon miles of serene paths. Ranked in the Top Five Best Museums in Northern Alabama, BG is a partnership between the City of Birmingham and The Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens, an organization of 2,700 members who support The Gardens. The Friends promote knowledge and appreciation of plants and the environment with educational offerings to the almost 400,000 annual visitors.
The science-based curriculum is famous at BBG and schoolchildren thrive in Science classes all over the city after taking part in it. Classes range in age group and are through the Discovery Field Trips Program. All field trips extend the life science concepts that a student would learn in their particular grade. Curriculum based, they also correlate with the Alabama State Course of Study and are even aligned with the National Science Education Standards. There is also a matching curriculum for teachers! Kids love the programs, which vary based on the season, but include:
- The Secret Life of Trees
- Alabama Woodlands
- Native America
- Dr. George Washington Carver
- Garden Gates Workshop
- Tropical Rainforest
So now — we’ve compiled the best of the best attractions at Birmingham Botanical Gardens and assembled it right here for you. Use it as a map when you visit, or a guide of sorts. Or just peruse it to see what other visitors, locals, and the blogs and tourist sites are saying, plus how they’re all ranking exhibits and attractions. Here it is: the Top Ten Best Attractions at BBG list!
1. Southern Living Garden
The only public garden that showcases Southern Living (SL)– also the largest regional magazine and one of the most popular lifestyle mags in America – is divided into several outdoor rooms that offer countless ideas for homeowners, interior designers and more. In one area, a flagstone terrace and seat wall offer a peaceful retreat near a serene pool where the beautiful Echo sculpture admires her reflection. Just across an adjacent path, the Southern Living Flower Border features vivid season-long color provided by perennials, annuals and foliage plants along a curved stone wall. Nearby, the ingeniously designed wall provides a backdrop for a shrub border featuring the SL Plant Collection. This area also features a secluded lawn area in front that is a favorite place for sun lovers. The Southern Living Garden is photographed frequently for use in the popular publication.
2. Emory Cunningham Native Azalea Walk
At the back of the Southern Living Garden, is the Emory Cunningham Native Azalea Walk, where large specimens of hybrid and Alabama native Azalea species, such as Alabama Azalea, Piedmont Azalea, and Florida Flame Azalea, add their stunning colors and intoxicating fragrances to the spring experience! Other unusual native plantings, including Dwarf Fothergilla and the rare Loblolly Bay complete the scene and frame a circular stone pool and fountain. A stylish slate-roofed gazebo provides seating nearby and offers views to the lush surroundings.
3. Little One’s Memory Garden
The Little Ones’ Memory Garden is a unique, meditative garden, where the elements of gardens and of nature come together to assist in the healing process, perhaps in healing the grief caused by the loss of a loved one, namely, a child. Little One’s functions as an assembly place for groups from anywhere from one to 200. Five different “memory walls” provide seating options and define “rain gardens” behind each one. A true spectacle, the Little One’s Garden is resplendent in more ways than meet the eye…
4. Bruno Vegetable Garden
The Bruno Vegetable Garden illustrates numerous plants, ideas and techniques for any home vegetable gardener of any proficiency. In addition, the local school children who come to The Gardens’ on the aforementioned Discovery Field Trips learn lessons about where food comes from. With cotton, soybeans and peanuts, we also introduce them specifically to the work of Dr. George Washington Carver. “The Veggie Garden’s” efforts also do charity; they feed the hungry through Magic City Harvest, a non-profit agency that coordinates food distribution to those who need it the most.
5. Herb Terrace
On a sunny hillside above the Bruno Vegetable Garden sits the Herb Terrace. The raised and terraced beds overflow with collections of culinary, medicinal, aromatic and cosmetic herbs. This is a garden where visitors are encouraged not to pick – but to “scratch n’ sniff” and experience the scent-sational world of herbs! Displays are changed every spring, and late summer offers the broadest of trans-continental experiences, but this garden offers subtle interest through the year. Although rustic in appearance, it’s a good example of exactly how herb gardens should be designed. Locals frequent this area for ideas and inspiration; the Herb Terrace is widely popular with local chefs, too!
6. Rushton Garden
Originally a European-style garden, in 1999, the addition of the Blount Education Wing to the Garden Center necessitated its relocation and a style change. The new Rushton Garden is crafted to weave together naturalistic plantings and water features with a crushed stone courtyard and curving stone walls, producing a lush, secluded and casual retreat. It provides stunning and serene views from the BBG Library and, located just outside that lobby, it makes a great place for reading as the rushing sounds of the cascading waters drown out the surroundings. The gravel courtyard with its caf? seating is shaded by Dura-Heat River Birches, and the finely-crafted, adjacent stone wall doubles as a more informal bench. The Rushton Garden is a great setting for smaller outdoor events and is often reserved as such.
7. Barber Alabama Woodlands
This six-acre remnant forest contains the botanical gardens’ oldest native trees, which can be easily seen from the wood-chipped trails that wind through. The woodland features a self-guided interpretive trail that explores topics in Alabama woodland ecology. The Woodlands contains three distinct habitat zones. The stylized entrance is planted with a variety of plants that favor woodland edges and leads into the relatively dry upland zone. The wet bottomlands contain a swamp crossed by an observation boardwalk constructed of recycled plastics! An intermediate sloping area links the other two zones, each of which has a subtly distinct floral component. The Woodlands is an excellent example of the oak-hickory-pine forest that once dominated Alabama.
8. Hosta Walk
Located along a crushed stone path, the Hosta Walk offers visitors a compact look at this popular group of well-known perennials. Old-fashioned varieties such as the late summer-blooming and fragrant ‘Royal Standard’ can be found here, as well as newer hybrids from across the globe. Find your favorites among the 100-plus varieties with leaves of yellow, chartreuse, blue and green (many of which are boldly variegated), textures ranging from glossy to seersucker, and sizes from the tiny 6″ to the extreme, 4′ wide.
9. Ireland Iris Garden
Framed by stately evergreen southern magnolias, twin gazebos and sturdy stone garden walls, the Ireland Iris Garden features four terraced borders where a variety of iris species, hybrids (including bearded and Dutch types), and related plants in the iris family are grown. This garden peaks in May and June, but a diverse assortment of choice flowering shrubs, grasses, perennials and annuals complements the irids, as the iris family is known, and extends ornamental interest into the late summer and fall. From a quiet bench above, the main view leads across the first terrace, down a weathered stone staircase and to a central reflecting pool that commands a small lawn space below. A gracious stone walk encircles the lawn, allows close-up viewing of the opposing borders and links the twin gazebos. The Garden is bordered by two rock gardens, where curious iris relatives from the southern hemisphere are grown, along with selected succulents, bulbs and dwarf perennials suitable for southern rock gardens.
10. All-American Selections Display
To be true to our country, BBG created this selection. It’ consists of seed-grown annuals, vegetables and bedding plants that have been deemed superior by experts. The AAS Display greets visitors during the growing season with a blast of color. With the plants laid out in blocks, comparison between AAS winners past and present, and non-winners, is easily facilitated. Taken altogether, gardeners can not only decide which they like the best and in which months they are effective, but also see how their form, flowers and foliage might be used in combinations.
Birmingham Botanical Garden
2612 Lane Park Road
Birmingham, AL 35223