Bellingrath Gardens and Beyond
- story by Lisa Monti, photos by Lisa Monti and courtesy Bellingrath Gardens.
You can’t experience the heaven-on-earth landscape at Bellingrath Gardens without the word “lush” coming to mind. Or tour the historic residence of Walter and Bessie Bellingrath without envisioning a lifestyle of luxury.
The Bellingraths created their estate with a 65-acre garden along the Fowl River near Mobile as a weekend getaway. The property was purchased in 1918, work on the property went on for years. The Gardens opened to the public on April 7, 1932.
Today it is operated by The Bellingrath Gardens and Home Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, and welcomes more than 100,000 visitors a year.
Is there a best time to visit the garden destination? Not really, said our guide Sally Ericson, the director of Marketing and Public Relations. Even in the South Alabama summertime, the trees at Bellingrath provide cooling shade, she said.
And something’s always in bloom there, helped along by a staff of gardeners. You can check the “Currently Blooming” section on the Bellingrath website for details in planning your visit.
On our mid-February visit, in a warmer-than-usual winter, the signature azaleas were already starting to bloom. The show-stopping bushes are a major draw for visitors so they merit their own Azalea Watch feature on the website.
After taking in the beauty of the sprawling gardens, be sure to take the guided tour of the Bellingrath Home museum to see how the family lived and entertained, all in grand style. The 15-room home was built with bricks and ironwork from the mid-to-late 1800s.
Mr. Bellingrath made his fortune as a Coca-Cola bottler and Mrs. Bellingrath distributed his wealth by furnishing their home with fine antiques she bought on trips to New Orleans and elsewhere.
A visit to Bellingrath begins at the Entrance Building for tickets and tour information. From there you enter the Rose Garden, created in 1936 with more than 2,000 plants of 75 varieties. Mr. Bellingrath, a founder of the Mobile Rotary Club in 1914, had the garden made in the shape of the Rotary emblem. Look for the impressive cast iron ornaments, many historic, in the garden. April is peak bloom month for this garden (don't forget to check the "Currently Blooming" page before you go).
Back outside, you’ll walk along the impressive Great Lawn, once farmland, that is bordered by flowerbeds filled with more than 4,000 plants stretching out over 400 feet. It’s here that Bellingrath hosts the annual Easter Egg Hunt and Camellia Classic Car Show among other events.
Next on our tour was Live Oak Plaza, the garden centerpiece featuring a whimsical mermaid fountain and a series of fountains and pools along with the Monolith of Indiana limestone with plaques telling the history of the Gardens, the Bellingraths and architect George B. Rogers.
The Delchamps Gallery of Boehm Porcelain, built as a six-car garage in 1939, now houses a collection of Boehm porcelain donated by the Delchamps family of Mobile.
The tiny Bellingrath Chapel, with leaded glass windows, is popular for small weddings.
The Rockery, a special project of Mrs. Bellingrath to replace a washed out spot with a winding set of stairs, a waterfall and pools.
The Asian-American Garden, a fairly new addition created in the 1960s, combines features of Chinese and Japanese gardens.
Any worthwhile destination has a gift shop and the one at Bellingrath is well stocked with a large selection, including kitchen items and cookbooks along with commemorative items.
The Magnolia Café near the entrance is open daily for lunch (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and also dinner during Magic Christmas in Lights.
The restaurant has a lunch buffet and a large menu filled with classic dishes featuring local seafood plus various sandwiches and appetizers. We ordered the lunch-sized seafood platter with a sampling of shrimp, oysters, fish, stuffed crab, a couple of hush puppies, fries and cole slaw.
On the way back home we headed out to the intriguing Charles Phillips Antiques and Architecture, just about 10 minutes from the restaurant and a destination all its own. If you’re searching for a unique door, window, table or other finds of a certain age, this is the place to be.
The rambling enterprise started with one building and now has 10, each filled with a jaw- dropping collection of old doors, windows, mirrors, antique furniture pieces in various sizes plus old bottles, sheet music and more inventory to take into account.
According to Charles Phillips, the soft-spoken proprietor who greeted us, the family business sells their own line of custom designed “art” furniture as well as antique furniture and architectural elements. There is no telling what you might find in this “peaceful refuge in the country.”
12401 Bellingrath Gardens Road
Theodore, Alabama 36582
Open daily 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day
Tickets for the home and gardens tour are $21 for adults and $13 for children 5-12. Admission to the gardens only are $13 for adults and $7.50 for kids 5-12.
Charles Phillips Antiques & Architecturals
4505 Laurendine Road
Theodore, Alabama 36582
Thursday – Saturday
9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Checks or cash only please.
The Pelican Reef
11799 Dauphin Island Pkwy
Theodore, Alabama 36582
Open daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.