Day Tripping - March 2017
Bellingrath Gardens and Beyond
A dream day trip for home and garden lovers: Bellingrath's year-round splendor and one of the South's most amazing architectural salvage stores.
- story by Lisa Monti, photos by Lisa Monti and courtesy Bellingrath Gardens.
It's a safe bet that every visitor strolls - not walks - the garden paths to take in all the flower buds and blooms, fountains and waterfalls, the lake and the river views. For those with a love for nature, a visit to Bellingrath is a natural mood booster, while offering a calming effect - all at once. And it’s all just a 90-minute ride from the Coast to Theodore, Ala.
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.
Naturally, spring is a popular time for visitors, but the largest crowds are during the holiday season for Magic Christmas in Lights, when more than 3 million lights and 1,000 special seasonal displays are showcased. Mississippians by the thousands attend the annual event, said Ericson, including nearly 10,000 visitors last year.
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).
The Conservatory, built in 1935 and restored in 1996, houses gorgeous tropical flowers and plants like bird’s nest ferns, plumeria and others.
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.
Among the other highlights:
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.
We chose to explore the area a bit and drove about 15 minutes to The Pelican Reef alongside the Fowl River Marina. The deck overlooking the river was empty but looked like the place to be in warmer weather.
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.
There are literally thousands of items, inside and out, making this a dream destination for anyone looking for just the right piece of furniture, architectural feature or unusual finds, like a cobbler’s shoe mold or antique meat grinder.
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.”
Bellingrath Gardens and Home
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.
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