Pollinators are now a Teaching Priority!
Pollinators are now a Teaching Priority!
Fall Yoga Series for families
On Wednesday, families were led by Annie Damsky of Villager Yoga in the Fall Yoga Series for families. The seesions take place each Wednesday at 3:30 until November 19. To learn more about rates and to reserve a spot online, visit www.bbgardens.org/classes.
Docent Training – September 2014
As The Gardens welcomes a new school year, it also welcomed special guests and education partners, Birmingham Audubon Society! On Tuesday, September 9, Education Manager Helena Uber-Wamble and BAS Volunteers Ty Keith and Louise Ayer Tommie introduced docents to the joys of bird watching as they do for the many school students during Discovery Field Trips. Participants also went birding along the new Secret Life of Trees trail (kindergarten trail) and accomplish 2-in-1!
Lunch and Learn: Porous, Permeable and Pervious
On Wednesday, August 13, the final Lunch and Learn of 2014 was held in the Auditorium. Director of Horticulture James Horton led a talk called “Porous, Permeable and Pervious.” We’re already making plans for the 2015 series! Stay tuned for what’s to come!
A Crash Course in Alabama Ecosystems
[Guest blog post by Louise Agee Wrinkle Native Plant Intern Mitchell Vaughan]
Recently, I was part of a group who went on a field trip to the Bibb County Glades, located near Montevallo, Alabama. Described variously as “a botanical lost world” and “a botanical wonder,” as well as other similarly impressive titles, this site is not at all what comes to mind when I hear the word “glade.” I pictured something more like the Everglades, a big grassy wetland broken by the occasional tree hammock. The word glade, however, means an open area surrounded by trees. Much of the Bibb County Glades are comprised of rocky, arid, grass-and-wildflower-covered rocky outcrops. What makes these glades distinctly different is the type of rock of which they are composed, Ketona dolomite.
Dolomite is a type of limestone and this particular type of it is unusually pure and contains large percentages of calcium and magnesium. Magnesium, in high concentrations, can be toxic to many species of plants; this is why the glades are populated by many unique species that have adapted to living in that particular type of limestone. They thrive here without competition from more typical species, which would normally populate the area. Growing on these glades are several rare species, including one third of all Alabama endemic plant species – and eight species unknown to science before their discovery in the 1900s.
After trekking through some steep open terrain, we ventured into the adjacent woodlands where it was noticeably cooler. We hiked along a stretch of the Little Cahaba River and then deeper still into a forested area along a small stream. Here, it became more like walking through a temperate rainforest with lush green vegetation spreading prolifically in every direction. Following the stream, we eventually came to a spot with a particularly interesting botanical inhabitant, one that has yet to be named and described. Its temporary name is Trautvetteria sp. nov. (tassel-rue), and will be definitively named by whomever first describes it botanically.
Finally, we packed up and drove to a nature preserve along the Cahaba River, where we hoped to see Hymenocallis coronaria (Cahaba lily) flowering. And flowering they were! It’s a spectacular sight to see an expanse of showy white flowers bobbing daintily over the river waters in which it grows. Visiting these sites makes it clearly evident why they are described as some of Alabama’s natural wonders.
From sunny glades to shaded woodlands, it was quite a day. Exploring several of Alabama’s ecosystems in rapid succession can offer a newfound appreciation for our state’s biodiversity and unique natural character.
Lunch and Learn: A Change of Scenery
On Wednesday, July 9, Daniel and Andrew McCurry led “A Change of Scenery,” a Lunch and Learn event which showed participants how to make their landscape fit their current lifestyle, physical needs and desires. A new Lunch and Learn series will begin on July 23 with “GrandScapes: Playful Gardening” led by Vasha Rosenblum. Sallie Lee leads “The Buzz on Pollinators” on August 6, while James Horton leads “Porous, Permeable and Pervious” on August 13.
All Lunch and Learn sessions take place from 11:30 – 12:30 p.m., and they’re all FREE! Bring your lunch and we’ll provide the drinks and desserts! Make plans to join our next series!
A Week of Field Trips
[Guest Blog Post by Intern Sanitra Lawrence]
On Sunday, June 1, I had the opportunity to canoe down the Cahaba River with friends from Birmingham Botanical Gardens to the largest population of the Cahaba lily (Hymenocallis coronaria) on earth. The Cahaba lily is an aquatic, white flowering perennial found growing nestled in between shoals in the Cahaba River. The Cahaba lilies are very specialized in their habitat and the type of rock they grow in, which makes them so rare. The rocks are pliable enough to allow the roots to penetrate through them for easy establishment. Dr. Randy Haddock, field director of the Cahaba River Society, demonstrated how to extract nectar from the Cahaba lily using a small, plastic capillary tube. He instructed us to place the tube deep into the corolla of the flower. Once the tube was inserted, we gently placed the bloom upside down and pressed the nectar into capillary tube. The nectar was somewhat sweet, followed by a strange aftertaste. Everyone except me seemed to enjoy the taste because I expected a honeysuckle-like taste. Randy also showed us different organisms found in the river, such as crayfish and common aquatic insect larvae. This was my first canoe trip; traveling downstream was a lot easier than traveling upstream, but I will look forward to experiencing canoeing again.
The following Monday, June 2, Mitchell Vaughan, Alex Dumont and I were given a great tour of The Archives and Rare Book Room at The Library at The Gardens by Archivist Jason Kirby and Director of Library Services Hope Long. It was interesting to see actual historical and botanical documentation dating back to the sixteenth century. Included in the collection were also rare maps, gardens plans and antique seed catalogs. Jason and Hope were very knowledgeable of the library and offered help if we needed guidance on future projects.
On Tuesday, June 3, I went to visit Southern Organics in Columbiana, Alabama, which company specializes in aquaponics, the process of recycling fish waste for fertilizing vegetables. It was great to witness them experimenting with aquaponics in the early stages of their business. The warehouse consisted of tanks where they produced tilapia. The staff explained how they converted fish waste into useful sources of nitrogen for the plants. Next to the tanks were experimental stations, where different vegetables were tested before being grown in the production greenhouse. Above the stations were artificial light sources for the plants to use in photosynthesis. The plants were transplanted into Styrofoam blocks, where the roots grew though holes into a liquid base medium. For biological control of insect pests, beneficial ladybugs were used. Southern Organics not only produces fish, but also vegetables. Their plan is to expand in supplying organic vegetables to stores.
Our last field trip for the week consisted of going to Hale County, Alabama on June 4 where we traveled through the woods to view a rare fern population. Kaul Wildflower Garden Curator John Manion returned a fern back to its habitat where he had been growing it on a petri dish in the micro-propagation lab at The Gardens. It was also the first time that he brought a rare fern back to its native habitat in hopes of increasing the population. Preserving the ferns and their habitat is vital to their survival.
On Thursday, June 5, I enjoyed working with Amanda Clark in the vegetable garden. I never had much hands-on experience with vegetable gardening at Mississippi State, but Amanda is very knowledgeable about cultural practices. She showed me how to prune, sucker and train tomato plants on a trellis system properly. In addition, she explained the importance of composting and how one should turn the pile every other day in order to speed up the process of decomposition.
Although I have experienced a lot of things this week, it only covered a small portion of this internship. I am very excited to participate in many other activities this summer.
[pictured: Louise “Weesie” Walker Goodall Smith with Kaul Wildflower Garden Curator John Manion]
At the 2013 Central South Native Plant Conference, we offered a special tribute to Louise “Weesie” Walker Goodall Smith, a tireless champion on behalf of the beauty and diversity of her native Alabama; an early spokesperson for the conservation of Alabama’s wildest places and the native plants and animals that dwell there; an engaged and hands-on community volunteer for over 40 years with more than ten organizations (several of which she helped to found); a self-taught botanist and consummate gardener; a talented plant propagator and generous plant sharer; a humble, bighearted teacher and willing mentor; and a great friend to countless people she has touched through her work, her interests and her many talents.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1927, Louise Walker Goodall moved to Mountain Brook at a young age. She spent much of her childhood outdoors, riding her ponies throughout the mostly rural suburb, and gardening with her grandmothers Virginia Jemison and Susan Goodall in nearby Glen Iris. Her grandfather, Robert Jemison, Jr., was the original developer of Mountain Brook, a planned community that he envisioned as an elegant country retreat just “over the mountain” from the heavy industry driving Birmingham’s economic engine.
As a young woman Weesie, as she was known to all, attended Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, where she studied liberal arts and graduated with a degree in mathematics and economics. Her love of and respect for nature and plants, engendered in her youth, was nurtured while she was immersed in her studies and in this campus-wide arboretum, with tree specimens dating back to the 1840s.
Soon after completing college, in 1949 Weesie married Lindsay C. Smith, and they built a modern home in Mountain Brook on a sloping, 4.5-acre wooded site on Pine Ridge Road in 1955. While raising their five children, Montgomery, Anne, Lindsay Jr., Marshall, and Wilson, garden development proceeded at a steady pace. Traditional plantings were added first, around the house, but the woodland beckoned. Soon the undergrowth was stripped of invasive Japanese honeysuckle and unfriendly poison ivy, and trees were selectively thinned so healthier ones could flourish. This created space, and gaps of sunlight to bathe the increasing swaths of woodland perennials, and specimens of choice shrubs and small trees that Weesie skillfully added. A good number of these plants were rescued from wild areas just before impending development would have wiped them out. Over time, the Pine Ridge Road garden would develop into one of the region’s most beautiful and diverse private collections of southeastern native plants, many surprisingly rare.
To enhance her understanding and appreciation for the natural beauty and diversity of her native state and the southeast, Weesie studied biology, geology and chemistry at Birmingham Southern College in the mid- and late 1960s. Her garden grew, as did her knowledge of native plants and the countless back roads, hills, valleys, meadows, outcrops and wet habitats she explored to study them. Although keen for formal education, she also learned-by-doing, becoming adept at plant propagation and in conditioning cut flowers for arranging. She befriended everyone with common interests – and they befriended her – from amateur gardeners to wizened botanical sages, from members of the Red Mountain Garden Club to academic professionals, from hillbilly plant-hunters to nationally-known nurserymen. She offered her knowledge and her plants widely, openhandedly, always with grace and humility, and with specific advice on how to be successful with plants others deemed too rare, finicky or fragile to bother with. Her Pine Ridge Road garden was toured extensively, photographed regularly, written about effusively, and probably envied more than once.
After Lindsay’s death, Weesie moved in 2000 from her mature woodland garden to a tidy bungalow on a bright ridge in the Forest Park neighborhood of Birmingham. Within a short time she created an eclectic town garden there, filling it with many choice plants – sun lovers, this time – previously denied to her in the shade on Pine Ridge Road. Even so, numerous plants from her former garden were coaxed into new but apt roles in Weesie’s latest creation. Visitors were astonished to see plants native to the Mediterranean-like climate of northern California sharing space with Alabama limestone glade natives, among others. Weesie still hosts garden tours and shares precious things from her garden, and still humbly offers her knowledge to those who ask.
ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST & COMMUNITY VOLUNTEER
The economy of Alabama has long been dependent on the abundance of its natural resources. The scale of modern-day land development for timber, hydroelectric power, highways, housing and shopping centers motivated Weesie Smith to save the best of the native plants that stood in the way. She was one of the original promoters of “plant rescues” and she worked with numerous private and public companies to overcome various hurdles preventing the removal of native plants from their soon-to-be developed lands. She was an appointed, unpaid strip mine inspector in Alabama, and consulted with Alabama Power by investigating current and future right-of-ways for rare and endangered plant species, and advising on land management plans. She made extensive plant lists, sometimes camping out overnight to more fully immerse herself and complete her study. Weesie mobilized volunteers to dig for themselves and, invariably with some or all of her five children in tow, filled her brown station wagon with load after load of trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials and ferns for her Pine Ridge Road garden (and many others), saving them from bulldozers and rising water.
As described by author John Randolph, the “battle for Alabama’s wilderness” started to heat up in the late 1960s. As a way to get organized, in 1969 Weesie helped to found the Alabama Conservancy (now the Alabama Environmental Council), serving as its president in 1972 and 1973. Along with others including Mary Ivey Burks, the group sought action at the federal level, assisted by Alabama Senator Jim Allen, who worked closely with them for more than a decade. Serious work began with the Bankhead Wilderness Study Team in 1970, of which Weesie was an appointed member, and led to the Alabama Conservancy’s 1971 “Wild Areas” proposal to congress. Testimony before both houses of the legislature followed as the Alabama team made its arguments; their persuasiveness and determination were underestimated by their opponents, most of whom did not believe that any actual wilderness worth preserving remained in the eastern US. But the detractors were mistaken, and S. 3433, the Eastern Wilderness Areas Act of 1975, sponsored by Alabama Senator John Sparkman (and co-authored by Weesie), was passed as a result. The most pristine areas of the Bankhead National Forest, known as the Sipsey Wildnerness, were now off-limits to timber and mineral extraction, preserved for the benefit of its many species, and saved for future generations of Americans to enjoy. Continuing efforts on the part of this group led to the preservation of two more wild and unique Alabama habitats, the Dugger Mountain and Cheaha Wilderness areas in the Talledega National Forest. Truly wild Alabama can still be found in these special places, thanks to Weesie and her compatriots.
It would be some years before The Nature Conservancy (TNC) would start an Alabama chapter, but the Alabama Conservancy paved the way with the work above. With Weesie representing them, a 21-member group called the Interagency Council for Environmental Education was formed; their purpose was to write a state plan for a new environmental education curriculum in Alabama schools. When TNC did arrive in Alabama, it selected Weesie for their board of trustees and relied on her expertise to study and prioritize sites for conservation and stewardship.
Weesie was a founding member of Friends of Jemison Park in 1955. This popular, linear park with trails and gathering spaces sits astride picturesque Shades Creek, which runs through Shades Valley in Mountain Brook. The wooded, waterside park was part of Robert Jemison’s original vision for his new city. Weesie was appointed to the Mountain Brook Park & Recreation Board in 1989 and acted as a consultant to the city on expansion of the park along Cahaba Road, plant identification, invasive species controls, development of interpretive material, and new plantings – always urging the use of appropriate natives through this beautiful natural corridor and elsewhere. Along with Beverley H. “Becky” Smith and others on the board, a new athletic complex was built. Weesie also developed formalized landscape maintenance criteria for Park & Recreation staff on all city property, and was an early advocate for a long-term, expanded sidewalk project to link the city’s three villages and various neighborhoods.
Weesie has been an active member of Mountain Brook’s Red Mountain Garden Club since 1960, a Garden Club of America (GCA) charter, providing plants and valuable mentoring to veteran and younger members alike. The Little Garden Club of Birmingham, a sister GCA club, and its members have long-benefited from her guidance as well. She has received a number of awards at local, regional and national levels, including the Eloise Payne Luquer Medal given in 1976 for Weesie’s conservation work in Alabama. That honor is only occasionally bestowed, and indicates high respect across the country for its honorees. Weesie has also served on many local committees, as well as at the national level on the Conservation and Horticulture Committees. The Pine Ridge Road garden was toured during GCA’s national meeting held in Birmingham in 1978.
Weesie Smith was also a founding member of the Alabama Wildflower Society and past-president of Birmingham’s own Blanche Dean Chapter, named in honor of Weesie’s close friend and one of her botanical mentors. On numerous field trips, Weesie gently taught and encouraged others to walk slowly, to look closely and to touch lightly, respecting the plants and their habitats and marveling in their richness. Weesie also served on the President’s Advisory Committee of the Birmingham Freshwater Land Trust, advising on conservation and preservation issues for the group as they began the planning efforts which resulted in the Red Rock Ridge & Valley Trail System in 2012. Several times, she volunteered at plant sales benefiting Botanica, a not-for-profit horticultural education organization in Louisville, Kentucky. Always the teacher but typically shying away from large public lectures, Weesie has nevertheless delivered countless presentations over the years to garden clubs, botanical societies and nature-based organizations and conferences, including the Alabama Audubon Society’s summer workshops in Mentone, Alabama. She is also a long-standing member of the Rare Plant Group, an august and serious club of the nation’s finest plantswomen. Borne out of friendship, a love of garden travel, and a passion for rare and interesting plants, “the Rares,” as they are known, is comprised of members from across the United States.
At Birmingham Botanical Gardens (BBG), Weesie worked as a volunteer for nearly 40 consecutive years. Much of that time was spent in the Kaul Wildflower Garden, where she advised landscape architect Zenon Schreiber and garden founder Barbara Orr “Bobbe” Kaul, and provided plants – many recently-rescued or propagated in her greenhouse and coldframes in the Pine Ridge Road garden – planting expertise and hands-on work. After Bobbe’s death, Weesie formed a work group that spent most Wednesday mornings gardening among the lush plantings along the watercourse, on the banks and hillsides, and sandstone outcrops in the former Works Progress Administration-era quarry. Through the efforts of these volunteers, who from the start included Pat Appleton, Rebecca Cohn, Sue Kinner, Lou Ann Sherling, Margaret Wimberly and, in later years Louise Wrinkle, the national reputation of the Kaul Wildflower Garden grew. This group also formed part of the volunteer core for the Wildflower Booth at BBG’s popular Spring and Fall Fiestas (now Spring and Fall Plant Sales) for many years, propagating native perennials, educating customers about how to grow them and raising funds for BBG’s educational programs.
With Dale Carruthers, Weesie grew, cut, conditioned and supplied fresh flowers for sale in BBG’s former Gatehouse Gift Shop for over a decade; many came from her Pine Ridge Road garden and Dale’s, close by. She served on the board of directors of Birmingham Botanical Society (now Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens) for a number of years, where she worked on the Building, Bog Garden, Master Plan and Central South Native Plant Conference Committees. In 1997 she was given the Friends’ Ida C. Burns Volunteer of the Year award, the organization’s highest honor. In 2003 Weesie designed the Forman Garden for her close friend Mary Forman, in memory of Mary’s husband Jim Forman. This intimate garden features a diversity of plant types emphasizing natives and 365-days-a-year color displays. Weesie sprinkled plants from her own garden – her “trademark” blue woodland phlox and old-fashioned, winter-blooming, salmon-pink quince – throughout. Still active today at BBG, Weesie continues to consult with the Kaul Wildflower Garden curator, and plays a role in funding special projects. Recently, she christened the newly-developed bog area by planting the first plant, fittingly, a rare Alabama pitcher plant.
Through her conservation work, Weesie Smith has influenced many lives and acted in the public interest to preserve tens of thousands acres of unique and pristine natural habitats in Alabama. She has continued to act with the broad goals of protecting the wild places of Alabama, encouraging native plant gardening in other private and public gardens, and in tending her own gardens throughout her life. As a community volunteer, Weesie has spread her unique blend of knowledge throughout the southeast with hands-on work and a kind mentoring spirit.
BOTANY, HORTICULTURE & GARDENING
Although she received some college-level training, Weesie Smith is a largely self-trained botanist who became one of the foremost experts in the native plants of Alabama and the southeastern US. She has been a highly sought-after expert on horticultural identification, habitat description, plant locations and nomenclature for numerous botanical and horticultural books, especially those dealing with Alabama and southeastern wildflowers. She is considered a national resource for the genus Trillium. Fred Case, author and authority on pitcher plants, lady slipper orchids and trilliums, relied on her as his botanizing guide when he explored Alabama.
Weesie has endlessly promoted Alabama plant diversity and native plant conservation through her local, regional, national and international contacts for over four decades. Part Alabama ambassador, part plant-tourist she is extremely well-traveled on the horticulture “circuit” having made journeys throughout North America, and to Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, France, Italy, South Africa and more. Through the years, she has corresponded with a great many gardening, horticultural and botanical luminaries including Elizabeth Lawrence, Roland Harper, and Dr. Edgar T. Wherry to name but a few, who eagerly sought and welcomed her opinions and wisdom.
Weesie created a noteworthy woodland garden and assembled a widely-admired collection of plants on Pine Ridge Road, Mountain Brook, Alabama. Many of these plants were wild-collected (legitimately rescued) from native stands under development pressure. Some of her collections represented distinct forms of well-known plants and several plant species new to science. Weesie’s work to collect, grow and give away native plants represents an important early effort to conserve and multiply Alabama’s rich flora through a combination of land preservation and horticulture. (A full plant list for her garden would run into multiple dozens of species, but plants of particular note, introduced to the property by Weesie, appear in a separate section below.)
Keen observation fostered an intimacy with how and where native plants grew in the wild, and that informed where Weesie grew those plants in her garden. In one area adjacent to Pine Ridge Road, a road crew had dumped a pile of crushed slag, an alkaline by-product of the steel industry and a common sub-base for roads. The slag had spilled down the slope and would have been a concern for the average gardener. However, Weesie seized upon this as an opportunity to grow sweeps of lime-loving perennials such as tall bellflower and specimens such as dwarf Ohio buckeye.
The Pine Ridge Road garden, with meandering paths laid out beneath a canopy of tall pines, oaks and hickories, gained a certain repute and was featured in full chapters in two books, Jim Wilson’s Masters of the Victory Garden (1990) and Eden on their Minds by Starr Ockenga (2001). For many years, photographs of her garden regularly appeared in Southern Living. Weesie also contributed content for other books and publications including, notably, the Garden Club of America’s (GCA) landmark series Plants That Merit Attention, where she represented the South, and was responsible for horticultural research, photographs, and assuring a representative collection from each geographical region was incorporated.
Lots of gardeners can grow lots of different plants. Weesie is known for growing rare plants, growing them very well, learning how to propagate them, and then sharing them generously. These represented mostly native species but a few choice exotics as well. In the gardening universe of the southeast (and beyond), many of the “who’s who” feel fortunate to call Weesie their friend (and she would, no doubt, modestly return the compliment). Plants from her gardens, far too numerous to count, have been liberally distributed to private collectors, commercial propagators, nurseries, and botanical institutions and organizations alike.
Among public institutions, Birmingham Botanical Gardens has arguably been the greatest beneficiary of her largesse, in all over 40 years’ worth, as thousands of plants made their way from the wilds of Alabama and from Pine Ridge Road to the five-acre Kaul Wildflower Garden, wrestled by volunteers from a privet- and honeysuckle- infested sandstone quarry dating from the Works Progress Administration in the early 1930s. From the outset of that garden’s development in the late 1960s, initially working alongside landscape architect Zenon Schreiber, Weesie assisted in shaping the design, and placing and installing a multitude of plants. Self-described as “a compulsive weeder” she formed and led a hands-on group that for many years met every Wednesday morning to help BBG staff maintain the site as the garden matured. And with her keen eye, honed through propagation and observation, she would teach the volunteers exactly which plants were weeds, leaving the tiny seedlings of nearby wildflowers to multiply.
With her strong links to the Kaul Wildflower Garden’s genesis, Weesie has given invaluable guidance in crafting current-day maintenance and future management plans. In the mid-2000s, she helped to steer new focus here, advising on the removal of more than 150 trees, essential to creating the important canopy gaps that many of the most coveted wildflower species demand. When discussions began to replace the railroad cross-tie steps that lead through the site – avoiding the almost-yearly replacement of the rotting ones – Weesie deftly ended the debate by asking, “If Mr. Schreiber had wanted stone steps, don’t you think he would have built them?” In these examples and others, Weesie’s guidance has allowed the garden to gloriously flourish, while her stewardship has kept alive the spirit of its creators. With her urging, the Curator of the Kaul Wildflower Garden was established in 2007, and Weesie continues to act as the unassuming and generous tutor.
Through mutual memberships in the North America Rock Garden Society and friendships with Roberta and Fred Case, themselves prominent wildflower experts, Weesie developed a close friendship with Pamela Copeland, resident and owner of Mt. Cuba, a private estate and garden in the Brandywine Valley of northern Delaware. Weesie was an important resource on southern native plants for Dr. Richard Lighty, the first director of that property, which became known as the Mt. Cuba Center for the Study of Piedmont Flora. It was an extra-special occasion when Dr. Lighty and Mrs. Copeland would fly to Birmingham in Mrs. Copeland’s chartered plane for the purpose of visiting Weesie’s garden on Pine Ridge Road. Ms. Copeland stayed with Weesie, dug innumerable plants from the home garden and headed to the woods to collect seeds and cuttings for planting and trial at the Copeland estate.
On one occasion, Weesie loaded up more donations and personally delivered the plants to Delaware, where she advised Dr. Lighty and Mrs. Copeland on planting locations. Among the plants transported was a magnificent clump of Kentucky yellow lady’s slipper orchid, with over a dozen flowers on it. Carefully and expertly dug by Weesie, this specimen and several smaller clumps made it safely there and never once wilted during the trip. Records from Mt. Cuba indicate that Weesie provided specimens of that orchid, and the rare, endemic Alabama delphinium on three different occasions. Further, the records show a total of 17 different kinds of trilliums (also known as wakerobins) one of the most coveted of all native wildflowers, having made their way north from Pine Ridge Road. A majority of gardeners would almost consider themselves literally blessed to grow any of these rare plants, and if they did manage to grow them successfully, they would wince at the mere thought of digging them up and giving them away. But such is the nature of Weesie – and her skill – that there were enough to be lavishly shared with a great friend who would appreciate the effort and the thoughtful gesture.
The relationship continued until Mrs. Copeland’s death, and for many years thereafter through Weesie’s friendship with then-director Rick Lewandowski and researcher Jean Frett. Weesie led a number of forays to some of her favorite and “secret” Alabama botanizing locations with Frett, Lewandowski and BBG director Fred Spicer at her heels, pointing out the subtleties of habitat preference and identification characteristics of countless woodland gems, all to enhance the institutions’ understanding of their respective living collections. Invariably, she would stop the overeager collectors in their tracks, make them retrace their steps, and point out a rare plant the others had nearly stepped on. Today, the former Copeland home is a magnificent public garden known as the Mt. Cuba Center, and is widely known as one of the best native plant gardens in the United States, owing in part to Alabama plants and Weesie’s considerable contributions.
Among the other public gardens that have benefited from Weesie’s plants and assistance include the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania; the Henry Foundation in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania; Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, New York; Yew Dell Gardens in Crestwood, Kentucky; the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Athens, Georgia; and the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Atlanta, Georgia. When the Southern Progress Corporation, publishers of a host of widely-read books and periodicals including Southern Living, was building its new headquarters in the woods off Lakeshore Drive in Birmingham, Weesie was selected to design the plant pockets along the entry walk to the building, remarking that it was one of her favorite projects because of the difficulty of the environment and the freedom to plant what she thought would work. The building’s landscape design won numerous national awards. In addition, more than a thousand blue woodland phlox from the Pine Ridge Road garden were used to grace the adjacent woodlands. And they were all blue: at home, Weesie would meticulously rogue out any phlox sporting flowers with a pinkish hue – which are often seen in populations of the species – thus keeping her population so beautifully blue to contrast with the sulfur yellow of the Alabama croton blooms in spring.
Weesie has for many years been a nationally-sanctioned judge with the GCA and Federated Garden Clubs and she has been invited to judge at numerous flower shows across the United States. Weesie has herself won countless horticulture and design ribbons at flower shows at local, regional and national levels, including at the prestigious Philadelphia Flower Show, widely considered the nation’s premier such event and attracting entries from across the country. As an expert amateur flower arranger, she became especially well-versed with regard to preparation, or conditioning, of cut stems for arranging, and much of the information on this topic in Everyday Flowers, by Norman Kent Johnson (1989), was contributed by her.
It is especially noteworthy that Weesie Smith’s interests and expertise are so widely recognized and at the highest levels of the botanical profession. She has discovered several species of plants new to science, including Tiarella wherryi, Wherry’s foamflower (named for Dr. Wherry, who Weesie sent it to for proper identification and scientific description); Hexastylis (= Asarum) shuttleworthii var. harperi, Harper’s ginger, (similarly named for Dr. Harper), and a putative new species of Clematis, found on her sister Eugenia “Genie” Goodall Brannon’s property in Anniston, Alabama, not yet named. Through her travels in wild Alabama, Weesie expanded the known ranges for numerous plants not known to have previously existed here, and found new populations of rare Alabama endemic plants such as Alabama croton, Croton alabamensis. She found these plants often to the surprise (and, on more than a few occasions, the chagrin) of professionals.
Weesie’s plants and skills have long been shared with local and regional growers of native plants, and gardening with native plants became increasingly popular in our area at her constant yet gentle urging. Jan Midgley, owner of Wildflower, Wilsonville, Alabama, and Russell Blue and Richard Scott, owners of Alabama Nursery Company, Tarrant, Alabama, each selected several superior forms of native plants obtained from Weesie for introduction into commercial propagation. Midgley credits Weesie with supplying virtually every species of shade-loving perennial she’s ever grown. Many were dug from the paths in the Pine Ridge Road garden, strays that had wandered out of their designated places, and Weesie remembered every glade, glen and woodland each species had come from. Plant Delights Nursery, Raleigh, North Carolina offers a southern maidenhair fern, Adiantum capillis-veneris ‘Alabama Lace’, from Weesie; Woodlanders Nursery, Aiken, South Carolina, carries a dwarf form of red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, originally from Pine Ridge Road. Several horticultural selections of native plants made from her garden bear her name (although Weesie would politely demur the honorific), including a great catchfly, Silene regia ‘Weesie Smith’, and her “trademark” blue phlox, Phlox stolonifera ‘Weesie Smith’.
Plants That Merit Attention, Volume I-Trees, The Garden Club of America, Janet Meakin Poor, Editor; Timber Press, 1984.
Elegance in Flowers, Vicki L. Ingram, Oxmoor House, Inc., 1985. Provided conditioning information and fresh flowers for the photo shoots.
Trees and Shrubs of the Southeast, Blanche Dean, Birmingham Audubon Society Press, 1988. See Acknowledgements.
Everyday Flowers, Norman Kent Johnson, Oxmoor House, Inc., 1989. See Conditioning.
Gardening with Native Plants of the South, Sally Wasowski with Andy Wasowski, 1994, Taylor Publishing Company, Dallas, TX. Many photos as well as some descriptions.
Plants that Merit Attention, Volume II-Shrubs, The Garden Club of America, Janet Meakin Poor and Nancy Peterson Brewster, editors; Timber Press, 1996. See acknowledgements.
Alabama Wildflowers, Jan W. Midgley, Sweet Water Press, 1996. See page v.
Trilliums, Frederick W. Case, Jr. and Roberta B. Case, Timber Press, Inc., 1997. See Acknowledgements.
Eden on Their Minds, Starr Ockenga, Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2001, pp. 26-35.
The American Woodland Garden: Capturing the Spirit of the Deciduous Forest, Rick Darke, Timber Press, 2002. Garden photos.
The Battle for Alabama’s Wilderness, Saving the Great Gymnasiums of Nature, John N. Randolph, The University of Alabama Press, 2005. Multiple citations, role in establishment of Sipsey Wilderness, etc.
ALABAMA NATIVE PLANTS OF THE PINE RIDGE ROAD GARDEN
The following are noteworthy because significant specimens or populations were planted, developed, propagated and/or shared by Weesie. (Botanical names per Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States, Alan S. Weakley, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Working Draft of 30 November 2012)
Acer leucoderme, chalk maple
Aesculus spp., several species
Asimina triloba, pawpaw
Cornus florida, flowering dogwood
Crataegus spathulata, littlehip hawthorn
Fagus grandifolia, American beech
Halesia diptera var. magniflora, large-flowered two-winged silverbell
Magnolia macrophylla, bigleaf magnolia
Malus angustifolia, Southern crabapple
Oxydendrum arboreum, sourwood
Stewartia malacodendron, silky stewartia or silky camellia
Aesculus spp., buckeye (multiple species including the rare A. glabra var. nana, dwarf Ohio buckeye)
Croton alabamensis, Alabama croton
Rhododendron alabamense, Alabama azalea
Rhododendron austrinum, Florida flame azalea
Rhododendron minus, gorge rhododendron
Ribes aureum var. villosum, (syn=R. odoratum), buffalo or clove currant
Styrax grandifolius, bigleaf snowbell
Vaccinium spp., blueberries (multiple species)
Herbaceous Perennials (Wildflowers)
Anemone (syn=Hepatica) spp., both native species
Arisaema spp., multiple species
Campanula americana, tall bellflower
Cardamine (syn=Dentaria) spp., toothwort, bittercress (multiple species)
Cypripedium kentuckiense, Kentucky yellow lady’s slipper orchid (broad range of shades)
Delphinium alabamense, Alabama delphinium
Delphinium tricorne, dwarf larkspur
Epigaea repens, trailing arbutus
Erythronium spp., dog-tooth violet, trout lily (multiple species)
Galax urceolata, galax
Hexastylis (=Asarum) spp., heartleaf, wild ginger (multiple species)
Heuchera spp., alumroot (multiple species)
Jeffersonia diphylla, twinleaf
Phlox spp., phlox (multiple species)
Salvia spp., sage (multiple species)
Sanguinaria canadensis, bloodroot
Selaginella spp., spikemoss or arborvitae fern (multiple species)
Shortia galacifolia, shortia or Oconee bells
Tiarella cordifolia, foamflower
Trillium spp., trillium or wakerobin (multiple species)
Zephyranthes atamasca, common Atamasco-lily
And Numerous Ferns
Thanks to the following for providing information: John Floyd, Walker Jones, John Manion, DD Martin, Jan Midgley, Mike Rushing, Anne Smith, Fred Spicer, Louise Wrinkle, Library Archives of Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Lunch and Learn: The Dirt on Soil
On Wednesday, June 25, Arnie Rutkis led a Lunch and Learn at The Gardens titled “The Dirt on Soil.” His talk focused on the importance to soil when gardening and landscaping on personal and commercial levels. He focused on how human beings and nature impact our soil, debunked the myth that clay soil is bad for your yard and encouraged the crowd to allow nature to run its course, putting leaves ina compost area rather than bagging them up and shipping them off. He also talked about new ways to add nutrients to your soil using logs.
Our next Lunch and Learn is right around the corner! On July 9, Daniel and Andrew McCurry will share “A Change of Scenery.” Participants will discover how to make their lifestyle fit their current lifestyle, physical needs and desires. And it’s FREE! Bring your lunch, and we’ll provide the drinks and desserts. It’s in the Auditorium from 11:30 – 12:30. We’re eager to see you at The Gardens!