For the 50+ Traveler

Today’s botanical gardens offer much more than gardens of the past. Besides strolls through sweet-smelling gardens where your eyes are treated to spectacular rainbows of colored blossoms, today’s gardens offer so much more. Guided tours, gardening demonstrations, even dazzling Christmas displays.

Alabama has some incredible botanical gardens that, no matter what time of year you visit, there is always something blooming. But these gardens, in particular, are fantastic during spring.

Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

1. Birmingham Botanical Gardens

There is no way that you can take in all of the 67-acre Birmingham Botanical Gardens in one day. There are 30 different themed gardens that will have you coming back time and time again.

Each theme is grouped by type. In the Gardens of Collections, you’ll find the Asian Glade, which has fragrant flowering tea and holly olive plants, tall cascading blooms of crape myrtle, and tunnels of white and pink rhododendron. Do a little birding by visiting the Alabama Woodlands in the Gardens of Nature area. Or visit the themes of the Gardens of Culture, where the Enabling Garden shows people with disabilities how they can still enjoy gardening; the Hill Garden features elegant architecture with limestone staircases that lead you down to paths lined with blue blooming chaste trees ending at a lily covered pond, and the Japanese Garden offers the subtle and soothing sounds of tumbling water.

The gardens hold both adult and children workshops that will show you that home gardening doesn’t have to be difficult. They also have plant sales and numerous art exhibits throughout the year. A schedule of upcoming events can be found online.

The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is located on Lane Park Road and is open daily from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission is free. The garden is barrier free, making it ADA accessible.

Huntsville Botanical Gardens.

2. Huntsville Botanical Garden

Explore the incredible habitats of north Alabama at the 112-acre Huntsville Botanical Garden. Along its winding paths, you will visit meadowlands, upland and bottomland forests, wetlands, and an amazing variety of specialty and native plants.

Strolling down the Matthews Nature Trail, which goes through a lowland forest lined with red maple, sycamore, and black gum trees, you will be treated to the sweet smell of blooming wild sweet William, fiery scarlet sage, and the largest collection of trilliums in the U.S., which light up the trail with colors ranging from glowing white to deep burgundy red blooms.

But that’s just the beginning. There is so much more to see, including the fern glade, the Dogwood and Azalea Trails, and rotating art exhibits. At the Anderson Education Center, you will find the largest open-air butterfly house in the country. And during Christmas, the garden dazzles with the annual Galaxy of Lights exhibit, featuring over 2.5 miles of holiday lights and cheer.

By the way, the garden opens its paths to your furry friends from mid-January to the end of February each year for what they call Dog Days at the Garden.

The Huntsville Botanical Garden is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Sundays, it’s open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online. To make the most of your visit, download the Huntsville Botanical Garden map (PDF) before arriving to plan out your day.

Bellingrath Gardens, Mobile.

3. Bellingrath Gardens And Home

The 65-acre Bellingrath Gardens and Home just west of Mobile, in Theodore, is striking no matter what time of year you visit and is consistently one of the state’s most popular attractions.

In spring, thousands of colorful azaleas burst into color. In summer, the garden is bedecked in hydrangea and roses. Fall brings the gorgeous cascading blooms of chrysanthemums, and in winter, its camellias -- over 400 varieties.

Walter Bellingrath purchased the property after he made a killing from another purchase of his -- the Mobile area Coca-Cola bottling franchise in 1903. He and his wife, Bessie, built an elegant home here and opened the garden to the public in 1932.

Today, the ornate, 15-room Bellingrath home is open to the public, and you can view antiques and life from days gone by. During the Christmas holidays, Bellingrath lights up, literally, with the annual Magic Christmas in Lights. All 65 acres are covered with over 3 million lights, over 1,000 set pieces, and 15 scenes.

Bellingrath Gardens is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day). Guided tours of the home are given every half hour. Ticket information can be found on the Bellingrath website.

4. Dothan Area Botanical Gardens

The town of Dothan has an incredible botanical garden waiting for you -- the 50-acre Dothan Area Botanical Gardens -- where fragrant blossoms bloom all year long. In the summer, daylilies burst in colors from pale lemon yellow to rose-red, as do the large and colorful flowerheads of hydrangeas. White, pink, and red azaleas light up the paths from February till fall. And we can’t forget about the gorgeous rose garden.

The garden’s handicap accessible paths lead you through the 50-acre garden, taking you to the tranquil Asian Garden, where the sound of a trickling waterfall and the feeding of the koi in a pond soothes and relaxes you; the Butterfly Garden, where blooming butterfly bushes and hibiscus attract hundreds of the brightly colored beauties, and demonstration gardens, where you can learn about and get ideas about creating flower and vegetable gardens at home.

While the trails at the Dothan Area Botanical Garden are easy to walk and ADA accessible, the garden does offer a tram service that makes stops at each of the venues and themes, with qualified and entertaining guides introducing you to the plants you will see and explaining the work that volunteers and members do to keep the garden looking as beautiful as it does.

The Dothan Area Botanical Garden is located on Headland Avenue and is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 for non-members. Before visiting, be sure to download a copy of their garden map so you can plan out and make the most of your day.

Be sure to check out their calendar of events. There is always an interesting presentation, demonstration, or tour being held.

Aldrige Gardens, Hoover.

5. Aldridge Gardens

Horticulturist Eddie Aldridge and his wife Kay donated this sprawling 30-acre property to the city of Hoover in 1997. What makes Aldridge Garden stand out are the hydrangeas, including the snowflake hydrangea that was cultivated and patented by Aldridge in 2002. In fact, the city adopted the hydrangea as the city flower because of Aldridge’s work.

A stroll through the garden leads you past an ever-growing collection of whimsical bronze artwork by sculpture Frank Fleming, the Davis camellia garden, and a relaxing stroll along a wetland stream and the banks of the garden’s five-acre lake with turtles, duck, and fish. Most of the walking paths at the garden are ADA accessible.

Aldridge Garden hosts numerous plant sales and educational programs throughout the year. Visit their website for event schedules. You can also download a self-guided tour map.

The garden is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, and admission is free. Dogs are not permitted in the garden unless you are a member. You can find Aldridge Gardens on Lorna Road in Hoover.

Pro Tips

Please remember that unless otherwise noted above, dogs are not permitted in Alabama’s botanical gardens. While some gardens offer free admission, if you like what you see and would like to see their mission continue, please consider becoming a member yourself or volunteering to help maintain your favorite botanical garden. Your generosity will be appreciated. Details can be found at the links provided. For more Alabama beauty, consider: