I was honored to be ask to give this year’s Spencer Lecture at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and to have my first visit to Alabama. Southern hospitality is all that it is described to be and more. What a marvelous welcome! Even the weather was lovely. The Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a private philanthropy working in partnership with these City owned gardens, a superb example of the public-private partnership like the ones celebrated in my book Heroes of Horticulture: Americans Who Transformed the Landscape. Tom Underwood, someone I had known and admired during his years at the American Horticultural Society, is the Executive Director of the Friends that invited me.
His wonderful wife Jane who plays an important role keeping the partnership strong gave me a tour of this jewel of a garden. Here you see me with Tom and Jane.
The supporting team, Heather Oliver, Penney Hartline, Michelle Phillips and everyone else made sure that all the systems were working smoothly and my talk was well received by a sold out crowd. I was told 250 were in the audience, and they were first welcomed before the talk by a gracious reception of wine and delicious food and after my talk, were eager to have me sign my books.
Even though it was early in the year to admire the gardens in full growth, I could see the strong design of the place and enjoy early greenery and even blossoms when Brush Hill was still under deep snow. Here are some views of the garden Jane showed me through. And it doesn’t begin to do the extensive and beautifully maintained gardens justice. I loved the bronze rabbit whose ears are polished by the hands of many children rubbing its ears. And the highly visited Japanese gardens currently under an ingenious restoration of the water clarity without destroying any of the landscape.
The day before my talk, when I arrived, I was welcomed by my long time and deeply admired friend, Louise Wrinkle, whose own brilliant garden is described in her beautiful book, Listen to the Land. She not only hosted a lovely intimate lunch for me with Tom and Jane Underwood, her daughter Margaret and the Landscape Designer Norman Kent Johnson, she gave me a delightful tour of her garden. She is being deservedly honored by this year’s Foundation for Landscape Studies Placemaker Award in Central Park. Here I am with Louise in her woodland garden walk with Tom Underwood and Norman Kent Johnson.
Then that evening, my Yale Law School classmates, Wyatt Haskell and Drayton Nabors (recently Chief Justice of the Highest Court of Alabama) joined me for a mini-reunion at dinner at Wyatt’s gracious home, organized by his charming wife Susan who happens to be Drayton’s sister, along with Louise Wrinkle and her husband John, himself also a Yale Law School alum although a few years head of us You see us gathered at Susan’s lovely dining table.
The next day, Nancy Spencer Smith and Murray Spencer South, whose father had established this lecture series, invited me to lunch at the elegant Mountain Brook country club founded in 1929. You see us at lunch together with Penney Hartline, Sally Johnson and Sue Ellen Lucas. I felt entirely welcomed and embraced by this very special community.