I always wanted to have a garden. I remember watching Martha Stewart Living when I was a young teenager and being awestruck by her garden at Turkey Hill. The roses, the herbs and vegetables, and a multitude of colors and textures. My first attempt at gardening was a Meyer Lemon tree, which I purchased at some point in high school because Martha said it was her favorite variety. Due to my lack of gardening experience, that first lemon tree suffered a tragic death. I burned its roots with too much fertilizer. I was disappointed, but not discouraged.
I tried my hand at herbs next. By this point, I had discovered Food Network and had expanded my culinary interests beyond baking and into cooking savory dishes. All the chefs on TV used fresh herbs, but they were so expensive. I bought some potted herbs and created container gardens. These plants did well and I decided I wanted more of a real garden. Next, I built a semi-raised bed and filled it with herbs--rosemary, oregano, thyme and chives. I was happy with my herbs, but I had the itch to plant more.
My mom had saved nearly every article from the Mobile Register written by Bill Finch on gardening. After reading some of those, I came to realize that the stuff Martha was growing in New England was not going to grow in the hot and humid climate of Mobile (hello reality check!). Mom and I were familiar with the Mobile Botanical Gardens and their famous Plantasia plant sales, but we had never been. Our first year of gardening we decided to go and we bought a slew of plants. We spent hours layouting out beds, digging holes, watering plants and adding mulch. Not all the plants survived, but most did. After that first year we kept going back for more and more plants and our garden started to grow.
Today, the three foot 'Fantasy' crepe myrtles we purchased are nearly higher than the rooftop. I can no longer reach the top of the once two-foot 'Cotton Candy' camellia tree without standing on my tip-toes. The daylilies have been divided not once, not twice, but three times and have been shared with neighbors and friends. I even learned how to save some of the old camellias and azaleas from my grandfather's property after he passed away. Today, the little twig cuttings are small bushes. I know the satisfaction and joy of seeing a garden grow.
As a member of the Mobile Botanical Gardens (MBG), I enjoy seeing growth in the gardens there as well. It has become one of my favorite places in Mobile and our city is so fortunate to have such a well maintained garden with such botanic variety open to the public. I was delighted to be asked to photograph the opening of the newest section of the rhododendron garden at MBG last weekend. I visit the gardens frequently and had seen the progress on the new section unfolding. I knew it would be fantastic and it is!
This new section is the Aromi Garden, named for the late Dr. Eugene Aromi in honor of his dedication and contribution to hybridizing azaleas. I was familiar with the Aromi azaleas long before I was asked to photograph this event. But, at the grand opening ceremony, I learned that over his 40 years of work with azaleas, Dr. Aromi had 1045 crosses to his credit and over 100,000 seedlings were brought to flower due to his efforts. Those numbers AMAZED me and gave me a newfound appreciation for this garden and the Aromi azaleas. Dr. Aromi's work is nationally known and to have that recognized in his home city was a special moment for his family. I was honored to document this day for the gardens and I especially enjoyed witnessing Dr. Aromi's daughters' delight as they strolled through the gardens, recognizing the flowers that used to grow in their father's garden and searching for the ones that bear their names (Dr. Aromi named some of the varieties he created for his children, grandchildren and other relatives and friends).
A landscape can be transformed in just a short time, but over many, many years, hard work and dedication to a garden can become a legacy. A legacy is what Dr. Aromi left behind, not only for his family, but for the City of Mobile. I am thankful that his work has been preserved for generations to come. Enjoy this look at the grand opening and be sure to stop by the Mobile Botanical Gardens to see this beautiful spot in person.