The air was cold as I stepped outside my apartment, cardigan on, foolishly wearing my new ballet flats I was breaking in. It was time to take them on a trip to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Alabama—not to be confused with Birmingham, UK, which often comes up.
I always take the same approach to shoes, never seeming to learn from the previous pairs. Breaking in shoes should never be done when you are on a pleasure walk—and the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in Alabama are definitely a pleasure walk. Bad (or new) shoes will impede the pleasure, every time. Guaranteed.
My two cameras swung from either shoulder, Gordon (digital, not often talked of) and Norman, who I was desperately trying to empty so that I could finally ship my road trip film to be developed. (I did not succeed.) I was going light today, I decided. My light meter and white balance filter were shoved into my purple handbag as I forewent the usually sunny yellow backpack that hauled my gear. Today, I was in the pursuit of joy, unbridled by the weight and obligation of four cameras.
After little detour through a roundabout (maps does not always know where it is headed), I ended up in the parking lot of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, my first real adventure since arriving in Birmingham. All the previous weekends have been dedicated to survival and settling in…but now no boxes remain; I have all my essential furniture (including a beautiful writing desk), and I am ready to see what this city has to offer.
The thing about the South that has surprised me is the distinct European feel—albeit, more countryside than city, and more of a fervent effort as opposed to real success, but it’s there, and I felt it as I waled through the iron gates—the Birmingham Botanical Gardens cost is, as Hope likes to put it, free-99.
I came to a split in the road, one for the wildflower garden and one for the greenhouse. Peeling away from the crowd, I forked left towards the wildflowers and suddenly found myself in Golden Gate Park.
Birds chirped from the trees and the cool breeze whispered between the branches as sunlight streamed through, casting Caravaggio shadows on the forest. It is rather English-style, heavily wooded, and though I prefer French gardens, it was refreshing to wander down the unkempt paths, listening to the trickle of the water on rocks, see the way the light hit the flower petals, to stop as often as I pleased for whatever I pleased and backtrack without feeling guilty nor obligated.
Eventually, I found myself in a tiny space behind the formal rose garden, where the lighting is positively delicious. The roses themselves seemed a bit out of season, but I admired the farmhouse-style architecture as the sun rose higher still.
I ended up in front of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens greenhouse. One of my small regrets was not entering the Conservatory of Flowers before I left San Francisco. Here, I found one much smaller, but open and inviting. There wasn’t much—a cactus garden and some other things—but to be around nature, to be outside, to be doing something not related to surviving in a new city and thinking about how time is as ephemeral as a blade of grass…it felt good. I marveled at flowers the size of my hand, leaves the length of my torso, basked in the humidity, admired the way the light fell on the wrought-iron bench at the entrance.
As I drove away, bouncing (probably because of poor gear shifting, and not from euphoria), I thought to myself that Birmingham might not be so bad after all, if I wanted to come with an open mind.
Visiting the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Alabama
- Entrance: On Lane Park Road—your map may try to take you down Cahaba Road and that is INCORRECT. Stay on Lane Park Road and turn in at the sign where Lane Park Road intersects with Country Club Circle. Parking is free.
- Birmingham Botanical Gardens hours: 7am-6pm (spring/summer hours); 7am-5pm (fall/winter hours).
- Birmingham Botanical Gardens cost: Free!
- See: The formal rose garden is worth a gander, as well as the Ireland Iris Garden, Rhododendron gardens, and the Birmingham Botanical Gardens greenhouse. I’d love to go back when camellias are in season.
I am a Birmingham, AL portrait photographer specializing in the female portrait, children, love stories, and (personal) brands. I’m also always ready to photograph destination portraits in Paris & Provence! Want to work together? Get in touch! I’d love to know your story. If you need fine art prints & posters to decorate your home, check out my print shop.