They arrive by bus and car from all 50 states and more than 30 countries in a little town called Theodore, Alabama, near Mobile. They stare in awe at the massive oak trees with Spanish moss, the 150,000 azaleas, as well as camellias, mums, alamandas and more than 2,000 roses in a garden shaped like the logo for Rotary International.
And then there is the housea beautiful 10,500-square-foot residence that's a blend of English Renaissance and Mediterranean styling. The house and gardens were owned by a millionaire Coca-Cola bottler named Walter Bellingrath, who was one of the first to introduce the six-pack carton of Coke and who was largely responsible for introducing Coca-Cola as a year-round drink.
Bellingrath was working long hours building his bottling business and he needed a break. So in 1917, his physician wrote out an unusual prescription. He was told Learn how to play,' says Bellingrath Gardens and Home Museum Director Tom McGehee. Coincidentally, McGee's grandfather, Paul, was the doctor who gave that prescription. So Bellingrath and his wife, Bessie, bought a 65-acre rundown fishing camp and started restoring it.
By 1927, the couple took an extensive tour of popular English gardens, which sparked an idea. And then the design and planting began.
Azaleas in bloom along Mirror Lake at Bellingrath Gardens.
The largest, oldest and most unusual azaleas and camellias in the Deep South were transported to the Bellingrath estate by train and Coca-Cola truck. Mrs. Bellingrath also bought flowers and shrubs from neighbors in the area who were having hard
times as a result of the Depression. The Bellingrath Gardens were opened to the public in April 1932. State police had to be called out to deal with the traffic
In 1934, Bellingrath Gardens were featured in a calendar of the 12 most beautiful gardens
in America. Eddie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Walt Disney, and radio newsman Paul Harvey have visited here. It has been ranked as one of the top three public gardens
by Southern Living every year since 1995. Bellingrath Gardens and Home has even been featured on A & E's, America's Castles® Garden Estates.
It is one of the few museum homes in the world to feature the complete furnishings once enjoyed by its original occupants.
Garden admission for adults ranges from $9.00 to $25.00 for a tour of the gardens, home and a 45-minute river cruise aboard the M/V Southern Belle. Lodging is available in Mobile or at the Four Diamond Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club and Spa in nearby Point Clear.