We were off to a slightly delayed start due to some minor things going wrong. First our ice maker decided to stop working and then the webcam we have installed in the coach wasn’t working most likely the result of some changes Rob had made on Sunday with a new WiFi repeater. So after several attempts to fix both things, he finally gave up, deciding to wait until our return to look into both problems.
So finally we were on our way! We had decided that we would stop at Buck’s Diner in the cute town of Fairhope about 30 minutes away. Fairhope is a lovely little town with lots of artsy craftsy types of shops, cute restaurants and a lovely park right along the shore of Mobile Bay with a long municipal fish pier. We had spent some time there last year.
We followed Route 98 Scenic which was, well, pretty scenic – lots of horse farms and pastures and hardly any traffic. Arriving in Fairhope around 10:15 a.m., we found Buck’s. When we walked in the door though, we were told that they closed at 10:00 a.m. Huh? What’s with that? Kind of early don’t you think?
Since there weren’t any other restaurants in town that served breakfast, we continued on our merry (well maybe not so merry with no food or java) way eventually crossing the Mobile Bay causeway on I-10. About the only other breakfast places along our route according to Google maps were Waffle Houses which is a fast food chain serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here in the south, they seem to exist on every street corner. The food could be good but we had read some bad reviews about them so we decided we would rather go hungry than have a fast food breakfast.
We arrived in the town of Theodore on empty stomachs around 11:15 a.m. There were a number of fast food joints in town, McDonalds, Hardees, BK, etc. but we finally decided to stop for lunch at one of the town’s restaurants named A Time to Eat. Very appropriate name since just about every inch of wall space was covered with a clock, all stopped at different times. Rob’s Dad would have enjoyed this place since he has quite a few clocks of his own! We ended up having their special, an American all-beef burger, topped with bacon, cheese and sauteed onions smothered with gravy, served with French fries, a choice of a side dish (I had fried okra, Rob had creamed spinach) and corn bread. Way too much food for lunch but quite tasty and about the same cost as breakfast!
Now that we had finally cured our hunger pains, we continued on to Bellingrath Gardens which was still about 10 miles away. According to the brochure we were given, Bellingrath Gardens and Home was created by Walter and Bessie Bellingrath in 1917. He was Mobile’s first Coca-Cola bottler and when health issues threatened, his physician suggested that he was a workaholic and needed to learn how to “play” – so he bought an abandoned fishing camp on the Fowl River so he could, and he did!
In 1927, the couple hired a local architect, George B. Rogers to convert the camp into a country estate by adding flagstone pathways, fountains, a formal rose garden and a conservatory turning it into a 65 acre garden. In 1932 when the Bellingraths placed an ad in the Mobile newspapers inviting everyone to see the spring flowers on a Sunday afternoon over 4700 people showed up! In 1935 a 15 room home was completed – it is approximately 10,000 square feet. Upon her death in 1943, Mr. Bellingrath created a foundation to honor his wife to oversee the gardens and home. He died in 1955. The income for the gardens goes to three Christian colleges and two local churches and has awarded hundreds of scholarships over the years.
There are several options that you have at the ticket counter – garden tour only $12; garden and home tour $20; garden and home tour plus a cruise on the Fowl River $28. We decided to just tour the gardens. As we exited the admissions building, we were surrounded by beautiful blooming azalea bushes everywhere. According to their website, the azaleas were about two weeks ahead of schedule so we were lucky that they were in full bloom.
Unfortunately the rose garden which contains over 2000 plants and is a test site for All-American Rose Selections roses will not bloom until April. Other areas include the Conservatory, the Great Lawn, the Camellia Parterre which is the formal garden, the Grotto, Mirror Lake, the Rockery and the Asian American Garden.
Along the way, there are signs with a telephone number that you can call to listen to a narrative about that particular garden. This was a clever and effective way of providing tour information.
It’s the type of place that you can visit over and over again because something different is always blooming so we may try to visit there again before we leave at the end of March.
When we left, instead of returning the way we came (basically looping around mobile bay to the north), we decided to take the ferry from Dauphin Island to Fort Morgan, a much more direct route but dependent on the ferry and its schedule and other travelers. More on that in a separate post!
Since it would be impossible to describe all of the gardens, I’ll let the photos do the talking!