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Photo by Frank Couch.
Aldridge Gardens’ CEO Tynette Lynch is looking forward to seeing the gardens continue to expand in the years to come.
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Artist’s renderings courtesy of Aldridge Gardens.
The cascade garden would include a stream cascading down rocks and across several terraces with fountains made of cut stone. Japanese maples would be planted along the stream. The total estimated cost is $2 million.
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Community garden: $177,000.
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Outdoor rooms: $40,000.
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The Aldridge Gardens master plan includes a $90,000 project to extend the back patio outside the Aldridge building, with steps and plantings leading down to a hard surface by the lake.
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Pavilion expansion: $90,000.
Since Aldridge Gardens opened in 2002, officials have been chipping away at their master plan, adding a new garden here, a new feature there, year by year.
But there still are more than $2.6 million worth of projects in the master plan, and officials are eager to see the 30-acre public gardens continue to blossom and grow.
“It’s just a jewel here in this city,” said Aldridge Gardens CEO Tynette Lynch.
More than 84,000 people visited Aldridge last year, making it the sixth most visited free attraction in the state, according to the Alabama Tourism Department.
There have been numerous additions in recent years, including an entrance plaza, wetland stream, camellia garden, azalea trail, bonsai display, a new fountain, interactive water wheel and a veterans memorial arbor set to be dedicated in November.
But nearly a dozen more projects in the master plan would add to the beauty that visitors experience and attract even more people, Lynch said.
The most expensive project is construction of a cascade garden, which would include a stream cascading down rocks and across several terraces with fountains made of cut stone, said Rip Weaver, the gardens’ executive director. Japanese maple trees would be planted along the stream, he said.
In 2012, the estimated cost for the cascade garden was $2 million, about half of which would go toward the fountains, he said.
The next most expensive project is a community fruit and vegetable garden, proposed near the entrance sign along Lorna Road.
This area would include hay bale gardens, where fruits and vegetables are grown in raised gardens surrounded by hay bales, and tower gardens, where fruits and vegetables are grown in vertical, stacked cylinders that require less space than traditional gardens. Both types of gardens require no tilling of the ground, Weaver said. The community garden also would include a fruit tree orchard.
The idea is for companies to provide volunteers to work the gardens, and the fruits and vegetables would be donated to food banks, Lynch said.
The estimated cost for the fruit and vegetable garden is $177,000, with much of that going to purchase the tower gardens and to extend the decorative fence that surrounds most of Aldridge. Maintaining such a garden likely would cost Aldridge an additional $20,000 a year, records show.
The original master plan for Aldridge Gardens also included a $12 million visitors center and 100-vehicle parking deck, but gardens officials decided they didn’t want to intrude on the side of the property by Rocky Ridge Ranch Road with a big building, Weaver said.
Plus, the original plan was to charge admission to visit Aldridge, which would have helped generate revenue to pay for the visitors center and parking deck, Weaver said. But that source of potential revenue was eliminated when officials decided to make admission free.
Parking can be an issue at Aldridge, Lynch said, as the 92-space parking lot sometimes fills up quickly, particularly during an event. The Birmingham First Seventh-day Adventist Church next door has been a gracious neighbor and allows Aldridge to use its parking lot, she added.
Aldridge officials use the parking lot at River Oaks Village at the corner of Lorna Road and U.S. 31 as off-site parking during the largest events of the year, such as Taste of Hoover, Art in the Gardens, Paws in the Gardens and the Whispers of the Past Native American festival, and provide shuttles to and from Aldridge.
Several years ago, there were discussions about the city buying the Birmingham First Seventh-day Adventist Church property to expand Aldridge, but city leaders had other priorities at the time, Lynch said.
Aldridge officials stop pursuing that idea in 2013, but “if that opportunity ever comes up again, we would happily look at it again,” Weaver said.
Lynch said the city of Hoover, which owns Aldridge Gardens, has been an excellent partner with the Aldridge board of directors, a nonprofit that runs the gardens by contract.
The city provides almost a third of Aldridge’s nearly $1 million annual budget, she said. The contribution slated for fiscal 2016 is $306,000, up significantly from the $148,000 provided in 2013, according to numbers provided by Hoover Finance Director Robert Yeager.
“The city of Hoover has embraced us. They really realize the jewel we have here,” Lynch said. “We couldn’t do it without the city.”
Roughly another third of revenue comes from venue rentals, with people, companies and organizations hosting weddings, meetings and parties, Lynch said. The rest of the money comes from grants, donations and memberships, she said.
The number of members at Aldridge has grown from about 1,400 three years ago to about 1,700, but Lynch said she would like to have 2,000 members.
There are different levels of memberships, ranging from $35 to $1,000. Members get access to the gardens during extended hours and have privileges to fish in the lake and walk dogs in the gardens at certain times. They also are eligible for discounts to programs and reciprocal admission and discounts to more than 200 gardens across the country.
To learn more about becoming a member or making a donation, go to aldridgegardens.com.