Friends of Eddie Aldridge remember his love for the gardens—and the people who shared his passion for them.
Tucked away from all of the busyness and noise rests a lush piece of paradise for Hoover residents and beyond to enjoy. The vision and passion for the breathtaking Aldridge Gardens came from its namesake, Eddie Aldridge. Although Aldridge passed away last November at the age of 85, survived by his wife Kay, his legacy and memory remain with the gardens and with those who knew him best.
Nature had always been a large part of Aldridge’s life, and one could say it ran in his blood. Aldridge grew up around plants at his family’s nursery business, and he went to college to study ornamental horticulture. Later in 1966, he was hired to plant trees on a property near the corner of Lorna Road and Rocky Ridge Ranch Road. After Aldridge and his father saw the property, they realized its potential.
When the property was put up for sale more than a decade later, Aldridge purchased the estate, conveying the 30-acre garden to Hoover for the public to enjoy years later. Now, visitors can come to the gardens for events, tours, weddings, art, classes and just to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
But even before the gardens, Aldridge and his father gained attention for their rare find. The pair discovered the ‘Snowflake’ hydrangea, which was a “chance seedling” from an oak leaf. They patented and propagated the flower, helping it garner local and global recognition. The stunning flower was later named Hoover’s official flower, with help from his friend Willie Edmiston.
“Eddie took great pride in telling the remarkable story of this “chance seedling” — much has been said and written about it. It’s been sought after and enjoyed worldwide,” Edmiston says. Aldridge’s love for this plant was seen by those around him, and he even referred to these white-blooming plants as his “grandchildren.”
Edmiston and Aldridge were friends for nearly two decades and met at a Friends of Hoover meeting when plans for the gardens were being finalized. “Those were exciting times, and he drew a big audience,” Edmiston recalls. “I remember how the group loved him and responded. He wanted the gardens to be a healing place.”
Their friendship really began to blossom when Aldridge Gardens opened in 2002. “I was impressed by his calm demeanor and gentle teaching methods. Of his great knowledge, both scientific and common names, of plants,” Edmiston says. “We talked often, and he became my person to go to for information. He was really knowledgeable, very giving and always eager to make new friends, especially if they were interested in plants.”
Throughout their friendship, they traveled to different gardens, including one where they came across a snowflake hydrangea that had been purchased from Aldridge Gardens. On another trip, they visited a church where the snowflake was planted, and Edmiston says, “The blooms were outstanding.”
Each time Aldridge came across his flower, he was excited to tell his friends all about it, including Rip Weaver, executive director of Aldridge Gardens. “The Snowflake continues to be unique, with all that exist today coming from that one plant,” Weaver says.
Whether he was talking about hydrangeas or pointing out an interesting tree, Aldridge shared his love for nature with everyone he met — especially those who visited the gardens.
“He was ‘in residence’ almost every Saturday, greeting people when they came in, telling them about the gardens and the Snowflake and just being Eddie,” Weaver says.
While many in the city knew Aldridge for his plant discovery and the gardens, there was more to him than his love for nature. He was a man of great faith, Edmiston says, and he loved those around him.
“Eddie and Kay became like family to me. I miss him now like a brother,” Edmiston says. “He will always be in my memory.”
That memory continues for his friends, family and even those who simply enjoy his inviting gardens. Even though he’s gone, his vision lives on and grows throughout the gardens that caught his eye half a century ago.
“We all miss his enthusiasm for the gardens and his dedication toward making Aldridge Gardens a unique place,” Weaver says. “It is already unique in so many ways, but we are striving to not only be unique, but to stand out as a premier garden that offers outstanding educational programs, wonderful sculpture and art displays and incredible plantings all in a safe environment that is insulated from the hustle and bustle of the world — right here in Hoover.”
People can read more about Aldridge and the history of the gardens in his book, “A Garden of Destiny,” which is available at Aldridge Gardens.