Meet the volunteers who make the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens Spring Plant Sale special

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Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Dorothy Ogdon with a tropical favorite—the bromeliad. Photo via Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens

The Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens (FBBG) is hosting its annual Spring Plant Sale—the Friends’ largest plant sale fundraiser of the year—online in April.

Shoppers will have the opportunity to choose from dozens of varieties of natives, ferns, perennials, herbs, tropicals and houseplants, and trees and shrubs, which will be available via a new e-commerce website.  Members of the Friends will enjoy priority access to shop the site April 15–16 (you can join today to participate). The online sale will be open to the public April 17–18. 

Find all the details on the Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ website.

Keep reading to learn about the volunteers that make the annual Spring Plant Sale a special Birmingham tradition.

A Story Behind Every Plant Sold

For years, I’ve written about local residents who volunteer and freely give their time and talents to nurture, grow, and yes, love the plants that are on sale at the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ plant sales. Many are Master Gardeners; most volunteer year-round to prepare for the sales, testing the plants in different conditions in their home gardens. All that care makes purchasing a plant at the Spring Plant Sale more than a transaction. There is a story behind each and every plant sold. 

To get you ready and excited about the upcoming spring sale online, let me introduce you to FBBG volunteers Dorothy Ogdon and Bob Koons.

Dorothy Ogdon—Tropicals and Houseplants

Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Dorothy Ogdon tends to plants in one of the Gardens’ greenhouses. Photo via Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Before coming to work at UAB, Dorothy Ogdon lived in Hawaii. There, she regularly visited the local botanical gardens, which sparked her interest in tropical plants. When Dorothy arrived in The Magic City, several years ago, she sought ways to reconnect with tropical plants. Volunteering with the Friends  was the perfect match.

“I was looking for volunteer opportunities to get out and get to know the city of Birmingham. One of the things I discovered were the opportunities available at the Botanical Gardens. So I started volunteering at plant sales.”

Over the next four years, she has gone from assisting with plant sale loading zones  to heading up and coordinating the tropical and household plant tables at the Friends’ sales, both in person and virtually.  She also enjoys spending time weekly working with the Tropicals and Houseplants group of FBBG volunteers, taking care of and learning about her beloved plants.

“As a person who was new to the city, finding out that the Gardens are free, that you can visit at any time was really surprising, because in most other cities I’ve lived in, that hasn’t been the case. The Gardens are a well-taken-care-of, loved and exciting public space that I want to contribute to and help support. That’s why I got involved.”

When I told Dorothy I didn’t personally have a very good track record with houseplants, she said.

“Honestly, I think you need to just jump right in. That’s sort of how it works with houseplants. Just see what works. There are really a number of easy plants you can start with.” 

She then proceeded to provide me a list of plants that I might not kill. She made me a houseplant believer!

Bob Koons—Tree and Shrubs

Birmingham Botanical Gardens
FBBG volunteer Bob Koons clears brush in the Kaul Wildflower Garden. Photo via Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Bob Koons started volunteering at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens about four years ago. He was a retiree from AT&T, after working thirty years in their architectural and building department.

“I retired from AT&T several years ago and started looking for things to do,” said Bob. “I’ve always liked construction and buildings, but gardening became an interest because it ties very closely to the built environment and how you enhance and improve your environment.”

Like many of us, the BBG’s Kaul Wildflower Garden captured the imagination of Bob, who is also a Master Gardener.

“When I started volunteering at the Gardens, I enjoyed working in the Kaul Wildflower Garden, which is at the north end. It’s a woodland garden with native wildflowers. It also has some of the largest shrubs and trees. It kindled my interest in that sort of plant.”

Birmingham Botanical gardens
FBBG volunteer Bob Koons clears brush in the Kaul Wildflower Garden. Photo via Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Bob, who leads the Friends’ Trees and Shrubs growing group, recommends shopping the Spring Plant Sale for woody ornamental shrubs. These are the kinds you see around your neighborhood and parks such as azaleas and hydrangeas.

When I asked Bob why he loves volunteering for the Spring Plant Sale and for the Friends, he said,

“Every plant we sell supports the Gardens. It fits right in with the whole motif of gardening. I enjoy volunteering. Gardening has become my vocation.”

Spring Plants for Sale

Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Near and dear to Dorothy’s heart, you’ll find tropical bromeliads available through the Friends’ online Spring Plant Sale. Photo via Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Can’t wait to order your spring plants? The sale is virtual, so hop over here to learn everything you need to know to get started. Be sure to join the Friends to enjoy priority shopping (April 15–16).

Meanwhile, plant lovers, here is a sneak peek of the plants for sale:

Ferns

  • East Indian holly fern (Arachniodes simplicior)
Birmingham Botanical Gardens
East Indian holly fern (Arachniodes simplicior). Photo via Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Herbs

  • Sweet lavender (Lavandula x heterophylla ‘Sweet Lavender’)
Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Sweet lavender (Lavandula x heterophylla ‘Sweet Lavender’). Photo via Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Natives

  • Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). Photo via Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Perennials

  • ‘Black Scallop’ Bugleweed (Ajuga ‘Black Scallop’)

Trees and Shrubs

  • Chinese snowball viburnum (Viburnum macrocephalum)
Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Chinese snowball viburnum (Viburnum macrocephalum).Photo via Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Tropicals and houseplants

  • Mother of Thousands/Devil’s Backbone (Kalanchoe daigremontiana)
Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Mother of Thousands/Devil’s Backbone (Kalanchoe daigremontiana). Photo via Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Shop the Spring Plant Sale in April

Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Tom Underwood, Executive Director of the Friends of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, summed up the significance of the Spring Plant Sale to the Birmingham community: “The Friends’ annual Spring Plant Sale is a wonderful and important part of the fabric of our community, a signal that spring is here.”

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to grow! Cultivate your inner gardener and shop the sale (while also supporting this community treasure) April 15–18

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  • Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.