2023 Garden Tour Toad Hill rabbit statue.jpg

I grew up among people who loved plants. My Jernigan memories are rich with the scents of tea olive, sweet shrub, gardenia, and kiss-me-at-the-gate, and with the sight of red poppies, “old-timey” petunias, wild violets, daffodils, and larkspurs – not to even mention our summer vegetable garden that provided tart tomatoes, feisty peppers, and delicious squash, okra, and butterbeans.

My great-grandmother died of a heat stroke while working in her beloved flowerbeds, but not before she filled the ditches in her hometown with pennyroyal. My grandmother lost her diamond ring digging in the dirt while planting flowers. I remember hearing her say that she’d rather spend her money on plants than on groceries.

So when my friend Donna, a Master Gardener, herself, invites me to the Master Garderners of Lee County’s garden tour every year that it is held I am thrilled. The event offers interested plant-lovers a stroll through some beautiful yards in Auburn and Opelika, but also serves as a fundraiser for the group’s projects and for community programs. The 2023 tour, held this past weekend, was exquisite.

The first garden Donna and I visited was at a house in my neighborhood that I drive by on a regular basis, but never dreamed had a hidden Paradise behind it. Its backyard wonderland features flowers, vegetables, and trees, but also other landscape and garden art, including scarecrows that captured my attention at once … and held it.

Over the course of the day, we also saw beautiful arbors, stone pathways, and charming garden gates. We saw happy dogs and back yard chickens and Koi fish.

The perfect end to a beautiful day was spending time in the home and garden of the owner of Toad Hill, a stunning treasure in Opelika that includes a garden house, an herb garden, a pollinator garden, and enchanting cement statues of creatures carefully placed around the property. An added interesting tidbit about this particular house is that the wedding scene in “Norma Rae” was filmed in its parlor.

The Master Gardeners’ primary role is to educate by sharing research-based information on gardening with the community. It offers programs and workshops to the public, in addition to maintaining demonstration gardens such as Grandma’s Garden in Loachapoka’s Pioneer Park, the Caroline Dean Wildflower Trail in Opelika, and Kiesel Park in Auburn. Its volunteers also offer a Help Line that is available from spring into fall. Anyone interested in learning more about the Master Gardeners can contact them at leemastergardeners@gmail.com or through the Lee County Extension Office.

Marian Carcache

welcomes comments at mariancarcache25@gmail.com.