The Alabama honeysuckle border was inspired by an 18th century, Southern applique quilt.
The Cullman Tribune is celebrating the Alabama Bicentennial (1819-2019) with statewide field reporting by Alabama Master Gardener/Botanical Artist Ben Johnson South. This year-long feature, "The 67-County Alabama Garden Party," will spotlight different counties each week. Each county will get its own "quilt block," along with a historical profile, and we'll share a recipe specific to the area. At the end of the year, all 67 counties will be put in a book to commemorate the Bicentennial.
Plant explorers, the Indiana Joneses of the botanical world, travel from all over the globe to Bibb County, Alabama. This is a place of tremendous plant diversity and exquisite beauty that a plantsman’s diary recorded as a “lost world of botanick species.”
The Cahaba River, Alabama’s longest stretch of free-flowing water, is almost 200 miles long. It reaches from above Birmingham and lazily meanders through ancient and mysterious land of great beauty all the way to Selma. The uplands surrounding the river are forested with mountain longleaf and loblolly pine. The most treasured part of this natural wonder is in Bibb County, and the most treasured plant for many to discover is the ethereal wildflower, “Hymenocallis coronaria,” the Cahaba Lily.
The Cahaba Lily, also called the shoal lily, or Cahaba Shoal Lily, is like the Hope Diamond or a Michelangelo drawing, valued for its gorgeousness and rarity. This plant is celebrated on Alabama vehicle license plates and has its own popular celebration, The Cahaba Lily Festival, the third Saturday in May in West Blocton. This big, annual Alabama garden party in Bibb County is about both the thoughtful stewardship of natural gifts and about our state’s appreciation for beauty.
*PLANTING AN IDEA–The Bibb County native Cahaba Lily is an aquatic perennial and could point the way for a thriving future of hydroponically-grown plants in the area. Imagine how popular, nutritiously superior, yummier tasting Bibb County Bibb Lettuce could be in America’s grocery stores. I’m already imagining the story with the photograph of a Bibb County lettuce farmer in Whole Foods, Publix and Wal-Mart. What Vidalia, Georgia is to onions, Bibb County, Alabama can be for lettuces.
Some plants thrive more with hydroponics than others. Lettuces love to be grown in water so let’s not just limit our vision to iceberg but to better-grown romaine and arugula. For the best, think of any plant that squooshes when you squeeze it, bruises when you muddle it: tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, mint, basil, berries. Someone get Gwyneth Paltrow and GOOP on the line, Bibb County needs a “green food” sponsor to get Alabama’s hydroponics industry thriving.
Here are more pleasurable and positive ways that PLANTS + PEOPLE come together in Bibb County, Alabama:
*BIBB COUNTY FARM PRODUCE—Several local farmers sell their fresh vegetables and fruits; if you have a special hankering for some Bibb County-grown offering, call Rita Dunn (205-926-4310) at the Extension Office.
*BIBB COUNTY EXTENSION OFFICE—Every county in the state is part of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, which supports farmers, growers, arborists and gardeners with training and advice; Bibb County has a future-thinking agent, Matt Hartzell, who values plants and progress and understands agribusiness and plant tourism and what they can mean to the people he serves in his part of Alabama; He is a great resource; all ideas are welcome and Matt is happy to explore them with you.
*BIBB COUNTY 4-H CLUBS—These groups of students have fun learning about everything from chickpeas to chess; you’ll find future farmers and plants people at these 4-H Clubs: Brent Elementary, West Blocton Elementary, Woodstock Elementary, Centreville Middle School, West Blocton Middle School, Bibb County High School (Centreville) and West Blocton High School.
*CAHABA RIVER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE—It’s 3,689 protected and managed acres and one of the newest designated plant and animal sanctuaries in the U.S.; hunters are required to obtain a William R. Ireland/Cahaba River Wildlife Management Area permit and license. Alabama is grateful for future-thinking philanthropists like Bill Ireland and groups like The Nature Conservancy for helping save our natural resources for the next 200 years.
*KATHY STILES FREELAND BIBB COUNTY GLADES PRESERVE—It’s home to 61 rare plant species, a botanical wonder that is currently “THE MOST BIOLOGICALLY DIVERSE SITE” in Alabama.
*BIBB COUNTY NATIVE PLANTS AND PEOPLE—The original name for Bibb County was Cahawba County when it was established in the Alabama Territory on Feb. 7, 1818. “Cahawba” means “above water” in the native Choctaw language; the name was changed to honor William W. Bibb, governor of the Alabama Territory and the first governor after statehood.
*BIBB COUNTY LAUNCHED ALABAMA’S BIGGEST NEWSPAPER—The Woodstock community was an early settlement on the old Huntsville to Tuscaloosa stagecoach line; what would become Alabama’s biggest newspaper, “The Birmingham News,” (part of AL.com) began here in the early 1800s; the most-read newspaper in the county today is The Centreville Press.
*BRIERFIELD IRONWORKS STATE PARK—The Brierfield Furnace originally produced decorative wrought iron popular in Antebellum architecture, but during the American Civil War the furnaces were converted for naval armaments. Now a 486-acre state park, its visitors are welcomed to hiking and nature trails, swimming and a West Alabama Birding Trail. Of special interest are the Mulberry Church built in Bibb County near Centreville in 1897 and relocated to the Brierfield Park, as was the Historic Ashby Post Office now available as a conference center and meeting space. Historic cabins and farmhouses are also available for overnight rental.
PLANTING AN IDEA: Bibb County farmers produce a variety of superb vegetables, fruits and flowers, but there is currently no central spot where sellers and customers congregate. Using the 67 unique-per-county “quilt block” designs like the one on this page of the Bibb County Cahaba Lily, we are exploring an “Alabama Garden Party Quilt Trail” as a visual icon in each county for plant tourism. Local 4-H Clubs throughout the state will be creating and painting their “quilt blocks.” One idea would be to agree on a central location for a multi-grower farm stand and mark the spot with the Bibb County Cahaba Lily quilt block sign.
Y’ALL COME to Bibb County on your 67-COUNTY, ALABAMA GARDEN PARTY tour!
Many thanks to Matt Hartzell and Rita Dunn of the Bibb County office of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, and to Rick Edmunds for the Twix-And-Tween Barbecue Sauce recipe.
BIBB COUNTY LETTUCE WRAPS with TWIX-N-TWEEN BARBECUE SAUCE
This delicious garden party entrée salutes Bibb County, Alabama. The classic, Alabama-concocted barbecue sauce was created by the famous Twix-N-Tween Restaurant which was a “must eat” friendly place on the Bibb County stretch of highway between Montgomery and Tuscaloosa. For more than 50 years, the Twix-N-Tween only closed on Christmas Days. The Twix-N-Tween (now CLOSED) was owned by Hugh and Margaret Ann Edmunds and started in Centreville in 1952. Their fun-loving son, Rick, who shared this recipe, claims to have “the best taste buds” in the family. The Edmunds closed the business just a few years ago, but the sign is there and is a great, VERY ALABAMA place for a cellphone selfie or an Instagram photo.
TWIX-N-TWEEN BARBECUE SAUCE
- 2 cups ketchup
- 1 cup dill pickle juice
- ¾ cup yellow mustard
- 3 tbsp. hot sauce
- 3 tbsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 2 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
- Pinch of garlic salt
- Combine all ingredients in a pot on medium heat.
- Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from heat and let cool.
- Pour into jars and refrigerate. Will last for several months.
BIBB COUNTY LETTUCE WRAPS
- 6 leaves of Bibb County lettuce
- 4 oz. grilled chicken, chopped
- 1 stalk of celery, chopped
- 2 tbsp. Bibb County pecans, chopped
- Stir the chopped chicken, celery and pecans in a bowl.
- Drizzle those ingredients with Twix-N-Tween Barbecue Sauce and stir.
- Divide the mixture among the lettuce leaves.
- To eat, wrap the lettuce leaves around the mixture.
Enjoy with lots of stories about Bibb County and stops at the Twix-N-Tween to and from the ball games in Tuscaloosa.
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