67-County Alabama Garden Party: Shelby County

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The Alabama honeysuckle border was inspired by an 18th century, Southern applique quilt. (left) Shelby County Open-Faced Greens, Egg and Ham Sandwich (right)

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.

Shelby County

Have you seen the Shelby County “face trees” face-to-face? I went cheek-to-Instagram-cheek with them again last month. Let’s face it, these magical, nature-interacting, public works of art are totally worth your 20-minute drive off I-65 from the Alabaster exit through some of the most beautiful countryside in America. Kids of all ages will love the famous “face trees.”

The whimsical, skillfully crafted “face trees” were created by part-time woodcarver and full-time creative genius, Tim Tingle. They are in the middle of Orr Park, in the middle of Montevallo, which is in the middle of Alabama. Tingle graduated from Montevallo High School and attended the University of Montevallo. He carved the first “face tree” during “the blizzard of 1993” and now there are nearly 40 public works of art repurposed from dead cedars in the popular glade known as “Tinglewood.” This imaginative intersection of PLANTS + PEOPLE has meant these cedars are cherished years after their natural deaths.

Here are some other positive, pleasurable ways PEOPLE’S FACES + PLANTS +PLACES come together here in the midsection of Alabama, including an original recipe for SHELBY COUNTY “OPEN-FACED” GREENS, EGG AND HAM SANDWICH:

*SUN-KISSED, FARM FACES at Shelby County Farmers Markets- Alabaster Farmers Market, Saturday mornings, June 9-Aug. 4; Calera Farmers Market, 9758 Highway 25, Calera, AL 35040; Helena Market Days, Saturdays, June-Aug.; Marketplace at Lee Branch, Saturday mornings, May 4-Sept. 28, Montevallo Farmers Market, Mondays 3-6 p.m., June 4-Aug 20; Mt. Laurel Farmers Market, Saturday mornings, June-Oct.; Valleydale Farmers Market, Saturday mornings, May-Sept.

*PLANT YOUR SMILING FACE in the fruit-producing plants at these Shelby County U-Pick farms: Bob and Joyce Balch (Sterret) blueberries; Dry Valley Vineyard (Montevallo); Leah Callahan (Alabaster) muscadines; Lyon Blueberry Farm (Wilsonville); Morgan Creek Vineyards (Harpersville) blueberries, muscadines; Mountain Meadows Farm (Columbiana) strawberries, blueberries, blackberries.

*FACE YOUR BROWN THUMB FEARS at Myers Nursery in Pelham where Stuart Myers has many years of experience helping people turn their brown thumbs green; people across the southeast know Mr. Myers as “The Caladium King;” Shelby County has other superb, local nurseries including: Hanna’s Garden Shop (205) 991-2939 and Cedar Creek Nursery/Montevallo 205-665-5237. (All three of these plant providers have much more to explore than the botanicals, which are truly impressive; plan for a good, oohing-and-aahing hour for each place.)

*FACE THE MUSIC- Oak Mountain Amphitheatre in Pelham is Alabama’s largest outdoor music venue and always a too-big-and-rowdy-for-a-house party; I heard George Jones sing “A Good Year for the Roses” and Sheryl Crow sing “Soak up the Sun,” LIVE there, so even the songs are about PLANTS + PEOPLE savoring life outdoors in Shelby County.

*FACE MASK- …of local honey and berries from the Calera Strawberry Festival, this year on April 27 at the Calera Farmers Market; get your honey and berries at the festival and google instructions for an organic face mask recipe that is all about PLANTS + PEOPLE.

*BLUES IN THE FACE- Bruce Andrews, longtime blues singer/harmonica player, won the W.C. Handy Blues Contest to represent Alabama at the national competition in Memphis. Bruce is an Alabaster resident and one of the nicest folks you’ll ever meet. As director of the Shelby County Arts Council, Bruce makes certain this part of the state has a wonderful, LIVE music soundtrack of blues, jazz, country, rock, pop and classical to enjoy with all the natural, scenic beauty and the charming villages.

*FUNNY FACE- Good-looking comedienne Polly Holliday, who like her heroine, Lucille Ball, was willing to go for the rubber-faced laughs, played the sassy waitress “Flo” on the long-running television comedy, “Alice.” Holliday, an Alabama native, honed her funny face, laugh-wringing skills at the award-winning theater school of the University of Montevallo. Flo’s very Southern catch phrase, “Kiss my grits” became a popular riff heard ‘round the world. Tour the romantic, historic, shaded lanes and buildings of the university and then walk downtown for a buttery bowl of grits (no sugar, please, we ain’t Yankees) and sliced, Shelby County tomatoes with yard eggs cooked however y’all like ‘em at one of the charming, locavore cafes .

*FINE-DINING FACES- …are seen savoring the field-to-feast, in-season, locally grown culinary magic at Stonehollow Farmstead, 2006 Dead Hollow Road North, Harpersville, AL 35078.

*FAMOUS FACES FROM AMERICA’S EARLY DAYS- American Village near Montevallo is a large, beautifully landscaped campus of recreated buildings from the Revolutionary War era built as indoor/outdoor classrooms to teach young people and all visitors the value of liberty so we may uphold and expand this key value of our nation. Group tours are currently being scheduled for the 2019-2020 school year wwwamericanvillage.org.

*THEY FACED DEATH TO KEEP AMERICA ALIVE- The Alabama Veterans Cemetery is a 479-acre garden cemetery in Montevallo begun in 2008 with the first internment on June 25, 2009. As you view this solemn but undeniably grand final resting place, consider this quote from philosopher, Friedrich Schiller: “Only a soldier is a free man, because he can look death in the face.”

*FAMILIAR AND UNFAMILIAR FAMILY FACES- The archives at the Shelby County History Museum are a key source for those with Alabama genealogical roots; the building housed in the beautifully restored old courthouse in historic downtown Columbiana has hundreds of photos and displays of Shelby County famous, not-so-famous and infamous faces. This is a must-see-and-do for American history enthusiasts. Lots of Alabama farm history as we celebrate the state’s Bicentennial.

*TULIP FACES- …should be planted with pointy “noses” up about 8-10” deep; this is true with all bulbs (daffodils, crocus, alliums)  when planting; if your bulbs seem dry, soak them in room temperature water for a couple of hours before putting them in soil. I got these ideas when I visited the color-filled Festival of Tulips, an annual event each spring (last week of February and first two weeks of March) at the American Village near Montevallo. www.americanvillage.org

*HAPPY CAMPER FACES- The Alabama 4-H Center (892 Four-H Road #4713, Columbiana, AL 35051, 205-669-4241) can accommodate up to 386 people on 264 acres of lush woodlands overlooking Lay Lake, perfect for retreats, workshops, weddings, family reunions or just an overnight staycation when not reserved for statewide 4-H Club activities. (Suggestion: When possible, allow time in the 4-H youth schedule for them to visit the “face trees” in Montevallo to create happy memories and playful photographs that will last a lifetime.)

*PAINTED FACES- Red-white-and-blue on Liberty Day this June 28-29 in historic downtown Columbiana under leafy shade trees and winding through sun-blessed, blooming planters and charming shops; enjoy this jaunty, 23-year-old, outdoor, patriotic festival with local food vendors, LIVE music Friday night and Saturday, vintage car show and fresh, new growth every year.

*FACE DANGER- …two ways at Oak Mountain State Park: 1) BMX mountain bike trails or 2) Wedding venues; 9,940 acres. Alabama’s largest state park has adventures of all kinds (yes, I’m joking about a wedding being dangerous, but anyone who’s done it will tell you jumping into marriage is not for the timid.)

*FACES FESTIVAL- In each of these county stories about PLANTS + PEOPLE and people coming together across Alabama, I enjoy PLANTING AN IDEA; inspired by Tim Tingle’s “face tees” in Shelby County, I hope someone will consider creating a FACES FESTIVAL like the one they’ve had each year in Finland since 1998. The Finnish prototype is a fun event celebrating all kinds of multicultural faces with world music of all kinds and a variety of foods. Maybe the arty and techy students and faculty at the University of Montevallo could make connections with the Finns and their FACES FESTIVAL, which happens each year the first weekend in August. I’m imagining everything from the wood-carved statues of the Fiji Islanders to pottery facepots from the kilns at the university and at the Shelby County Arts Council.

Y’ALL COME to Shelby County on your 67-County, Alabama Garden Party tour! It will put a smile on your face.

Many thanks to Angela Treadway of the Shelby County Office of the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service. These people are your “go-to” source for all plant-related questions and suggestions in the area. Check out all the programs they are doing at farmers markets and other places throughout the area. Google their website and Facebook page. Also, my personal thanks to my Shelby County sister-in-law, Laurie Johnson, for the yummilicious, original open-faced sandwich that exalts locally-grown plants.

SHELBY COUNTY “OPEN-FACED” GREENS, EGG AND HAM SANDWICH

This original, beautiful and delish open-faced sandwich entrée was created by my talented sister-in-law, Laurie Johnson, who lives in Riverchase in Shelby County. The sandwich was photographed lakeside on her terrace on a sunny day this Easter week.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup shelled, Shelby County edamame—steamed or boiled until soft
  • ½ cup torn basil leaves, such as Southern Organics Living Basil
  • Juice from a lemon
  • Olive oil, salt and pepper
  • 1 cup ricotta or goat cheese
  • 4 slices of whole grain bread, lightly toasted and halved
  • Baby lettuces and herbs, such as Southern Organics Magic City Mix
  • Sliced Shelby County tomato, at least 8 slices
  • Thin-sliced Shelby County red onion
  • 4 soft-boiled eggs, such as King’s Ranch in Wilsonville (Cooking tip: The perfect soft-boiled egg is placed into already simmering water for 6 minutes and immediately cooled in iced water before peeling.)
  • Crispy pancetta or bacon, bite-sized pieces

DIRECTIONS

  1. Puree edamame beans (reserving some for garnish), basil, lemon juice and a swirl of olive oil in food processor or blender (use more oil as needed).
  2. Remove to mixing bowl, stir in cheese and salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Spread each ½ slice of bread with edamame mixture, top with torn greens and tomato and red onion slices.
  4. Top with halved, soft cooked egg.
  5. Sprinkle with pancetta (or bacon), drizzle with olive oil and garnish with extra edamame and greens.

Serves 4

Also, check out Alabama Bicentennial: 200 ways to save Alabama for the next 200 years.

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Ben South