Hidden garden

A look at the native plant garden and walking trail at Sportsman Lake

Cullman Native Plant Society garden volunteer Nona Moon at the entrance to The Native Plant Garden and Trail at Sportsman Lake Park (Heather Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – With the start of summer comes warm weather and bright sunny days, giving the perfect weather conditions to enjoy some time outdoors. Cullman County has no shortage of outdoor activities and recreation areas, though some may be more well-known than others. One of the most popular recreation areas in Cullman is Sportsman Lake Park, but even that area holds another, smaller prize for nature lovers: The Native Plant Garden and Trail, created and maintained by the Cullman Native Plant Society (CNPS).

Located across the road from the stage and Pavilion #6, and less than 100 feet from Cabin #1, the garden’s entrance is marked by a wooden arbor and a sign asking visitors to not pick flowers from protected plants. When visitors step through the arbor, they can follow the trail across the hillside and rest on the many benches which have been provided, admire the memorials that have been set up for deceased family of CNPS members, have a picnic and relax on the swing, or simply walk though and learn about the types of plants that are native to the Southeast, such as spiderwort, primrose, trout lilies, more than 10 different varieties of trillium and several species of fern. 

Roughly 3 acres in size, the garden was established 26 years ago, and is maintained by CNPS members every Tuesday morning (weather permitting). The garden’s main purpose is education, and tours are available for interested parties or organizations who want to learn more about plant species that are native to the Southeast or can be spread to the area by wildlife. The garden is available year-round, with different plants reaching their peaks throughout the year. At this time, the main blooms come from pink primrose, spiderwort and an oak leaf hydrangea; white buckeye blooms will appear next month (red buckeye blooms have already passed), and visitors even later in the year can expect to see trout lilies. The garden’s ferns also come in before most of the flowers start blooming early in the year.

This week’s workday in the garden saw two CNPS members, Nona Moon and Delwyn Skinner, performing maintenance on the garden. Moon said sometimes the workdays will have up to five workers helping out, but usually not more than that.

“Usually at our meetings we have lots of people, but a lot of people don’t come to work,” she said. “We have lots of people get involved, and they like the program and having the company, but a lot of people just don’t like digging around and working in the dirt. A lot of people do like it, but there are also a lot of people who don’t.”

Most of the garden maintenance revolves around correcting mishaps such as flooding after heavy rains or picking up fallen trees or limbs – in fact, Moon said fallen branches have to be cleared off the paths almost weekly – though there is also a lot of planting involved as well. All the plants brought by the members are perennials, so they will come back year after year instead of workers having to bring the same plants over and over again.

The CNPS holds meetings at the senior center at Sportsman Lake on the fourth Tuesday of March, June, and September, with a plant swap on the second Tuesday of October (though the September and October events are subject to change depending on the Cullman County Fair schedule); the meetings are at 3 in the afternoon. The club is also more than happy to accept volunteers to help with the garden every Tuesday morning.

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A stream along the garden trail

Blooms of pink primrose and spiderwort at the garden’s entrance

Heather Mann