THE 67-COUNTY, ALABAMA GARDEN PARTY: St. Clair County

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The Alabama honeysuckle border was inspired by an 18th century, Southern applique quilt. (left) St. Clair County – Lakeside Sunset Cocktail and Smoked Fish Canapes (right)

Lakeside in sun-dappled St. Clair County leads to deep thoughts like these: “Make your heart like a lake, with a calm, still surface, and great depths of kindness.” (Lao Tzu) And, “A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable.” (William Wordsworth) Then there’s, “Time wasted at the lake is time well spent.” That last quote is attributed to many, but I think it every time I unplug and join friends at one of Alabama’s most beautiful lakes, Logan Martin.

This lake is deep, 110 feet (34m) deep. And, this lake is big, 15,263-acres big. Logan Martin Lake is named for a utility company lawyer who helped pass the legislation which dammed the Coosa River and flooded the area as a reservoir. This relatively new Alabama lake was completed in 1964. It is circumscribed by 273 miles of shoreline and numerous hiking trails. Since its 50 years of being, the lake has become a popular destination for recreation, especially for fishing bass, sunfish, crappie and catfish.

The lake is a milestone in modern Alabama history, but St. Clair County is older than the state. It was established on Feb. 20, 1818 when the Alabama Territory split Shelby County. In 1836, a portion of St. Clair was separated to create Cherokee and DeKalb counties.

Then, in 1866, following the American Civil War, a northeast section was used to birth Etowah County. St. Clair has two county seats, the oldest in Asheville and the more newly minted in Pell City, near Logan Martin Lake and heavily trafficked Interstate 20, which connects Birmingham and Atlanta.

Logan Martin Lake is surrounded by woodlands, a wide swath of the Talladega National Forest, pastureland and the green lawns of year-round and part-time residents. It’s like a giant water feature in an even more giant garden. There is lush and varied foliage boasting a full color wheel which changes with each of the fully experienced four seasons we Alabamians appreciate.

The wooded shores are expansive. Neighbors around the lake community are friendly, often boating from one’s pier to another’s for what becomes a progressive garden party, especially on weekends. But, judging by the beautifully manicured lawn of one lake dweller contrasted to the natural-looking but carefully designed, tree-dotted landscape of the next, there is a bit of horticultural one-upmanship here in St. Clair County. “Shhh, I think I hear dueling gardening shears.”

The Alabama honeysuckle border was inspired by an 18th century, Southern applique quilt

The climate is temperate in this central Alabama county: mild winters and hot summers. This allows for native plants like bold-colored, indigenous azaleas to thrive next to also thriving, even-more-boldly colored exotic azaleas and rhododendrons.  Terraced beds and borders of cutting flowers slope toward the vast planes of shimmering, blue water.

Lawns and gardens are oriented to the waterfront and are enjoyed from that approach by boaters.

The views are also lovely from the decks and windows stretched across the backs of grand homes and tidy cottages. Roses and other sun-loving plants are often gardened near the lake where there is less shade from the majestic pines and venerable cedars.

How to best spend your time well in this part of Alabama? Waste it at the lake.

Here are some other positive, pleasurable ways PEOPLE + PLANTS come together around the lake and throughout St. Clair County including an original recipe for a relaxing cooler, the ST. CLAIR COUNTY LAKESIDE SUNSET COCKTAIL served with fresh bass canapes:

• ST. CLAIR COUNTY FARMERS MARKET—3040 Cogswell Ave., Pell City, AL 35125; May 1-Oct 30, 2-6 p.m.

• STEELE FARMERS MARKET—3981 Pope Ave., Steele, AL 35987; Saturdays 8 a.m.-noon, June-Sept.

• RONNIE JENKINS FARMSTAND—7818 Chandler Mountain Road, Steele, AL 35987 has a variety of local-grown produce; 256-538-8515

• ST. CLAIR COUNTY BLUEBERRIES—Bear Mountain Blueberry Farm, 205-586-2272, in Springville; C&D Blueberry Farm, 205-338-3912, in Pell City; Mae-Berry Blueberry Farm, 205-629-0435, in Odenville and Mike Wadsworth, 205-525-4708, in Cropwell

• ST. CLAIR COUNTY MUSCADINES/SCUPPERNONGS—(Moody) Hubert Brand Farm, 205-640-5971

• BROWN’S CUT FLOWER FARM – (Pell City) This unique plant-haven is open seven days a week April-Oct or call for an appointment, 205-410-5330; cut flowers, zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers, event flowers, all garden-fresh.

• HORSE PENS 40— A natural, stone fortress atop Chandler Mountain, this privately-owned park is a popular bluegrass music festival destination (the largest on July 4th). Rock climbing and “bouldering” are major draws, but so are tree climbing and picnicking in the shade (Note: When I asked Lee Ann Clark, coordinator of the St. Clair County office of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, where she would take a landscape painter or photographer to capture the natural beauty in this part of the state, Horse Pens 40 topped her suggested perspectives. The views from here are truly, “Alabama, the Beautiful.”)

• ST. CLAIR COUNTY PLANT NURSERIES—Crawford’s Nursery (Moody); Hazelwood Nursery and Greenhouses (Pell City); Warren Family Garden Center (Leeds)

• ST. CLAIR COUNTY WATER FESTIVAL—Held each March, this fun event has the serious mission of teaching the importance of water conservation and water protection.

• HOMESTEAD HOLLOW ARTS AND CRAFTS FESTIVAL—One of Alabama’s largest, outdoor arts and crafts events; next up, Sept. 27-29 and Nov. 8-10

• SMITH TOMATO FARM—(Steele) “A Family Tradition of Growing the Best Quality, Vine-Ripened Tomatoes” for generations; buy a basket for your family, a bushel for home-canning or a truckload for re-sale; 4575 Loop Road, Steele, AL 35987, 256-538-3116

• LOGAN MARTIN LAKEFEST—IT’S THIS WEEKEND, MAY 17-19; this is the ninth annual lake festival, which grows bigger each year; check the website for details at www.loganmartinlakefest.com. 

• BIRMINGHAM SAILING CLUB—This is a private club for sailboat enthusiasts begun even before Logan Martin Lake was completed in the 1960s and based here with 150 members; get more information about races, regattas and membership at www.birminghamsailingclub.org. 

• JOHN LOONEY PIONEER HOUSE MUSEUM—A two-story, 200-year-old, “Alabama double dogtrot” house built of local, St. Clair County timber is open for history tours. As old as the state, this is an ideal, Bicentennial learning experience near Ashville, 205-629-6897. John Looney fought with Andrew Jackson at The War of 1812 and The Battle of Horseshoe Bend (present day, Tallapoosa County, Alabama).

• THE ARK FAMILY RESTAURANT—(Logan Martin Lake) It has been serving Alabama catfish and fixins’  since the 1920s using in-season, local produce.

• PLANTING AN IDEA—Design and build a waterside “Garden of Reflection” on a promontory that stretches onto Logan Martin Lake. Remember this is a man-made lake, so it’s not like you would be second-guessing God. Part of the art could be the sculpted land itself like “Spiral Jetty,” Robert Smithson’s earthwork which attracts thousands of tourists yearly to a remote part of Salt Lake, Utah. This could be something classical and somewhat solemn like a Palladian temple and/or something cutting-edge contemporary like huge, shiny Dale Chihuly-esque glassworks, or a four-story high dog made of potted begonias like Jeff Koons. The point is to create something astonishing and double the visual astonishment by positioning it to be reflected in the glistening waters of Logan Martin Lake. 

St. Clair County – Lakeside Sunset Cocktail and Smoked Fish Canapes

This beautiful and refreshing cocktail is perfect for a lakeside sunset, with assorted small bites such as Smoked Fish Canapes – a simple “smash up” of flaked, smoked fish, chopped capers, diced red onion, lemon or lime juice and softened cream cheese, served on crackers or cucumber slices.

Cocktail Ingredients

• 5 jiggers (7.5 oz.) of your favorite orange-colored juice (orange, mango, tangerine, etc.), chilled

• Juice from one lime, plus lime slices for garnish

• 4 jiggers (6 oz.) vodka

• Mint leaves – a good handful

• 1 jigger (1.5 oz.) chilled grenadine syrup

Cocktail Instructions

1. Chill martini style glasses in the freezer or by placing crushed ice into them for a few minutes.

2. Fill a cocktail shaker about half full with crushed ice and shake orange and lime juice, vodka and some torn mint leaves until well blended.  Strain into chilled glasses and discard those mint leaves.

3. Slowly pour half a jigger of grenadine into each drink, but don’t stir, letting it sink to the bottom.

4. Garnish with lime and mint and enjoy the sunset!

(2 servings)

Y’ALL COME to St. Clair County on your 67-County, Alabama Garden Party tour! Time wasted here is well spent.

Many thanks to Lee Ann Clark, coordinator of the St. Clair County office of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, for sharing her knowledge about farmers markets, food festivals, nurseries and all the ways PLANTS + PEOPLE come together in this lovely and lake-loving part of Alabama. Also, my personal thanks to Laurie Johnson, my food-savvy friend and sister-in-law, for the original and delectable recipes which are perfect for lakeside or most anywhere enjoyment.

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. 

Copyright 2019 Humble Roots, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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Ben South