By Kellie Henderson
||Alma Bodiford lovingly holds her new variety of Confederate Rose that was recently registered with the American Hibiscus Society as Alma’s Star Rose.
Alma Bodiford is the kind of lady who would put even storybook grandmothers to shame. Her yard is brimming with beautiful plants that range from the humble to the exotic and she exudes an endearing mix of charm and homespun wisdom. And along the edge of her vegetable garden is the crowning achievement of years of loving care for the varied specimens that call her garden home, a new variety of Confederate Rose recently registered with the American Hibiscus Society as Alma’s Star Rose.
As a Master Gardener, Alma has frequently used cuttings to propagate new plants for herself and others, and an abundant cutting in 1996 lead her to plant a cluster of five Confederate Rose stalks in one hole on the edge of her garden. Alma was once again successful in quickly and inexpensively producing new plants, but she said one stalk took on a look of its own.
"Four stalks produced the common pink variety of Confederate Rose, but one had these clusters of pink flowers that were completely unlike anything I had seen before," she said.
As time passed and Alma couldn’t find anyone who had seen a flower like hers, she said she became more and more convinced she had something special.
"The plant is really very much like any other Confederate Rose, with the exception of its extraordinary blooms. It bears an unusually large bud which matures to a bundle of five distinct flowers; four outer and one central in a large cluster," she says.
Alma contacted two horticulture professors at Auburn University who sent her the information she needed to attempt to register her plant with the American Hibiscus Society (AHS). With the help of her botanist friend Darryl Searcy of Brewton, Alabama, Alma completed the registration forms and submitted them for approval with the AHS.
"Most people wouldn’t believe how much is involved in verifying a new plant," says Alma.
In the time Alma spent monitoring her unique flower, the woody stalks reached the height of a medium-sized tree.
"I couldn’t cut it back until I was sure it was a new mutation and the blooms would return in the same way each year," she says.
Alma also gives a small piece of credit for her success as a gardener to her local Co-op, Luverne Cooperative Services.
"I buy all my potting soil from the Co-op, and a lot of my other supplies too. They sell good products, and the people are so friendly and helpful there," she says.
||Alma Bodiford stands in front of a glade of Alma’s Star Rose that grows to almost 20 feet tall.
Sue Hagler of the Luverne Cooperative Services says she couldn’t be happier for Alma.
"She is a special lady. She has tremendous plant knowledge, and she knows all the old-fashioned remedies for plants that need a little extra care. Somebody could follow her around for a while and write a book about all she knows. She has the most beautiful yard with a lot of neat things tucked away here and there. She and Calvin are well known in the community for her gardening skills and his musical talent and their volunteer work. And Alma’s not just a good customer; she’s also a good friend of mine. She is an amazing person," Sue says.
Although her Confederate Roses are stunning, they are only part of the wonderful garden Alma has built with the help of her husband Calvin at their Luverne home.
"When she wants to go shopping for new plants, I always ask if the holes come with the plants. Sometimes I think I’ve dug enough holes in this yard," jokes Calvin.
In addition to the proliferation of plants common to many southern gardens, Alma has several unusual specimens including a tropical Dutchman’s Pipe, a Contorted Mulberry tree, a Hemlock tree, mounds of yellow salvia, and an Eve’s Necklace tree from Texas which Native Americans used to make necklaces. And new varieties seem to be seeking out her lush garden.
"Among some established plants, I noticed a vine whose leaf I didn’t recognize. I decided to let it grow, and it made quite a crop of gourds this year. I have no idea where it came from," Alma says.
Alma’s gardening talents extend well beyond the borders of her own garden. She was named Alabama Gardener of the Year in 2001, and she is active in her local garden club and a founder of the internationally award-winning outdoor classroom at Brantley Elementary and High School. Alma is a volunteer at the Pioneer Museum in Troy where she often dresses in period attire to teach museum visitors about life in times past. She also enjoys working with the young people who volunteer there.
Her time at the museum is often shared with Calvin, who plays the fiddle and guitar at the museum.
"We’ve met some really interesting people there, and some fine people. I ask other musicians who visit to play along with me, and it’s great to get people involved. They learn more that way, and maybe they’ll be more likely to share what they learned or encourage others to come see the museum themselves," Calvin says.
Calvin also gives fiddle lessons at both the museum and their home.
Alma says that working with young people has been some of the most rewarding experiences in her life. Both at Brantley schools and at the Pioneer Museum, she cherishes the opportunities she has had, and continues to have, to help others.
"Young people are always impressed when you show them you trust them. Whether it’s with the life of a plant or the cleaning of an irreplaceable museum artifact, knowing someone believes in your ability to do something right is powerful, and it can change people. Sometimes I think maybe that’s why God gave me the Alma’s Star. Maybe by sharing it with other people I can do some good for someone," Alma says, "and that’s a nice thought."
Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.