Landscape designer and Northeast native Zachary Westall spent afternoons of his childhood perusing public parks and historic homes with his father, an architect, who urged the boy to “be aware of his surroundings.” These words reverberated and stayed with Zach, encouraging him to seek degrees in art history and anthropology – then, after the idea of becoming a museum curator fell flat, to earn a landscape design degree.
By 2012, Zach had a plum opportunity to move South to the Magic City and curate the gardens of the historic Swann House in Redmont Park. On the same visit as his interview, he visited the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and experienced enchantment at first sight.
“I was starstruck,” he admits. “It’s a lovely slice of an oasis in a busy metropolitan area. Even if you’re with a group of people, everyone is having their own experience. It’s spiritual, I think. And awe-inspiring.”
One day, Zach got a phone call from a former staff member at the Gardens, asking for his expert help with a particular garden’s layout. Years of Zach ardently volunteering more of his time led to creating installments and floral arrangements for the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens Antiques at the Gardens, an annual fundraising event. This year, Zach looks forward to designing the kick-off gala’s signature entryway, ushering guests into a weekend of well-designed beauty. The crowning flower will be dahlias, which have blossomed in popularity in recent years and grew on-site for the purpose of the gala entry.
“When I first moved to Birmingham, not as many people grew dahlias, and Brooke Coleman (the owner of Swann House) wanted to start dahlia gardens at her house,” Zach says. “I fell in love with how interesting these flowers are. If you plant them and leave them alone, they do their thing.”
In a stroke of luck, the dahlia varieties Zach is growing at the Gardens — to align with the event’s color palettes offered by design sponsor de Gournay and textile sponsor Cowtan & Tout — are the same varieties he grew at the Coleman home. He admits, however, that growing the flowers in individual pots, rather than on a vine, is a new challenge — as is the summer heat. “Dahlias don’t like high temperatures, but we’ve been fertilizing them and tending to them at night when it’s cool,” he says.
Guests to both the gala and the entire weekend of Antiques at the Gardens will find the work of not only Zach but other talented floral artists, all who contribute their own particular style and concept of natural beauty to elevate the weekend’s events.
“We utilize various floral talents to enhance different areas of the Gardens for the weekend, so that they each have their own venue, and to showcase the talents of our amazing community of volunteers and supporters,” Penney Hartline, director of development at FBBG, points out.
The finished floral and plant installments complement the event’s theme and the Gardens themselves. This year, design sponsor de Gournay’s hand-painted fabrics and wallpapers — featuring a “garden aesthetic” in the words of Penney — will flow seamlessly with the donated botanical art.
“We’re all volunteers, and I’m more than happy to give back,” Zach declares. “To have something as incredible as the Birmingham Botanical Gardens be open to the public, it’s well deserved.”
The Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens 17th annual Antiques at the Gardens will kick off on September 28 with the Gala in the Gardens, featuring antiques to peruse and live music, cocktails and heavy hors d’oeuvres to savor.
The celebration continues all weekend, through Oct. 1, with distinguished speakers such as Hannah Cecil Gurney, Celerie Kemble and Sarah Wetenhall, plus opportunities to shop exquisite home furnishings, textiles and antiques. For tickets and information, visit bbgardens.org/antiques-at-the-gardens.
This year, Zach Westall looks forward to designing the kick-off gala’s signature entryway, ushering guests into a weekend of well-designed beauty.