* Edgar A. “Eddie” Aldridge
Eddie Aldridge grew up in the late 1930s and ’40s helping his parents, Loren and Zeta, and elder brother Mac at the family’s greenhouse and nursery business in Bessemer and, in 1952, followed in his father and brother’s footsteps by enrolling in Alabama Polytechnic Institute, now Auburn University, as an ornamental horticulture major.
When, during his freshman year at Auburn, a long-misdiagnosed brain tumor claimed Mac’s life, however, the grieving younger brother decided to put college on hold and join the U.S. Army.
After two years of military service, Aldridge returned home to join his parents at Aldridge Garden Shop and Nursery, which they had opened in Birmingham in 1954 as one of the nation’s first full-scale retail garden centers. Through the years, father and son built the operation into a highly successful enterprise and one of the area’s best-known nurseries. After the elder Aldridge’s death in the late ’70s, the son continued to grow the business into a gardening empire that earned him recognition as a pioneer in Alabama’s green industry and a mentor to countless other horticulturists.
An avid plant breeder, Aldridge developed many new cultivars of ornamental plants and shrubs throughout his career, but one stood above all the rest. It was the Snowflake hydrangea, or Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’, an oakleaf hydrangea mutation he and his father discovered, propagated and, in 1971, patented and introduced. Today, that cultivar graces gardens and landscapes in Alabama, across the U.S. and around the world.
In 1977, Aldridge purchased a magnificent 30-acre private estate in the middle of Hoover—a property that had mesmerized Aldridge with its natural beauty from the moment he had first seen it a decade earlier. Four years later, he and wife Kay were married on the estate, and together they further enhanced the property, building walking trails and planting multitudes of trees, flowers and ornamentals, most prominent among them the Snowflake hydrangea.
On Aldridge’s retirement from the industry he loved in 1995, inspired by his late father’s comment that the site had potential as a public garden, he and his wife conveyed the entire estate to the City of Hoover, with the stipulation that the newly named Aldridge Gardens would forever be a public garden and that Aldridge would be a lifetime member of its board of directors.