2017 Alabama Agriculture Hall of Honor

Edgar A. “Eddie” Aldridge

2017 Alabama Agriculture Hall of Honor

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.

Courtesy of the Auburn University College of Agriculture

2017 Alabama Agriculture Pioneer Award

Loren L. Aldridge

2017 Alabama Agriculture Pioneer Award

Loren L. Aldridge, a native of Boaz and a 1926 agricultural education graduate of Alabama Polytechnic Institute, won many honors during his years as a student at Auburn. Football letterman, Spade, Phi Kappa Phi and vice president of the Ag Club are just a few listed in that year’s API yearbook. He was therein described as the most popular man to ever grace the Auburn campus. Combined with a keen intellect and uncommon diligence, Aldridge’s personality certainly did contribute to the success he enjoyed later in life.

After leaving the Plains in 1926, Aldridge began his career as a vegetable farmer. The farm evolved into a greenhouse and, later, a nursery business. Founder of both the Bessemer Floral Company and Aldridge Garden Center and Nursery, he became well known in the nursery and floral industry and served as president of the Alabama Florist Association, predecessor to the Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association.

In 1969, an encounter with an inquisitive neighbor led to the accomplishment for which Aldridge and son Eddie are perhaps best—or least—known. The neighbor brought Aldridge, by that time a respected horticulturist, a cutting that bore a resemblance to the native oakleaf hydrangea, but with several differences. Over the course of the next two years, Aldridge and his son successfully rooted cuttings from the same plant and, in 1971, were awarded a patent for the Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’, or the Snowflake hydrangea.

In the years since, the Snowflake hydrangea has become a favorite garden plant not just in the American South, but around the globe. In addition to Auburn University’s campus, the plant can be found thriving in New York’s Central Park, the grounds of the White House in Washington, D.C., and in gardens throughout Europe, Japan and New Zealand.

The younger Aldridge, a 2017 inductee into the Alabama Agricultural Hall of Honor, credits his father both with his own success as a horticulturist and with the idea to establish Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, Alabama.

Aldridge and his wife, Zeta, had two sons, Mac and Eddie. Aldridge passed away in 1978.

Courtesy of the Auburn University College of Agriculture

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