Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Visiting the Birthplace of Helen Keller


A few weeks ago myself, Mr. Fix-it and the Jimster took a trip to Alabama with the Montgomery County Master Gardener Group. The trip was a learning trip for the fifteen folks who joined in. The trip was open to the entire master gardener group and their families. All we had to do was drive ourselves to Muscle Shoals Alabama, pay for our food and enjoy. The master gardener group paid our entrance to the Helen Keller house and the Huntsville Botanical Gardens as well as our one night hotel bill. In case you all didn't know Huntsville is about a 3.5 hour trip from the Clarksville area. It was an awesome trip and one I am so happy my family was able to join me on. This post is the first of a couple of posts on that weekend learning trip. I have lots to share and thought it best if I would break it all up. One post will be about yard art at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens and two more will be about the gardens themselves-all from my point of view.

Unless you live in a cocoon you have at one time or another heard of Helen Keller. She was an amazing woman and her teacher, Ann Sullivan, an even more amazing person for teaching Helen the basics of life. Helen was born on an estate called Ivy Green in Tuscumbia Alabama. Helen had no disabilities at birth but at around 19 months of age she became blind and deaf due to an unknown disease; probably scarlet fever or meningitis. Helen became  uncontrollable due to her disabilities but with the help of her teacher (Ann Sullivan) Helen learned to communicate and became the first blind and deaf person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. If you want to learn more about Helen Keller and her life I strongly recommend reading The Story of My Life by Helen Keller. I read this book in high school and can still remember the courage it inspired in me. I do not intend in any way to talk about the life of Helen Keller in this post, only about our family visit to the home called Ivy Green. The above picture shows all the wonderful master gardener folks walking up to the main house. My dear husband and son are trailing the pack. You'll see more of them later.
The estate once encompassed a larger area than it does today. Our docent told us the estate was quite large and that it extended all the way to the Tennessee River which flows nearby. Currently Ivy Green sits on approximately ten acres of land. There are two houses. The main house to the left in the above picture and the little house; which is where Helen did most of her living and learning with Ann. The grounds are well maintained and fairly true to the way things were in when Helen lived here. The grounds do have several additions in the form of gifts from around the world. Basically the grounds are a museum of art and awards that pay homage to Helen and her courage. There is a film set in the back of the property; which I assume was where parts of the popular movie The Miracle Worker were filmed.


Inside the main house you can venture upstairs and into a small gallery where there were many displays. I happened to take this picture of the five finger vase because I have a fascination with vases. I have quite a collection of vases including a five finger vase even though flower arranging is not my thing. I do enjoy history though and found the connection between Helen's five finger vase and the fact that I too have one to be a great connection. I have been researching five finger vases and found they are from the colonial times to the 18th Century. Five finger vases are so named due to their resemblance to the hand. These vases were used to display favorite flowers such as irises, roses or anything else you'd like to have spotlighted where the flowers are not in a mass arrangement.
Three of the seven rooms in the main house were still set up in the original order they were when Helen lived here. You could not enter the rooms but I snapped a photo or two.
Walking the short distance to the little house we find a small house where you can only peek into the windows to see where Helen played. This front room where you can look through the door was where Helen lived and the back room contained her toys.
Behind the big and little houses was a kitchen and ice house. This is the building where the kitchen was located. The cook slept and lived in this building as well. The brick building in the background was a gift shop but it was not open on the day we visited Ivy Green. I believe the grounds are operated by volunteers only and perhaps that was why the gift shop was closed. I am not sure.
This area was my favorite area of the grounds. It was called 'The Playpen'. It was a round area about 40' wide that was surrounded with boxwood as an outer circle, with oakleaf hydrangeas (oakleaf hydrangeas are the state wildflower of Alabama). In this area Helen was allowed to play because she could not escape the surrounding vegetation; hence it was called the playpen. This area was shaded by magnificent old trees.
Once you round the two houses and stride toward the kitchen you pass an heirloom rose garden and this wonderful garden with this fantastic pottery as its center point. This pot had to be at least six feet tall and I've never seen anything like it before.
The morning we visited (September 24, 2011) was a fabulous morning. The dew was heavy in the air but you could just tell the weather was going to be perfect. The spiders in this boxwood perhaps liked the weather as well. The dew on their webs made quite a show. 

The grounds were impressive with gardens featuring countries of the world scattered all around. I especially liked the Garden from Japan with its Japanese maple. Paths were stroller and wheelchair friendly and you could really spend some time enjoying the plants and vignettes created throughout the ten acres of grounds. 

Lastly I show you one of the heirloom roses from the rose garden. I am not a big rose lover but roses have an appeal to everyone for their romance, history, fragrance, and beauty. These two will finish out our visit to Helen Keller's birthplace in Tuscumbia Alabama.....

in the garden....

Next stop Huntsville!

Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team, In the Garden


  1. Tina,

    Thanks for this post! I really liked the vase and huge pot in the garden too.

  2. A neat visit Skeeter! It's always interesting to see the grounds where historically significant people once lived!

  3. Thanks all it was a lot of fun and a great learning experience as well.

  4. That's a BOXwood? Crikey things get huge in the south!! ;-) And, wow, we have to pay just to attend monthly MG meetings--how cool they pay for your learning trips! Looks like a fun time.

  5. I read a book about Helen Keller and her teacher Ann when I was a teenager I remember being awed and impressed by her. How cool/interesting to visit her home.

  6. Loved your descriptions. You made me feel as if I was there myself. It must have been quite a memorable trip. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  7. Helen Keller truly was a great lady, as was her teacher so what a great place to visit.

  8. Thank you so much for this amazing tour.

  9. I am glad you are sharing photos from your trip. What a great opportunity to visit Helen Keller's home. I have seen those five fingered vases before, quite interesting.

  10. I didn't even know her birth place was preserved.
    Love that huge strawberry pot.
    Thank you for sharing your tour.

  11. Yesmam, Helen Keller inspired a lot of us didn't she. What a great playpen and that's one heck of a strawberry planter looking container.

  12. Interesting looking place. Wow, that is some tall vase and the Boxwoods make a wonderful playpen. How neat for a fence to keep a child in place....

  13. What a terrific garden. So glad you are posting it. That will be my trip to see it. Thanks.
    She was a fantastic lady.

  14. Thanks for the tour – Helen Keller’s story made a big impression on me as a child too. Ann Sullivan must have been a remarkable teacher. It’s nice now to visualize them in the garden.

  15. What an interesting trip! I don't think I had ever heard or seen of a five-finger vase. Interesting. And that big strawberry pot! Wow! Loved all the tidbits of information. Thanks for the picture of the rose, too!

  16. Tina what a fabulous trip. Helen is one of my favorite people. How lovely to see where she lived and grew up. The gardens are beautiful and that pottery jar looks like an oversized strawberry jar...fascinating!!

  17. I have to admit, I know very little of Helen Keller. I had no idea of her birthplace. Thanks for the tour.

  18. What a nice trip to take with your MG group and your family. I've never been to Ivy Green, but it's going on my list of places to visit I love that gigantic pot, never seen anything like it on that scale at least. :)

  19. Helen Keller was such an inspiring woman. How wonderful that they have preserved her home and gardens so well. Thanks for sharing this, Tina!