The Pat Ryan Memorial Fund
"My favorite flower is whichever one I am looking at or working with at the time". - Pat Ryan
We recently lost one of America’s
horticultural legends – Pat Ryan. For more than 35 years Pat’s name was
synonymous with Bellingrath Gardens and horticulture in Mobile. According
to Bellingrath’s Executive Director, Dr. Bill Barrick, “We will be forever
indebted to Pat for his commitment and love of Bellingrath and the legacy he
leaves behind for all to enjoy. When my Grandfather passed away the
minister said a ‘mighty oak had fallen in the forest.’. The same could be
said of Pat Ryan.”
Bellingrath has established the Pat Ryan Memorial Fund for the acquisition of new plants for the Gardens. Donations can be made to the Bellingrath Gardens and Home Foundation.
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Abount Harry F. “Pat” Ryan, Jr.
In 1965 Pat Ryan joined the staff of Bellingrath Gardens and
Home as the landscape engineer, replacing Martin D. Greene who had
retired a year earlier. In a 1983 interview Pat recalled that he had
visited the Gardens during Mr. Greene’s early tenure while a student at Auburn
University in 1953.
During that visit they were introduced to Walter D.
Bellingrath who offered the group a Coca-Cola. He remembered Mr. Bell
walking over to a vending machine and rather than opening it up, methodically
depositing a nickel for each and every bottle.
Not only did Pat have memories of Mr. Bell, but he also
recalled his memory of Mrs. Bellingrath from his childhood. A large black
limousine had pulled up in front of the family home as Pat’s stepfather and a
helper struggled to dig up a large camellia. Bessie Bellingrath approached
the two and said that she thought it was a beautiful bush and worth at least
$600. Pat’s stepfather announced that the camellia was not for sale and
explained that he was moving it to the back garden.
Within a year that camellia was dead and Pat used to chuckle
that his mother never let that man forget that he had turned down $600 during
the Depression and had nothing but a dead camellia to show for it.
Pat arrived at a time when the Gardens had only recently
completed construction of the Cafeteria and Gift Shop, the Rose Garden Bridge
and the Oriental-American Garden. For more than three decades Pat would
oversee the seasonal planting of the flowerbeds and their maintenance, as well
as keeping the grounds in pristine condition.
Four years after his arrival, the Gardens were struck by Hurricane
Camille in August of 1969. Dozens of water oak trees splintered and
collapsed. Outside expenses to handle the removal of the downed trees
topped $15,000 and Pat supervised the cleanup which took several weeks.
Pat and his late wife JoAnn, lived on the property and here
they raised daughters Cathy and Maureen and son Tripp. Their former home
has since been converted to office space but continues to be known as “The Ryan
The Gardens were visited with another hurricane in 1979, but
unlike Camille, Frederick was a direct hit resulting in unprecedented
damage to the property. As he recalled a short while later, the Gardens
had to be shut down for six months to allow the removal of downed trees and
crushed azaleas and camellias followed by a monumental replanting effort.
Since the azaleas had been decimated by winds and falling
trees it was obvious there would be no bloom in March. Instead, Pat’s
crew planted some 40,000 tulips for the grand spring opening.
Opening day found a happy rush of visitors and reporters
admiring the floral show beneath a heavily damaged and rather vacant tree
canopy. That night an unprecedented cold snap arrived. The
following morning 40,000 tulips fell victim to sub-freezing temperatures,
turned black and collapsed.
Many might have given up, but not Pat Ryan. The
Gardens were replanted and he proudly supervised their re-growth as the years
passed. His employees and coworkers always had a sincere respect and love
for Pat and it showed.
In addition to his work at the Gardens, Pat was a longtime
contributor to the Mobile Press-Register. Thousands of readers got to
know about gardening in this region thanks to Pat Ryan’s column. He was an
active member of the Garden Writer’s Association, serving as President in
1992-93. He also gave countless volunteer hours to the Mobile
Botanical Gardens which later named their entry drive in his honor.
Following his retirement Pat volunteered for his church and
worked part time at Mobile Seed on Holcombe Avenue. Customers could
always count on his friendly and accurate advice on plants and flowers.
When he and JoAnn moved to Little Sisters of the Poor, he helped plant gardens
throughout the campus and made sure that the Sisters and residents came to see
Bellingrath Gardens as often as possible. As the Mobile Register
once noted, Pat Ryan was truly “a man with a green thumb.”
Pat Ryan is survived by his daughters, Cathy Metherell
of Orlando and Maureen Kennedy of Andover, Minnesota, as well as four
grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.