The mission of the Park is to provide inclusive, safe and fun recreational opportunities for residents of Lillian, Alabama and the surrounding communities, with a goal of providing healthy lifestyle programs residents can enjoy all year long.
The Park was created in 1997 when the Lillian Community Club donated 17 acres to establish a park where community youth could play ball. Since that time, many Lillian residents and other community organizations have donated money, labor and equipment to construct the Park’s walking trail, ball fields, soccer field, gardens, playground, and other amenities. It’s truly been a labor of love by the community.
Photo courtesy of Ken Stewart
The Lillian Recreational Park is home of a rare treasure – a garden dedicated to azaleas that are native to the eastern United States. In springtime, many native plant lovers travel to Little River Canyon in northeast Alabama or the Smokey Mountains to see these lovely plants in bloom. Mobile Botanical Gardens in Mobile and Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., both have extensive collections of native azaleas. We are blessed to have a collection in Lillian that you can see without having to travel or pay an entry fee.
It started in 2002 when Bill Dodd was asked to help Master Gardeners Jaylene Brown, Alice Brown and Jan Sanders revitalize the azalea beds around the soccer field. Bill had grown up on Tom Dodd Nursery in Semmes, then served 25 years in the US Army. He had recently moved to Lillian after retiring as Superintendent of Parks for the city of Mobile.
As he looked around the park, he noticed a group of pine trees along the south side. His wife Mary was sick and he would not be able to make his usual spring trip to the North Carolina mountains to see the native azaleas bloom. He got permission to use that area of pine trees for a native azalea garden.
Mary passed away in 2005 and the garden gave him purpose. When that space was filled, he planted more pine trees, then more native azaleas and more companion plants. I entered the picture in 2008 when my family moved to Lillian. Alice, Jaylene and Jan encouraged me and I earned my Alabama Master Gardener certification in 2011.
After my husband, Bill Jr., passed away in 2016, I became dad’s assistant. Over the years many Master Gardeners and volunteers have helped care for this special garden.
Native azaleas are usually described as shrubs, although in the wild some species grow 15 to 20 feet tall. They are bare in winter and the flowers appear before the leaves in the early spring. Along the park’s walking trail under the pine trees, the plants appear dead. The,n one day, blossoms suddenly appear, just in time to feed the hummingbirds on their way north. Leaves follow a week or two later.
While most native azaleas bloom in March through May, the swamp azalea and sweet azalea bloom in June and the plum leaf azalea blooms in July.
Come by to take a look. Be our guest. Take pictures, but please leave the flowers for others to enjoy.
Lt. Col. William Dodd passed away on Sunday, August 9, 2020.
Juanita Dodd, President
Monica Leonard, Vice President
Wayne Smith, Treasurer
Lucy Smith, Secretary