By Christiana Roussel
It takes a lot to pull together the Antiques at the Gardens event each year, and it took even more work to establish the first event more than 15 years ago.
This year, the nonprofit Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens will honor Kim Matthews and Joan Starnes, chairs of the first show, when it puts on the annual event Sept. 30 to Oct. 3.
The longtime Birmingham residents and lifelong friends took on the daunting task of creating the first event after having been involved in the Junior League of Birmingham’s antiques show. They persuaded antiques dealers to exhibit their pieces and crafted a setting to show them off – as well as recruiting a squadron of volunteers to help put the show together.
“We have been friends for a long time, so joining forces to bring this beloved antiques show to the Gardens was a natural fit,” Starnes said.
The theme for the first show was Heirlooms in Bloom, which Matthews said “helped us marry the concept of having antiques and flowers, allowing us to showcase both.”
When asked what was on their wishlist for the event, Matthews quipped, “Our wishlist was simple: to pull it off!”
“We had no idea what to expect as far as how (Antiques at the Gardens) would be received, so we were delighted with the funds raised, show attendance, and positive feedback from all fronts,” Starnes said. “The dealers lined up to return the next year, which was also a positive sign.”
Starnes and Matthews said their biggest contribution to the success of the first show was in choosing the right committee members, including staging chairs Tricia Noble and Mitzi Davis, and hospitality committee chairs Cameron Crowe and Kate Phillips.
“We were both involved with the Junior League of Birmingham antiques show, and that gave us the inspiration and confidence that we could re-create that same feel at the Gardens,” Starnes said.“It appealed to us to use the smaller, more intimate space that the Gardens offered. Tricia Noble and Mitzi Davis were instrumental in optimizing the Gardens’ space into a perfect setting for the dealers, showing them Southern hospitality at its best—a tradition that continues today, creating a welcome atmosphere for our dealers, speakers, and guests,” Matthews said.
They also recognized the men’s committee chairs, Stewart Dansby, Hubert Goings Jr. and Douglas Stockham.
The Antiques at the Garden event – sponsored by the Friends group, a membership organization that works with the Birmingham Parks & Recreation Board at the Gardens – helps fund operation of the Gardens, which has about two dozen garden spaces and provides educational programs for children and a haven for visitors from the Birmingham area and the region.
Now, Starnes and Matthews are taking more time with their families, traveling with their spouses to mountain retreats in Highlands, N.C., or taking grandchildren to the Japanese Garden to see the koi and turtles there. Today more than ever, they can appreciate the impact they had in producing that first Antiques at the Gardens show, knowing that scores of schoolchildren are learning about the science of plants, vegetables grown and harvested at the Gardens are being shared with area residents in need,and visitors from near and far can enjoy a safe and welcoming retreat in the heart of the Magic City.
Starnes and Matthews have passed the baton to current Antiques at the Gardens co-chairs Shannon Lisenby and Stephanie Lynton.
Details about this year’s Antiques at the Gardens show presented by IBERIABANK (a division of First Horizons Bank), including speakers and dealers involved, will be posted later this month on the Friends website, at bbgardens.org/antiques, on Facebook and on Instagram at @antiquesgardensbham.