Friday, March 9, 2018

Going ape for azaleas

Photo by Cheré Coen
Reposting and updating this 2017 post because we're almost to Peak Azaleas this week in the Deep South and we're all giddy as heck.

Spring comes first to the Deep South, allowing us to thumb our noses at the rest of the country buried in snow. It’s payback for those hot, sticky months when the north baths in summer’s balmy best. The flowers here bloom in spurts, first the Japanese magnolias, then azaleas in brilliant colors of fuschia, pink and white with bridal wreaths and daffodils and, in some places above the subtropical lines, dogwoods and other colorful shrubs and trees.

It’s the azaleas, however, that turn ordinary people into bubbling gardening idiots. These bushes of brilliance rob our senses, turning us into mindless statues staring endlessly into their cascade of colors. Which is why there are azalea trails everywhere.

Designated the Garden Capital of Texas, Nacogdoches, Texas, offers 25 miles of self-guided driving routes through its Azalea Trail that meander through town and the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden, the largest in the state with more than 7,000 azaleas, according to Sherri Skeeters, marketing director for the Nacogdoches Convention and Visitors Bureau. The routes are divided into three trails named for the azaleas they feature, including Southern Indica Trail, Evergreen Azalea Trail and The Fashion Azalea Trail. Each trail begins at the Charles Bright Visitor Center located at 200 E. Main St. Trail maps are available at the Visitor Center or from the Azalea Trail website and special events are ongoing.

Not to be outdone, Tyler, Texas, has its own trail and includes more flowers and festivities at the Azalea and Spring Flower Trail that will be held March 16 – April 1. Want to see a video accented by pretty music? Click here.

In Houston, the River Oaks Garden Club hosts its Annual Azalea Trail every March and this year the date hit early March. Azaleas are big in Houston; in 2006 the City of Houston was designated an “Azalea City.” 

In Louisiana, New Iberia and Lafayette both have azalea trails with self-guided maps to assist visitors and can be downloaded from the tourism websites and picked up at the prospective welcome centers.

The Wild Azalea Trail in the Kisatchie National Forest provides a glimpse into the state’s only native variety. Maps to the former may be picked up at tourist welcome centers and the Wild Azalea Trail end points are at the Kistachie National Forest’s Valentine Lake Recreation Area and Woodworth Town Hall.

The 17-mile Azalea Trail of Mobile was chartered in 1933 and by 1940 was attracting 100,000 visitors. Today, the three trails guide visitors through historic downtown, Spring Hill and the University of South Alabama and Sky Ranch. Download a PDF of the map here.

You won’t want to miss Bellingrath Gardens annual display. The 65-acre gardens located outside of Mobile contains more than 250,000 azaleas and their website posts blooming times in their “Azalea Watch” section. Visiting in March provides glimpses into lots of other blooming flowers as well. The Rose Bloom Out, for instance, will be April 21-30.

And that’s just a few!

Want to know more? Here’s a link to Bellingrath Gardens article by Bill Barrick titled “Azaleas: The Flaming Drama of the South.”

Cheré Dastugue Coen is a food and travel writer living in South Louisiana who is the author of several Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire and the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Back in time at Lake Charles' Pops and Rockets

We discovered an awesome place to go back in time — think Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd and that time traveling DeLorean. It's Pops and Rockets in Lake Charles, a small but hip shop that serves up popsicles and ice cream in a retro 80s theme. There's Ms Pak-Man to play, 45s on the tables, Cure posters, 80s trivia games and wallpaper sporting homemade cassette tapes. 

It's the brainchild of Nick Vallume (pictured right), who also spearheads the city's fun Winter Beer Festival. Nick and his partner Robbie Austin grew up in the 80s so their popsicle names follow that love. There's "Every Little Tea She Does is Mango," "Raz DMC" with raspberry and lime, "Psychoconut Killer" and "Sweet Child-O-Lime," a Key Lime flavor. I hesitated with "Pulling Peanuts (From a Shell)" Thai peanut pop, thinking of hot Thai spices and peanuts wouldn't mix well for a popsicle but the counter staff convinced me otherwise and it rocked. 

Vallume can be spotted selling his pops at festivals and street events throughout south Louisiana but for a really fun time that will make you want to add shoulder pads to your clothes and start dancing the moon walk, visit the Pops and Rockets store in downtown Lake Charles.

Weird, Wacky and Wild South is written by food and travel writer Chere Dastugue Coen, who loves popsicles — and crazy names for them.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Street art in Clarksville, from Sgt. Carter to Van Gogh

Clarksville recently unveiled its 21st public art piece, adding “Clarksville’s Starry Night,” the town’s skyline in the style of Vincent van Gogh, to the many murals, sculptures, fountains and flames that dot this corner of northern Tennessee. All are located close to the city’s downtown core and include city streets, urban trails, buildings and the campus of Austin Peay State University.

The current "Clarksville's Starry Night" mural by artist Olasubomi Aka-Bashorun fills a 60- by 40-foot space on the side of a building at 420 Madison Street.
The Day After

But let's check out the other pieces:

"The Day After," a bronze statue by Scott Wise at Commerce and South Second, depicts a seated man reading a January 23, 1999, edition of The Leaf-Chronicle, the day after an F-4 tornado destroyed much of downtown, including the courthouse and the Leaf Chronicle buildings. 
"The Clarksville Protector" by artists Roger and Neil Brodin is a bronze sculpture dedicated to all who serve in the Clarksville Police Department and is located at 135 Commerce St.

The First Federal Outdoor Garden at 200 S. Second St. includes various pieces in the courtyard entry at the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center, created by artists Olen Bryant, Tom Rice and Mike Andrews.

"Lenora ‘Nora’ Witzel and Nettie" by Andrea Lugar at the Millennium Plaza at Third Street is a life-sized bronze statue of local pioneer female photographer Lenora Witzel and her dog.

The Millennium Fountain by John Medwedeff, also in Millennium Plaza, is a 16-foot bronze fountain installed with the reconstruction of the area after the 1999 tornado.
Frank Sutton

Eighteen bronze children at 115 Strawberry Alley make up the Children’s Fountain.

Scott Wise created "Frank Sutton," a life-size bronze sculpture of the Clarksville native who portrayed “Sgt. Carter” on the CBS sitcom, “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” Unveiled in 2017, it's located at 107 Franklin St.

"Forged in the Fire" is steel warped in a fire of 1978, refined and painted by Montgomery Central High School students at Upland Trail at Spring Street, created with artist Mike Andrews.

Pillar of Cloud, Pillar of Fire
"Bursting with Pride" by artist Ricky Deel is a 10,000 square-foot mural featuring 15 Clarksville buildings at 110 Franklin St.

John Montgomery was Clarksville’s first settler and his bronze recreation by Scott Wise is located at City Hall at Strawberry Alley.

"Pillar of Cloud, Pillar of Fire" by Dr. Gregg Schlander is a 30-foot tall steel pillar dedicated to all military personnel in the Public Square at Main Street.

On the Austin Peay State University Campus (601 College St.), adjacent to downtown is the following:

"The Synthesis" polished marble statue by the Rev. Howard Brown at the Felix G. Woodward Library; 

"The Gateway" by Dr. Jim Diehr at the College Street Entry Gates, made up of concrete and steel;

"A Sentinel" by Olen Bryant at the Morgan University Center, a 10-foot bronze monolithic sculpture; and

"Gov. Austin Peay" by Scott Wise at the Morgan University Center, a life-size bust of the Tennessee Governor and college’s namesake.

The Gateway
Outside the Urban Core:

"Wilma Rudolph" by the Rev. Howard Brown, a life-size bronze statue of three-time Olympic Gold Medalist Wilma Rudolph at the
Wilma Rudolph Event Center at 1190 TN Hwy 48;

"Remembrance" by Scott Wise, a bronze sculpture commemorating Clarksville firefighters who have fallen in the line of duty, at
831 Franklin Street;

"Family" by Tom Rice, limestone pedestaled bird sculptures inside the foyer of the Clarksville-Montgomery County Public Library at
350 Pageant Lane;

"Reverence" by Scott Wise, one-and-a-half life-sized sculpture dedicated to all veterans who served in the U.S. armed forces at 330 Pageant Lane (facing Madison Street); and

"Doughboy" by Ernest Viquesney, marble sculpture dedicated in 1929 to honor World War I veterans at 250 Arrowwood Lane (Brigadier General Wendell H. Gilbert Tennessee State Veterans' Home).

Individual stories about the pieces, most of which were written by students in an Austin Peay Urban Planning class, can be found on the Visit Clarksville website.

Weird, Wacky and Wild South is written by travel and food writer Chere Dastugue Coen, who adores public art. She lives in Lafayette, Louisiana, a town of many murals.