Thursday, March 2, 2017

Going ape for azaleas

Photo by Cheré Coen
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.

While I was writing a story for The Advocate newspaper of South Louisiana on the Azalea Trail of Lafayette, I found that the Deep South contains numerous azalea trails and festivals. Here are a few:

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 24 – April 9. Want to see a video accented by pretty music? Click here.

In Houston, the River Oaks Garden Club hosts its 82nd Annual Azalea Trail March 10-12, by admission. 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, plus Lafayette will host the Azalea Trail Day on March 18. 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.

And that’s just a few!

Note: The Deep South had virtually no winter this year so azaleas are blooming ahead of schedule. South Louisiana, for instance, is close to peak at this writing.

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 cherecoen@gmail.com.

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