They are a self-authenticating glory!

Photo by Jeff Abt

It is only right that we love our azaleas. One would need to be wicked not to like them. It would be like not believing in Santa Claus. Or despising him because he brought children presents only at Christmas. Azaleas are Christmastime, in the spring. When they are in bloom across the American South, they are their own justification; they are a self-authenticating glory!

I was reared up in North Central Texas where the limy high ph soils are hostile to azalea glory.
Let me, for the moment, tell you a little story.

I grew up listening on the radio to a fellow by the name of Neil Sperry. He was a talk-show host before the term was even invented. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, folks from across the Metroplex would call in their gardening questions, and Neil would give out expert advice. He was beloved in the Fort Worth and Dallas area, and the things he said became proverbial in my home. My momma even gave me a copy of his book when it was first published. Needless to say, I still have it! (By the way, unqualified approval was hard to come by in my family, but the day that I had a magazine article published in Sperry’s magazine was the day I knew my father and mother loved me and were proud of me. But that is another story.)

Back to azaleas. Every month or so someone, some “foreigner” (not from Texas), would call in and ask Neil how to plant azaleas in the DFW area. Well, Neil would try to discourage the would-be gardener, and would say, “it is a difficult task.” He would then proceed to describe raised beds made from railroad ties and plantings in pure, acidifying Canadian peat moss etc.. Good grief! I would think to myself as I listened, “Where is that guy from to ask Neil such a stupid question?” (Neil had trained me well.) Folks out by the Trinity River and west just can’t grow azaleas like we in East Texas can. It’s the soil!

Sometimes I’m asked where the American “South” ends and the American “West” begins? Well, it is a cultural thing. But the short answer is Azaleas! Can you grow Azaleas?

Yes, we here in Nacogdoches are Southerners. We can grow azaleas with ease! We can have Christmas in March and April! Glorious color! Millions and millions of azaleas grow rambunctiously, boisterously from East Texas across eastward to the Atlantic Ocean. Azalea country! We have wild honeysuckle azaleas in our woods (Rododenrdon canescens) planted by God himself where azaleas are supposed to grow…east of the Trinity River! A simple drive around town will prove we are in azalea country. Drive north towards Tyler, south towards Houston. Take the Azalea tour. After all, it is azalea time! They are a holiday season all to themselves.


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