East Texas in Bloom
Texas’s longest Azalea Trail can be found in Tyler, with blooms set to burst this month.
by Erin Z. Bass
Kim Morris with the Tyler Convention & Visitors Bureau is in awe of the azalea – and not just because it’s her job. “An azalea is such an unassuming flower,” she says. “The bush itself sits dormant all year and looks like a hedge, until it explodes with color.” The East Texas town of Tyler is hoping for that explosion around March 15, when it’s three-week-long Azalea Trail festivities kick off.
For a town that revolves around flowers – azaleas in spring and roses in the fall – waiting for blooms takes some patience. Morris says a few of the town’s flowers are already putting on a show, but most are waiting for spring to officially arrive. “Eighty percent haven’t bloomed yet, and we’ve still got several days,” she says. Just in case the azaleas don’t cooperate, other events surrounding the trail give visitors plenty of things to do. There’s the Main Street Flower Market on opening weekend, an arts and crafts fair and the city’s first Mini Maker Faire. Theater performances, ranging from Monty Python’s “Spamalot” to “Dreamgirls,” while Spirits of Oakwood features living relatives of the town’s descendants telling their stories at historic Oakwood Cemetery. A downtown Art Walk closes out the trail on the last weekend.
But let’s be honest, it’s the azaleas people come to see. Tyler’s trail is 10 miles long – the longest in the state -and many of its bushes date back almost 50 years. Azaleas were first brought to town in 1929 by nurseryman Maurice Shamburger. He had the plants shipped by boxcar from Georgia and began to promote them throughout the city. Several gardens became springtime showplaces, some still blooming today. “What’s unique about the trail is how long these bushes have been here and how long they have been cared for,” says Morris.
Homes along the trail work for months to prepare their yards, and several are selected for tours through Historic Tyler. “It’s such a neat drive, meandering along beautiful brick streets of the historic district. The construction is different on each home, there are no cookie cutter ones here,” adds Morris.
Since Easter falls within the trail dates this year, it’s only fitting that the town bring back its popular Bunny Hunt. Trail visitors are asked to spot five bunnies from the Bixby family, who have gotten lost in the yards of homes along the trail, and help bring them back together again. It’s also fitting that the bunnies are all named for breeds of azaleas. There’s Hexe, Cascade, Gumpo, Nuccio and Picotee, but that doesn’t mean the trail’s varieties stop there.
Morris suggests that flower lovers stay the weekend and also check out the dogwoods at Tyler State Park, Nacogdoches Azalea Trail and Mrs. Lee’s Daffodil Garden. “East Texas this time of year is a fabulous place to tour,” she says. “When Tyler blooms, so does the rest of east Texas.”
Photos courtesy of Tyler Convention & Visitors Bureau.