Bloom season for the Azalea collection is fast approaching, and Natural Landscaper Sarah Briggs is keeping an eye on the plants as they begin to blossom. Read on for her weekly updates on what’s blooming in the garden.

 

Want to visit the collection for yourself? The trail is an easy half-mile walk – view the map and get directions here.

May 12, 2022

Compared to the last couple of weeks, we have hit a bit of a lull in the Azalea Collection. However, there are still some lovely blooming azaleas to be found.
The flame azaleas (Rhododendron calendulaceum) at the entrance have a few flowers but most are not flowering yet. There are a few flame azaleas within the garden that are putting on a beautiful display. That said, this is a great year for flame azaleas all over the property. Every trail and road you take is likely to lead you to a flame azalea blooming in ranges of yellowy-orange to nearly red.

There are some later blooming azaleas we continue to anticipate. These include sweet azalea (Rhododendron arborescens; pictured left), plum leaf azalea (Rhododendron prunifolium) and swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum). If you do have a chance to visit the garden, there are a few of these flowering here and there but most are yet to come. Also on the horizon are the Red Hills azalea (Rhododendron colemanii) and the Santee or May White azalea (Rhododendron eastmanii). All of these azaleas currently have buds but usually bloom a bit later in May or June.

Speaking of azaleas we can look forward to, the very back of the garden is occupied by a collection of Gregory Bald hybrid azaleas. These azaleas come from Gregory Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There they reside at an elevation of 4949 feet above sea level compared to the azalea collection’s elevation of around 2078 feet. They are the result of hybridization between four species of native azaleas which include the flame azalea, swamp azaleas, sweet azalea, and Cumberland azalea (Rhododendron cumberlandense). Their diverse parentage results in a wide range of colors when they bloom.

I hope you all continue to enjoy the Azalea Collection as these later blooming azaleas begin to take center stage.

May 4, 2022

This is another great week to visit the Azalea Collection here at The North Carolina Arboretum. The Piedmont (Rhododendron canescens), pinxterbloom (Rhododendron periclymenoides) and Oconee (Rhododendron flammeum) azaleas are still flowering and though some are fading a bit, fresh blooms are still emerging.

Upon approach to the garden you will probably notice the latest azalea to bloom, the coastal azalea (Rhododendron atlanticum; pictured left). Truly prized for its fragrance, this azalea welcomes you to the garden from all the way across Bent Creek. This is not to undervalue the Piedmont azalea, also lovely in fragrance, which has been providing a wonderful backdrop to the garden for the past couple of weeks. 

One spectacular coastal azalea can be found in full bloom in the frontmost section of the garden. The blooms of the coastal azalea are generally white but can range from shades of pale yellow or pink. More coastal azaleas can be found farther back in the garden and these are just beginning to flower.

Often overlooked is the quietest, very last trail in the Azalea Garden. This shady trail is lovingly referred to as Fern Loop. Though an unofficial name, it is aptly given. This farthest loop passes through a naturally wet area where you can easily spot  large, prehistoric looking Cinnamon ferns. These easily identifiable ferns are, in fact, very closely related to their ancient relatives. They grow up to four feet high (sometimes more) with leafy, green fronds encircling fertile, eventually cinnamon colored, fronds in the center. The fronds are only now unfurling and will be a joy to watch as they emerge for the season.

You will also find occasional Christmas ferns and a carpet of New York ferns as you walk this short loop trail. The air in fern loop has a different feel as it takes you briefly a little deeper into the forest. It is a nice place to let your cares float away and there is even a bench to sit and enjoy Bent Creek for a while. Hope you enjoy your visit to this unique garden space.


April 27, 2022

The abundance of blooms this week in the Azalea Collection is truly striking. The previously mentioned piedmont, pinkshell, pinxterbloom and Florida azaleas are still blooming and now joined by the Oconee Azalea (Rhododendron flammeum; pictured right).

 

Many people come to the Azalea Collection hoping to see a flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum). Those are not yet flowering in the Azalea Collection, however, there are a few in bloom along FLOW (Frederick Law Olmsted Way) you might spot on your way in or out of the Arboretum property. Keep your eyes peeled for the orange flowers peeking out from the woods.

 

On the forest floor this week, wild geranium is abundant with lavender flowers and palmately lobed leaves. Sweetshrub and Florida anise are two shrubs you can find blooming in addition to the azaleas. They both have interesting blooms with those of the Florida anise being quite red and the sweetshrub typically more maroon to brown in color.

 

Farther into the garden, the white blooms of the parsley hawthorn might catch your eye. The leaves of the tree have earned it the name with a parsley-like appearance. The bark is another nice feature of this tree, but beware of the formidable thorns. Following the flowers will come red berries for birds to enjoy.

 

Hope you get the chance to enjoy the Azalea Collection!

April 20, 2022

 

The Azalea Collection is really beginning to draw the attention of faithful azalea aficionados, as well as those of us who are just fortunate enough to stumble in at the right time. Every year, beginning around mid to late April, the garden transforms into a quiet sanctuary as people walk reverently about, hoping to see our beautiful native azaleas in bloom.

 

The garden is very pretty right now with pinkshell azalea (Rhododendron vaseyi), piedmont azalea (Rhododendron canescens; pictured left), pinxterbloom azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides) and Florida azalea (Rhododendron austrinum) all just beginning to come into bloom. With the warm-for-spring weather in the forecast, I would expect these to be absolutely gorgeous by next week if not sooner.

Also blooming in the garden are the understory papaw trees with purple/brown blooms. They are a little modest compared to the azaleas but very pretty upon inspection. A small grove resides just to the left of the first wooden bridge you cross as you walk through the garden. On the forest floor you will find wood anemone and star chickweed, both with delicate white flowers, blooming throughout the garden.

 

I hope you get the chance to visit the Azalea Collection in the coming days and weeks. If you don’t feel like taking the hilly hike down (and then up) Running Cedar Road, you can always park at Gatehouse Parking. From there, take Old Mill Trail to its end and then go left onto Bent Creek Road. This route goes along the creek and is the easiest and quickest way to get to the Azalea Collection.

 

 


April 13, 2022

Things are looking great in the Azalea garden thanks to our hard working crew and the garden is ready to receive guests and be a beautiful backdrop for all that nature has in store.

 

Right now several of the key players, Pinkshell, Florida and Mountain Azaleas, have swollen buds and could be in bloom as early as next week. The only azalea blooming at this time is the purple blooming Hybrid Rhododendron, Rhododendron chapmanii x mucronulatum. The blooms were slightly affected by the past days rains, but it is still quite pretty blooming along Bent Creek.

 

A spring walk in the Azalea Collection would never be without reward as there are still plenty of sights to enjoy. Mayapples are popping up all over and floating above the forest floor. Yellow Trout-lily is also in abundance and easy to spot with its distinctive, mottled leaves. Also blooming in the garden is the Carolina Silverbell tree as well as wildflowers such as Allegany Spurge, Oconee Bells and Yellowroot.

 

I will keep you posted throughout the coming weeks as things continue to progress. I think we are still a little ways out from peak bloom time and it is always hard to pinpoint exactly when that will be, but I imagine two weeks from now will be pretty spectacular.