Wrought iron and 59th annual Azalea Garden Tour
Admire the Blooms
59th annual Azalea Garden Tour takes off
by Linda Grattafiori
Azaleas or no azaleas, there will be thousands of blooms in 13 luscious landscapes to visit on the 59th Azalea Garden Tour, kicking off on April 13th. The passionate designs behind these wonderlands of color, texture and artistry vary widely from garden to garden, but all aim at pleasing the public eye. Cape Fear Garden Club Chair Karen Smith has done an outstanding job in the selection process and is receiving calls as far away as Michigan and California. One garden club from Wisconsin has already booked their flight, van and hotel.
The three-day tour makes its debut on Friday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Ronnie and Cyndi McNeill’s antebellum home, which is secluded on Greenville Sound and overlooks the inland waterway. Its well-established Formosa azaleas are protected by a bank of large oak trees. The Cape Fear Garden Club Azalea Belles, numbering more than 100 and dressed in handmade antebellum gowns, will grace the lawn, escorted by the Citadel’s Summerall Guards. Azalea Festival Queen Ericka Dunlap will cut the ribbon, encouraging tour guests and visitors to enjoy refreshments and entertainment of the Stevenson/Stohl Suzuki Studio, and to explore the magnificent grounds.
Each of the 11 private and two public gardens will offer different delights. Smith says the landscapes run the gamut from whimsical cottage to formal design, and feature a wide range of unique outdoor living spaces.
Phyllis Buie (Garden #10) has made “a heaven on earth” from a potting shed acquired from Cape Fear Community College. Buie’s husband Donald had the 12×12-foot structure placed in their backyard and used his carpentry skills to turn it into a tea room for his wife. He installed a ceiling fan, wrought iron fixtures and a front porch complete with pansy-laden window boxes. The shed matches the Buie residence at 724 Wilderness Road and is painted creamy yellow with deep red shutters. The Buies enjoy the view of the shed from their sunroom, which also looks out on a lovely water feature. The pond is surrounded by rhododendron, George Tabor azaleas, King Sago palms, re-blooming hydrangeas, camellias and more.
A Yoshino cherry flanks a glass dollhouse made of old windowpanes, which houses a delightful garden angel. Large beds of KnockOut roses, yellow in the front and pink and red in the back, are maintained by the Buies. This year they spread 220 bags of mulch to decrease weeds and enhance moisture for the flower beds. “We have painted or mulched everything that does not move,” Buie says.
Airlie Gardens and the NHC Arboretum, the two public gardens on the tour, are also deep in the dirt sprucing up their respective grounds. Both gardens have benefitted from grants given by Cape Fear Garden Club, the oldest and largest garden club in NC. Airlie, the quintessential southern garden, features 100,000 azaleas, statuary and camellias, the 464-year-old Airlie Oak and 10 acres of freshwater lakes. Airlie will be open Saturday, April 14th only.
The Arboretum showcases six landscapes, including the Japanese garden, which will be rededicated from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, but is open all three days of the tour. This landscape has a redesigned water feature funded by the Cape Fear Garden Club. Fortune’s Osmanthus shrubs represents mountains. The teahouse, overlooking seven waterfalls, sits on the inside curve of a stream for good luck.
After the tour, lucky applicants who have applied online may receive one of the Cape Fear Garden Club’s grants for horticulture and beautification. Last year, $83,000 collected from the tour was given in grants, scholarships to UNCW and CFCC students, and conservation efforts at Battery Island, a National Audubon Society bird sanctuary.