North Carolina Azalea Festival
North Carolina Azalea Festival organizers tout the popular event in Wilmington as having something for just about everyone — from musical acts to a parade to a street fair.
However, one of the most popular segments of the event is directly tied to its name. The festival’s Garden Tour allows a dozen of the most devoted horticulture enthusiasts in the area to show off their plants and flowers they’ve worked so hard to cultivate.
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“They’re all lovely gardens that people would like to see,” says Gloria Degnan, the festival’s garden tour committee chair. “They have just about every kind of plant material that you could imagine in these gardens. Many will be putting in new things this year.”
About a dozen homes are included in the tour, dotted along a stretch from downtown Wilmington through Wrightsville Beach.
“One gentleman bought a home downtown just to be on the tour,” Degnan says. “That was his impetus to get everything done by a certain time. That’s a pretty good impetus if you ask me.”
Besides the festival hallmark azalea, Degnan expects the gardens to include plenty of hydrangeas, roses and other colorful blooms that enhance the theme.
The Garden Tour runs the duration of this year’s festival and is one of the South’s most popular and longest running garden tours. During the four-day span, other events that have been connected with the festival for decades will bring more than 200,000 attendees to Wilmington.
“I’m very big on tradition,” says festival president Erica Mearns, who hasn’t missed a festival in more than 30 years.
Mearns notes that special tributes to all branches of the nation’s military will be done during all festival events. She’s encouraging current and retired military service members and their families to wear patriotic attire when attending so they can be recognized.
“It’s meant to thank the military and their families for the sacrifice,” Mearns says. “If it wasn’t for them, we recognize that there wouldn’t be an Azalea Festival. We wouldn’t have the freedoms that we do today.”
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She is eager for the festival and all it offers to begin.
“It’s Wilmington’s rite of passage into spring,” she says. “It’s a chance for Wilmington to show how it’s a unique community, our beautiful gardens and to really show what Southern hospitality is all about.
The 2017 festival takes place April 5-9, and celebrates 70 years. Find more information at ncazaleafestival.org.