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Tyler, Nacogdoches

For these East Texas towns, azalea trails through gardens in full bloom—public and backyard—are the pot of gold and the rainbow every spring

If you think of East Texas as being rather sedate, you’ve never confronted the explosion of pink, white and red that heralds springtime. The small flowers that blanket azalea bushes when in full bloom create veritable clouds of color. There is nothing boring about spring in Tyler and Nacogdoches, which turn the season into parties that last for weeks.

The Tyler Azalea and Spring Flower Trails, which has its roots in a 1930s flourish of azalea planting in town, provides an intimate wander right into the backyards and gardens of the city’s oldest fine homes.

Driving the eight-mile trail allows a good look at the gardens, but walking parts of it is definitely worthwhile.

On weekends, visitors are greeted along the way by freshman and sophomore high school girls dressed in antebellum attire. The Azalea Belles help answer questions, act as ambassadors for the city and pose for pictures if requested.

The trail, scheduled for March 15 through April 7, is at the mercy of Mother Nature, but she always comes through. “I think because of the beauty of it and because the homeowners take such pride and work very hard on it, it’s always a success,” says Susan Travis of the Tyler Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Joan and Guy Pyron’s yard is part of the trail and has been since even before they moved there from Plano about 18 years ago. “We saw the yard and didn’t even see the house,” Joan Pyron says. “The yard is the reason we bought the house.”

The azaleas are the high point, but Tyler will be hopping with all sorts of activities—including arts and crafts, music, cycling and historic re-enactments. The event draws more than 100,000 visitors.

In Nacogdoches, the centerpiece of the Azalea Trail is the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden. “It’s the largest azalea garden in the state of Texas,” says Jannette Sparks of the Nacogdoches Convention and Visitors Center. The eight-acre garden is snuggled into a loblolly pine stand at an entrance of Stephen F. Austin State University and was developed by the university’s horticulture program and the community.

The garden is built for strolling. Visitors can wander the trails that wind through 46 planting beds and rest on strategically placed benches. And azaleas aren’t the only blooms to see—there are 550 varieties of rhododendrons, 100 varieties of camellias, more than 200 types of hydrangeas and other plantings.

Nacogdoches’ Azalea Trail, set for March 1-31, includes learning opportunities at the Azalea Symposium on March 2 and the Art of Floral Design on March 23.

Other activities include a 10-kilometer run that goes past residential gardens, a juried photography show and a festival with entertainment, activities and vendors. Young girls get the chance to dress as a fairy, a princess or their favorite character at the Little Princess Garden Party on March 23.

Sparks says the best way to enjoy the Azalea Trail is to stroll through the Mize Garden. “Then hop in your car and drive the 25 miles of self-guided driving trails through the scenic residential areas,” she says.

Spring might bring beautiful scenery all over Texas, but the azaleas of Tyler and Nacogdoches are breathtaking.

Jan Adamson is a writer from Grand Saline.