VIDEO: Belles in Bloom - But azaleas 'keep us in suspense' on opening day

Published on Friday, 21 March 2014 23:03 - Written by Kelly Gooch

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A garden setting, violin music and Azalea Belles were all part of the kick off for this year’s Azalea & Spring Flower Trail.

The event, which runs through April 6, officially opened Friday with a ceremony and ribbon-cutting at the historic home of Guy and Joan Pyron.

“I’m glad we had such a pretty day to get this started, and I would like to thank everyone for coming out today to join us,” Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce Board Chairwoman Rosemary Jones told audience members.

She said the hope is for azaleas to “make their grand appearance” during the event but encouraged people to start the trail, as beautiful spring flowers already are blooming.

As far as the azaleas, she said, “We’ve seen blooms on them, so we know they’re coming. They’re just going to keep us in suspense of when they’re actually going to be here.”

Ms. Jones also talked about the history of the Azalea & Spring Flower Trail, as well as the Azalea Belles.

She said the Azalea Belles will be on hand to greet visitors throughout the trail.

Susan Travis, assistant vice president of tourism/servicing for the Tyler Convention and Visitors bureau, introduced this year’s Azalea Belles, cited some of the highlights of the trail event and thanked those who have been involved with the trail.

After Ms. Travis, Buddy Lee, plant breeder and “Father of the Encore Azalea,” touted the gardens in Tyler.

“The Tyler, Texas, area is very, very blessed to have so many homeowners that continue this festival. That says a lot about them. This is good for Tyler. It’s good for the visitors,” he said.

Lee then cut the ribbon, which ceremoniously opened the trail.

Later on Friday, Lee and Keith Hansen, Smith County horticulturist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, also did a free azalea planting demonstration at the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden.

This is the 55th year of the Azalea & Spring Flower Trail, and the 50th year for the Azalea Belles.

According to a news release, nurseryman Maurice Shamburger introduced azaleas to Tyler in the late 1920s.

“Pleased with results of a test garden of azaleas, Shamburger shipped the colorful plants to Tyler by the boxcar from Georgia. By 1960, the blooming azaleas were attracting so much attention the chamber of commerce established a marked trail,” according to the news release.

Sixty homes were on the first 5-mile trail, and many yards on today’s trail feature original plants that arrived in the 1940s and 1950s on a boxcar.

Ms. Travis has said the Azalea Belles began with Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce secretaries, who made costumes, dressed up, gave out information and greeted visitors.

“Now the Belles are a much beloved and anticipated part of the three-weekend event. Tourists are taken aback by the local hospitality and the extra flare these young ladies add to the overall experience,” according to a news release. “These Belles are truly the ambassadors of the trail. They are always happy to visit with guests and pose for photos in any of the beautiful gardens along the trail.”

More than 30 Azalea Belles — all high school freshmen and sophomores — are part of the trail event this year.

One of this year’s Azalea Belles, sophomore Viola Amphy, described it as “a very unique opportunity.”

“I’m really excited for the next couple of weeks because this is the only year I’ll be able to do this,” she said.

Another Azalea Belle, freshman Keary Johnson, said she and her family are excited, and she enjoys wearing her Azalea Belle dress.

And sophomore Anna Orr, who is a Belle for the second time, said she, too, is excited, and enjoyed seeing the flowers and meeting people last year.

According to a news release, more than 100,000 visitors came to Tyler last year for the trail.

“The community always gets a big economic boost during Azalea & Spring Flower Trail,” Ms. Travis said in a statement. “Visitors come to town to see the flowers, but they stay and spend money in hotels, restaurants, retail shops and more.”

Among the events in the coming weeks is the Rose City Artisans and Flower Market, which features live entertainment, and items for sell such as handmade items, plants, bulbs, garden decor, home baked foods and locally grown products. Friday was the first day of the market. It will continue from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at the Goodman-LeGrand House and Museum.

Ms. Travis said the market is free and open to the public.

Ashley Wirzberg, 32, of Bullard, said she came to the market for herbs.