Each spring, Texans sharpen their gardening shears and sow the soil for warm-season vegetables. And in Tyler, where azaleas have reigned supreme for more than half a century, gardeners busily fine-tune the blooms along the city’s picturesque 10-mile Azalea and Spring Flower Trail.
The route takes visitors strolling or driving past hundreds of azalea bushes in Tyler’s Azalea National Historic District. More than 100,000 people typically flock to Tyler in late March and early April to admire the flowers’ bursts of colors—along with tulips, wisteria, and dogwood—planted in residential gardens outside stately historic homes. This year, the trail celebrates its 62nd anniversary from March 19 to April 4. (Other East Texas flower trails include the Nacogdoches Azalea Trail and Palestine’s Dogwood Trails.)
Local gardeners say the city’s sandy soil and mild weather make it an ideal spot to grow azaleas—and roses, too. “People here feel a pride about the azaleas,” says Tyler homeowner and gardener Mike Carmichael, who, along with his wife, Patrice, has lived in various homes in the Azalea district for the past 22 years.
Last year, the couple built a 1930s-style home in the district, which includes about 800 properties. Mike planted azaleas and adorned the dry creek that passes through the yard with stones. “I’m a Master Gardener,” he says. “I like to be hands-on.”
The couple is far from alone. For 25 years, Don Warren and his wife, Chelli, have welcomed visitors from around the world and fielded questions about their garden, which includes miniature magnolias, several dozen red and white azaleas, and 1,000 tulips. “We spend a lot of time really working to make our yard look pretty,” Don says. Visitors seem to agree: Many lie on the couple’s green rye grass just to snap a photo at the perfect angle.
Azaleas first came to Tyler in 1929 when nurseryman Maurice Shamburger planted several bushes in his garden. Pleased with results, he shipped boxes of the vibrant plants from Georgia to Tyler; azaleas are native to the Peach State.
Shamburger persuaded Sara Butler of the Tyler Courier-Times-Telegraph to plant bushes outside her home on Charnwood Street. Soon, neighbors followed suit, and Tylerites began buying up hundreds of the blooming plants.
“It started at some of the bigger to-do houses,” says Holli Fourniquet of Visit Tyler, the city’s tourism arm. “Then, it became something where everybody wanted to keep up with the Joneses.”
The city made it official in 1960, when the Chamber of Commerce set up a marked route featuring 60 homes on a 5-mile trail. Now, the event consists of two trails—the Lindsey Trail and the Dobbs Trail—that wind through town. Pick up a map from the Tyler Visitors Center (110 N. College Avenue), then proceed south, ending in Bergfield Park. Many of the lushest gardens are within walking distance of one another in the Azalea National Historic District. Other districts with impressive displays include the Brick Street District and Charnwood District.
Check out the following five must-see spots along the trail.