Friday, March 29, 2013

Simply Azaleas

Azaleas bloom at Hampton Park, Charleston, South Carolina
Azaleas in bloom at Hampton Park in Charleston, South Carolina

Recently while looking through an old photograph album, I came across snapshots of Norfolk, Virginia's 1976 Azalea Festival Parade.  Azalea Queen Susan Ford, whose father served as US president at the time, graced one of the parade floats. 

Norfolk is but one of many cities in the American South that celebrate the azalea. Next weekend (April 5-7, 2013) Summerville, South Carolina hosts the annual Flowertown Festival. Wilmington, NC holds the North Carolina Azalea Festival (April 10-14, 2013). 

Here in the South Carolina Lowcountry azaleas are bursting into bloom. Drive around old neighborhoods and you see enormous shrubs dwarfing small houses. Magenta blossoms are prevalent in my subdivision, yet many of us homeowners can't resist planting a mixture of azalea varieties. Sometimes their colors clash. 

Azalea growing at Tenryu-ji in Kyoto Japan
Azaleas in bloom at Tenryƫ-ji, Kyoto, Japan

azalea hedge
A homeowner in my neighborhood uses azaleas as a hedge
George L. Taber azaleas
George L. Taber azaleas are a favorite of mine. One came with the house. I've planted two more.

white azalea blossoms
These white blossoms (growing on azaleas planted by a previous owner of my house) look to me as though they belong in a wedding bouquet
A dropped azalea blossom in Hampton Park
A dropped blossom at Hampton Park

By the way, at some point the Norfolk festival leadership changed its name to the International Azalea Festival. In 2009 they changed its name again - this time to the Norfolk NATO Festival. That is why when you visit the website the focus is not azaleas. 

For more information about azaleas, visit the website of the Azalea Society of America:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hanami: Cherry Blossom Viewing

Sakura in Kyoto
Hanami 2011: Sakura in Kyoto, Japan less than a month after the triple disaster to the north

In America when we think of cherry trees it might be in relation to   George Washington, our first president, who according to legend said, "I cannot tell a lie, Father. I cut down your cherry tree."

His namesake Washington, DC is famous for the cherry trees that line its Tidal Basin. My 92-year-old mother recalls my late father's long ago promise to take her there in the spring to see the cherry blossoms. He never kept that promise, which seemed odd to me. 
Living in Virginia during the early years of my childhood, I imagined my father to be a  Washington-like figure. Both were land surveyors. Both had an interest in farming. Both had integrity.

People continue to flock to our nation's capital to see the cherry trees in bloom. This year's Cherry Blossom Festival began last week and extends into April. A Wikipedia entry about West Potomac Park tells the interesting story of how Washington, DC got its cherry trees. The idea originated in the nineteenth century with writer and photographer Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore who had spent time in Japan. 

Weeping cherry in Kyoto
A weeping cherry in Kyoto, Japan
And when it comes to cherry blossom (sakura) viewing, I think of Japan where it is known as Hanami and is taken to the level of a national celebration. I've seen tarps spread out along riverbanks in Hiroshima and Ashiya and in a public park on Kobe's Rokko Island, where families picnic and take in the beauty of the delicate blossoms.

Tree sparrow plucks cherry blossom in Kyoto Japan
A tree sparrow plucks a cherry blossom in Kyoto

Courtesy of Kyoto Journal here's a link to Japan International's 2013 cherry blossom forecast map:

Cherry blossoms on young tree in my front yard w/ live oak in the background
The cherry tree I planted in my front yard last year sports its first blossoms in February of this year. (Live oak in the background.)