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Celebrating Spring for 80 Years!


Butterfly Garden.
Butterfly Garden.

River Oaks Garden Club Presents Annual Azalea Trail

By Elizabeth Anthony

Azalea is the name given to the various spectacular flowering shrubs (genus Rhododendron) of the Heath family that are in full bloom each spring in Houston. These showy flowers flourish in varying shades of pink, purple, white and red and are a magnificent sight to behold.

River Oaks Garden Club (ROGC) is digging into all things spring as members prepare for the unveiling of the 80th Azalea Trail, the oldest continually running Azalea Trail in the nation. The Trail takes place from Friday, March 6 through Sunday, March 8 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For the cost of a $20 ticket ($15 before March 1 or $5 per home at the door), “trail blazers” will see four breathtaking private homes and gardens and two noteworthy public homes and gardens: Rienzi and Bayou Bend. As a bonus, admission is free to the historic Forum of Civics Building, home to ROGC, and its formal gardens where visitors can “Ask the Experts” for gardening advice.

A Brief History

In 1927, ROGC was organized by 27 residents of the new River Oaks area. It was not until 1935 that they held the first Garden Pilgrimage as it was called then. That first year there were 12 gardens on the tour, five of which were on Lazy Lane. The tour was also held the last weekend in April. The proceeds from the tour were used to beautify the grounds of River Oaks School, known   today as River Oaks Elementary.

In 1936 the Pilgrimage changed its name to the Azalea Trail as three gardens were open in March to show azaleas in addition to the April Pilgrimage. People were not familiar with the beautiful azaleas as they were not native to this area, so the garden club used the Azalea Trail as a means of educating the public on azaleas and horticulture.

The 1940s presented all kinds of challenges to the Azalea Trail as the war years brought severe shortages of plant material. As a result, members began growing bedding and landscape plants from seeds and cuttings. This introduced the Victory Garden concept into the landscape design of Houston homes. The gardens incorporated vegetables into borders in combination with flowering species and fruit trees into the landscape rather than in isolated vegetable gardens and fruit orchards of the past.

Each year the Azalea Trail’s attendance grew, setting a new record of 10,000 people in 1945. In 1948, the Forum Building first opened as an information center during the Azalea Trail. Flower arrangements by members were also on exhibit and member Frances Hannay published a pamphlet for the public called “Period Flower Arrangements.”

In 1957, Night Gardens were shown on the Azalea Trail for the first time. In 1961, Miss Ima Hogg granted permanent supervision of Bayou Bend Gardens to ROGC. In 1982 the Garden Club received a resolution from the City Council and a proclamation from the Mayor designating ROGC Azalea Trail Days and commending its contribution to the historical preservation, conservation, and beautification of the city. In 2006, the City of Houston was designated an “Azalea City.” (History compiled by Jennifer Bowen)

The Azalea Trail Today

The Azalea Trail currently presents Houstonians an enjoyable weekend that raises awareness about architecture, flower arranging and horticultural possibilities in our region, and simultaneously raises funds to continually beautify and sustain our city’s landscape. Event proceeds help fund ROGC’s mission: to restore, improve and protect the quality of Houston’s environment through education, conservation and civic improvement.

Through the years the proceeds have landscaped the area along Allen Parkway near Shepherd, built a new entrance to Bayou Bend on Westcott, helped landscape Tranquility Park and Discovery Green, and continue to landscape River Oaks Elementary. Recently, many of the funds have benefited Alzheimer’s Association Houston & Southeast Texas Chapter, Cedar Brook Elementary School, Chin­quapin Preparatory School, Friends of Mandell Park, Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, The Monarch School, Inc., Near Northwest Community Improvement Corporation and The Rutherford B. H. Yates Museum.

The Azalea Trail offers visitors opportunities to see fabulous floral designs by ROGC members, beautiful interiors, amazing architecture, and stunning landscapes. What started 80 years ago as a means to educate the people of Houston has now become the heralding symbol for spring.

The 80th annual Azalea Trail is sponsored by River Oaks Garden Club, a non-profit organization and a member of The Garden Club of America. Chairpersons of this event are Gayle Hightower and Mimi Prioleau. Tickets are available at various locations throughout the Houston area. For more information, call 713-523-2483 or visit riveroaksgardenclub.org.

Entry to the Clio Garden.

Entry to the Clio Garden.

East Garden and Dogwood.

East Garden and Dogwood.

Bayou Bend White Garden.

Bayou Bend White Garden.

Veranda to East Garden.

Veranda to East Garden.

North Lawn to Diana Garden.

North Lawn to Diana Garden.

North Lawn to Diana Garden.

North Lawn to Diana Garden.

Carla Garden.

Carla Garden.

Bayou Bend Diana Garden.

Bayou Bend Diana Garden.


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