60 years of Azalea Gardens

by Kelly Corbett
Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Supplied photo courtesy of the Cape Fear Garden Club 

Caulder garden, 2214 Plaza Drive

Drawing thousands of visitors to gardens around the Wilmington area, the Cape Fear Garden Club will celebrate its 60th year of the Azalea Garden Tour with 13 gardens featured as an official event of the North Carolina Azalea Festival.

The annual weekend-long tour will be held from Friday, April 12 to Sunday, April 14.

The home of Dr. Lance and Meredith Lewis, featuring old maples, oaks and pines on Forest Hills Drive, is the first stop on the tour. A ribbon cutting and Azalea Queen’s Garden Party will kick off the weekend of festivities at 10 a.m. on April 12.

Laura Lander, publicity co-chair, said a committee chooses the gardens included in the self-guided tour about a year in advance of the event.

“The committee drives around and they look for gardens, and they get recommendations for gardens. Then they approach the owners. It’s quite a process,” Lander said.

The gardens were specifically chosen for the “Diamond Jubilee Year — 60 Years of Beautiful Gardens,” she said.

Another home, located on Forest Hills Drive and now owned by Rex and Sylvia Crippen, was one of the original gardens featured on the first tour 60 years ago. The garden encompasses a bridge, a koi pond, a potting shed with window boxes and a series of outdoor rooms with unique plant personalities.

“We have some beautiful homes up in Porters Neck, and one of them is an eco-friendly home entirely,” Lander said. “The entire house and the gardens are eco-friendly, with solar panels and the irrigation system is eco-friendly.”

The home of Dr. Robert and Judith Webb, located on Bald Eagle Lane, is a waterfront beach home with 50 solar panels, generating 9.95 kilowatts of power. The new landscape includes 90 LED lighting fixtures, which consume less than 900 watts of energy.

“We just have a lot of, this year, do-it-yourself gardeners who are just so unbelievable,” Lander said. “It’s amazing. I mean they must work in their gardens 24/7. They’re just beautiful. ... You would think a professional landscaper did it, but they’re amateurs. … And that’s kind of my favorite kind of garden, because I can see things I could do myself.”

Mike and Debbie Caulder, of Plaza Drive, will take part in the Azalea Garden Tour for the first time this year.

“We were flattered to be asked to be on the tour,” Mike Caulder said. “I garden a lot. We’ve done Secret Garden Tour, and we do the Rose Tour with the [Wilmington Cape Fear] Rose Society, but never anything as impressive as the Azalea Festival garden tour.”

The Caulders have lived in their home for 40 years, and now that Mike Caulder is retired from teaching, he said he enjoys spending his time outside in nature in the garden.

“Every year about this time we have some blue birds that come back and they nest in one of the birdhouses, and we’re hoping they’re going to nest again this year,” he said. “I could spend four to five hours per day in the garden. I could work all day in the garden.”

The Caulders’ garden changes with the times of the year, with azaleas blooming in early spring, the more than 120 rose bushes blooming after the azaleas and perennials blooming through the summer. Their garden is also a certified wildlife habitat.

“It’s not hard work for me,” Caulder said. “It’s a labor of love, really.”

The tour ticket will allow visitors free entry into Airlie Gardens, listed as the last stop, on Saturday only. Airlie Gardens is filled with more than 100,000 azaleas, statuary and camellias, spread throughout 67 acres, with 10 acres of fresh water lakes.

The CFGC Azalea Belles will personally welcome visitors to each garden as part of a long-standing tradition.

The proceeds from the tour, about $90,000 each year, benefit local community organizations, such as Wrightsville Beach Museum and Wrightsville Beach School, through beautification and horticulture grants. Throughout the past 59 years, the tour has returned almost $2 million to the local community.

The Cape Fear Garden Club, organized in 1925, is the oldest and largest garden club in North Carolina and is also among the largest garden clubs in the U.S.

Tour tickets are $20, and the gardens are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. A map with descriptions of each garden will be provided with each ticket. Children under 12 are admitted free to all gardens with a ticket-holding adult.

For tickets or more information, visit www.capefeargardenclub.org/azalea-garden-tour 

email kelly@luminanews.com 

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