MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

April 6, 2014

Azalea work nearly over

Plant buds culminate weeks of preparation

Park Superintendent Rick Ewing said buds are beginning to show on Muskogee’s famous flowers.

“A few more warm days like today and it won’t take long,” Ewing said.

Each year after the Garden of Lights is over at Honor Heights Park, preparation for the Azalea Festival begins.

“It’s always a lengthy endeavor,” Ewing said.

The festival, which began in April 1968, brings thousands of visitors to Muskogee each year.

With 40 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens featuring 625 varieties of azaleas and more than 30,000 plants, a lot of work must be done.

The azaleas are expected to bloom around the middle of the month despite this past winter’s weather and dry conditions.

“This is our driest winter since 1934 or 1936. We’ve had a third of an inch of rain,” Ewing said.

“Dryness really detrimentally affects the azaleas,” Ewing said. “So, we are hoping to make sure that nothing is too hard on them.”

According to the Azalea Society of America’s website, azaleas can thrive in a wide variety of growing conditions, which makes them useful in many different landscape situations.

The city’s park and recreation staff have been preparing for the Azalea Festival.

“We are currently in the process of doing bed renovations,” Ewing said.

It takes many people and a commitment to the park and the plants to make the festival a success.

“We try to mitigate the environment’s impact on them,” Ewing said.

Another group that will help to ensure that the azaleas and other plants will bloom with beauty are the Papilion Garden Ambassadors.

Volunteers go through a seven-hour training course.

With that knowledge, members dedicate 25 hours throughout the year for events including the Azalea Festival.

“We are reinvesting in the azaleas. We are also starting work inside the Papilion,” Ewing said.

The park is the main draw for the festival, but other celebrations outside the park are key to the success also, Ewing said.

“The bulk of the festival is really everything that everybody does around town,” he said.

Reach E.I. Hillin at (918) 684-2926 or ehillin@muskogeephoenix.com.

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