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Stop and Smell the Rhododendrons

Spring has sprung. Just ask the shrubs.

The South’s most beloved shrub – Southern Living’s words, not mine – has been screaming at us the last three weeks. Azaleas are back in bloom, gaudily proclaiming an end to winter. The rhododendron sub-set remind: new life is possible.

And before we start dryer-sheet-securing our summer wardrobe (confession: I’m a sweater), let’s stop and smell those five-lobed, pastelled petals. Slow down this week by taking a trip—or three.

Despite the Civil War-sounding varietal names (which I really don’t have the time or heart to research) most azaleas make it down South after starting out East. As in, the Far East.

Japan, believe it or not, is something like azalea Mecca – if, like, 2.5 million people made an annual pilgrimage to encircle some flowers.

And maybe we should start! After seeing this azalea park in Tokyo, I’m ready to plop down a non-refundable deposit. Hearing azalea love in another language is almost as beautiful as the pictures themselves. Azaleas: the world’s most beloved shrub.

This week, though, we can’t linger long in Tokyo. Nor do we need to for azalea sighting. The distinct, ever-green Asian azaleas will be plastered across our television screens. Augusta National, home of this week’s Masters Tournament, contains thirty types of azaleas. Early returns indicate a bumper, bold-colored crop for 2022.

In fact, Augusta’s floral department always seems too good to be real, which is what has led to the long-told ice-packing rumors. Organizers are said to ice-down the flower roots to insure optimal blooming for tv audiences. Like most incredible stories, it would be even better if it were true. Apparently even the Augusta membership has limits on what it will do for its patrons. (Of course, what its membership will do for prospective members has long been a source of limitations, but Martha Burk, Hootie Johnson, and I digress.)

Augusta National is so azalea-crazy it has a hole named after the plant. Tucked in the far corner of the course, “Azalea” is number thirteen on the scorecard and the last on “Amen Corner,” a par-5 featuring a dogleg left and wall-to-wall azaleas. It’s the one with Rae’s Creek, a serpentine water hazard running down the left fairway before fronting the green. It’s the one with the Nelson Bridge, named for Byron’s six-stroke swing in the 1937 tournament. It’s the one course designer and golfing legend Bobby Jones called “one of the finest holes for competitive play I have ever seen.”

It’s the one with all the azaleas.

How azalea-ed is the Masters? Consider this: golfer Sergio Garcia’s wife suggested they name their first child after the tournament (a completely normal idea, amirite?!). The forever regripping Spaniard apparently had no trouble pulling the trigger on the christening. The name they settled on? You guessed it: Azalea.

Notice the beauty, enjoy the season, remember Azalea Garcia. Drink it in. Literally. The tournament also prepares a cocktail named “azalea”—presumably for the flower, not Miss Garcia. Mix 1¼ ounces of vodka, 5 ounces of lemonade, and ½ ounce of Grenadine, garnishing with a cherry and an orange slice.

And if you, like me, are only missing lemonade from that list, take one more trip, rerouting the grocery run down Canal past University Hospital. Trip number three may not quite be the same setting as a Japanese garden or an Augusta National fairway, but it does have blocks of blooming azaleas. Something tells me they’re not ice-packed either.

This Spring, listen to the azaleas.




Need another view of Amen Corner? This Dude Perfect competition brings holes eleven through thirteen delightfully close. Unsurprisingly, lawn darts were not a wedge option.

Native son Jon Batiste has rightfully been the toast of the music industry this week, crowned with five Grammys Sunday. His Album of the Year speech is certainly worth a listen, but his forty-seven minutes last July with NPR’s Terry Gross is must-listen. Freedom, yall.





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