Southern Highlands Reserve - Azalea Walk

Azalea Walk

A delightful azalea stroll for the present and the future

The Azalea Walk is a garden designed with a splendid surprise lurking among the Flame azaleas, blueberries, and dense carpet of ferns lining the naturalistic path. In addition to the abundance of Trillium catesbaei, bellworts and Clintonia that are native to the Reserve, we have planted thousands of Gregory Bald azalea hybrids in a dramatic and carefully plotted sequence of color that is on a ten-year path to maturity.

Originally found on a high, grassy bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gregory Bald hybrids are produced naturally when bumble bees cross-pollinate several species of azaleas, including Rhododendron viscosum, R. arborescens, and R. bakeri (cumberlandense). The centuries-long process has produced bouquets of orange, yellows and reds, light and dark pinks, yellow flowers with splashes of pink and peach, and white flowers with a red center stripe.

Visionary landscape architect Gary Smith designed the Azalea Walk as a garden room constructed with the carpeting of ferns and woodland wildflowers and the towering canopy of trees keeping watch. Gary envisioned an arrangement of the Gregory Bald hybrids in groups along the path so that visitors experience the entire color palette of the blooming azaleas in a progression of colors from warm reds, oranges and yellows to whites, pinks and cool reds. The trail winds through 50-foot concentric circles of each color group. Although nearly identical in color, each plant is genetically unique, with blooms expressing those singularities.

Though it will be nearly a decade before the Azalea Walk fulfills its vibrant promise, it remains a coveted sanctuary at Southern Highlands Reserve. With each passing season, the extraordinary vision for the garden grows closer to reality.

wildflower, native plant, blossom
monarch, caterpillar, pollinator, pollination

Plant Varieties

  • Trillium catesbaei

  • Uvularia grandiflora

  • Clintonia

  • Ferns

  • Gregory Bald hybrids

  • Rhododendron viscosum

  • Rhododendron arborescens

  • Rhododendron bakeri (cumberlandense)

  • Rhododendron calendulaceum 

  • Blueberries

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