An explosion of colorful azaleas is pushing quickly toward peak viewing at Callaway Gardens, promising a good show for nature fans despite the cold snap more than a week ago.
Patricia Collins, director of gardens, said Tuesday that the Callaway Brothers Azalea Bowl appears to have felt the brunt of the below-normal freeze that descended on the Deep South March 24, lingering for a couple of days.
"The azaleas that were not out in bloom and didn't have color showing on their buds were not hurt," she said, joking that "the native azaleas seem to know not to bloom quite so early."
Another major area for color at Callaway, the Overlook Azalea Garden, weathered the cold much better, she said.
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"Overlook Azalea Garden is under more tree canopy, and there was very, very little cold damage in that particular area. I would say that garden is just about at its peak now, and will be this coming weekend. It's still beautiful."
The late Virginia Hand Callaway, who co-founded the gardens with her husband, Cason, in 1952, is the person responsible for having the thousands of azaleas planted in the Overlook area. It has walking trails to put visitors in the middle of the colorful bursts of pink, white, purple, yellow, red and lavender azaleas.
This is the second straight year the weather has impacted the azaleas, with warmer-than-normal temperatures wilting some of the blooms early in 2012.
"We like moderate to cool temperatures for the azaleas. Last year we had a much earlier spring, meaning earlier warm weather ... everything happened in March," said Callaway marketing director Rachel Crumbley.
"Celebrate Spring!" runs from mid-March through April and is a signature event for Callaway Gardens, which is located about 30 minutes north of Columbus. Summer also is considered a popular time, while Fantasy of Lights in November and December draws the most visitors.
Aside from azaleas, Crumbley noted spring brings other colorful specimens, including dogwood and cherry trees, as well as daffodils, tulips and wildflowers. There also are non-nature activities on the menu, including an "open air" art show and sale April 15-21 and a performance by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra on April 26.
Other popular attractions inside the gardens include Robin Lake Beach, the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center and the John Sibley Horticultural Center. It also has golf courses, paved trails for bicycling and walking, and a zip-line course, called TreeTop Adventure, that was recently expanded.
Callaway Gardens drew roughly 384,000 visitors in 2012, up 4 percent from the year before, with the 6,000-acre nature preserve now rebounding from financial woes linked to the severe U.S. recession and slow economic recovery.
See what azaleas are blooming now by viewing the Azalea Watch at www.callawaygardens.com/azaleawatch Admission for April is $25 for adults, $20 for seniors (65 and older) and $12.50 for kids ages 6-12. It's free for kids younger than 6.