By Cheryl Rodewig, The BayonetApril 15, 2010
FORT BENNING, Ga. - Don't wait, or you'll miss it. The azaleas at Callaway Gardens are reaching their peak color right now, and if you want to see all the different shades - red, pink, purple, orange, lavender, cream and fuchsia - you should grab your camera, a bottle of sunscreen and go. It's not too late.
The azaleas of Callaway Gardens, numbering more than 20,000, bloom every spring for only a few weeks, usually from the last week of March through the beginning of April. This year, the unseasonably cold weather delayed the flowers, which started blossoming earlier this month.
Most of the azaleas are located in the 40-acre Callaway Brothers Azalea Bowl. A 1.2-mile trail loops around the bowl, which circles Lower Falls Creek Lake. Along the trail, you'll encounter more than 100 varieties of both native and cultivated azaleas and informational displays about the flowers.
One weather-beaten plaque explains the history of the flower, which first found its way to Europe from the Orient during the early 19th century. Horticulturalists in Belgium, France, England and Germany made hybrids from the azaleas, many of which were later brought to the New World where they thrived in the Southern states.
While walking, you may hear music wafting across the water from the MAfAPller pipe organ inside the Ida Cason Callaway Chapel. The Gothic-style chapel is a pleasant spot to stop and rest during your stroll. It includes six stained glass windows illustrating the different seasons of Southern forests.
If you're ready for even more azaleas, the Overlook Azalea Garden is less than one mile west of the Azalea Bowl. Next to Mockingbird Lake, this garden is devoted to native and exotic azaleas. There are picnic tables at Overlook Pavilion.
To stay current on how the blooms are doing, visit the Azalea Watch 2010 page at www.callawaygardens.com. The site is updated every 48 hours with a new photo.
Of course, the gardens offer much more than just azaleas. See camellias, mountain laurel, tulips, orchids, daisies, dogwoods and daffodils. See butterflies, birds of prey and ducks. See sculptures, nature exhibits, an indoor waterfall, an 1830s log cabin and a working vegetable garden. And, as always, you can boat, fish, dine, bike, golf, shop or stay overnight.
If you plan to go during April, weekend admission is $25 for adults, $12.50 for children 6 to 12 and $12.50 for military. During weekdays in April and every day starting May 1, military with ID are admitted free, along with five guests in the same vehicle.
You can enter the garden between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Admission after 6 p.m. is half price and free for military. The buildings close, but you can still tour the gardens and walking trails.
Callaway Gardens closes at 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.callawaygardens.com.