INKLINGS: Appreciating azaleas, And those who grow them
Did you know we have an estimated 10,000 azalea plants in Azalea Park? And did you know that the park celebrates its 77th birthday this year? It was completed in 1935, when local workers earning ten cents an hour helped a Works Project Administration effort reclaim a swampy area called Pike Hole. Thousands of azalea seedlings were provided at its birth by nurseryman George Segelken. It became our 12-acre, heart-of-town beauty spot that we – and thousands of others – enjoy all year, but especially this season.
And if you’ve been watching, the season has already begun. Buds and blooms are peeking through pickets, between spaces in basket weave brick walls and atop giant park shrubs. Parks and Playgrounds Director Mike Hinson, who gave me the 10,000 number, said we have a variety of early and later blooming plants. What we’re seeing now include the pink Elegans, the red President Clay, the lilac Formosa and the Pride of Summerville, a rich coral.
It’s 28 days till the Flowertown Festival opens. When will the color peak? Mike says we’re about three weeks ahead of schedule, as we usually peak about March 25. As you know the weather has been erratic recently, warm, then cold. So a lot depends on Mother Nature, as always. But I always think that those of us blessed to live in this Flower Town will be able to enjoy their pinnacle performance whenever it comes.
There are many Summervillians, including scores of Parks and Playgrounds personnel who have labored over these plants throughout the years. Countless citizens and government employees have worked to keep the park well tended, maturing and supported. One special advocate was Beth McIntosh, town council member, who in 1975 in conjunction with a proposal from the Summerville Preservation Society, persuaded council to take on the park restoration as a bicentennial project.
Our former mayor, Berlin G. Myers, served as a tour guide to this blossoming town as a boy. He and many other local youth used to stand in front of the Town Hall and offer to hop on the running boards of the hundreds of cars which brought tourists to view our spectacular spring show. Mr. Berlin tells me he’d hold on and direct the drivers in and around the park and residential areas. Once, he said, he got a $5 tip, adding that was “a real fortune to a young boy in those days.”
Another person who deserves much more than a nod of thanks for our delightful park is Mike Hinson, who after 33 years with the town, retires today. Mike will go to work for a large nursery in Orangeburg, dividing his time between farming straight row crops using modern agriculture equipment, including GPS, and working in the nursery.
“I’m primarily a farmer, so I’m really looking forward to this. It’s a great opportunity,” he says. “But I’ll miss the employees I’ve worked with and all the friends I’ve made here.”
You’ll be missed too, Mike. But even though we won’t see the smile that always seems to be on your face, your and all the many other park promoters will be remembered every spring when those graceful, trumpet shaped azaleas make a renewed appearance.
Have a blooming future yourself!