Be the first to see the azaleas that thousands of visitors to Tyler, Texas, will enjoy this spring.
Great gardens can spring up in surprising places. Believe it or not, the star attraction at the annual Tyler Azalea Trail had
its origin in―of all things―the Depression.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to put the country back to work, WPA employees took on all kinds of projects. In Tyler, they built some of the beautiful redbrick streets and oversaw the construction of a big drainage project. Spanned by stone bridges, it runs through the backyards of homes in a community that was once surrounded by cotton fields.
Fast-forward several decades. Tyler’s small-town charm convinced lots of city folks to call it home. Far from dividing the
current homeowners, that WPA drainage project with its old-world-style stone bridges helped bring them together, transforming
three separate gardens into one. The centerpiece of the Tyler Azalea Trail, it draws thousands of tourists every spring.
All three sets of neighbors―Guy and Joan Pyron, Don and Bonny Edmonds, and Gordon and Margaret Davis―moved to Tyler from other parts of Texas. And because their homes were in the heart of the town’s historic Azalea District, they all created gardens that were unique to their personalities yet had a common thread: amazing azaleas.
The sign says, “You are welcome to walk through our backyard.” They mean it too. Guy and Joan Pyron have what they call a “hands-on garden.” They’ve never had an overall plan, and they love doing all the work themselves because, as Joan puts it, “you can just get down and play with it.” She doesn’t even consider it labor: “Ironing is work, but not gardening.”
Their adventure in tourism began, Guy says, when they would sometimes see people standing on the sidewalk, looking toward
their backyard. At first, they personally invited folks in, but as the crowds grew, they just put out a little welcome sign.
“It is gratifying to see people enjoying the garden,” Guy says. “Tyler has been good to us, and this is our way of giving
Joan has a spiritual take on it: “I think this is God’s garden, and he lets me tend it. That’s why we share it.” No wonder so many visitors tell them that their garden “must be what Heaven is like.”
For years, the Edmondses had driven by the tired Cotswold-style cottage with overgrown landscaping, and there was just something
about it. When it finally went on the market, they jumped on it―and its jungle of a yard. “It was Tarzan-and-Jane-like,” remembers
Bonny. “You could have swung through the yard.”
It took Don five years to get rid of the English ivy that had taken over the trees and old flowerbeds. He also cut down big privet hedges blocking the view from the street. The Edmondses even spent a week in England, including the Cotswolds, soaking up inspiration.
Though many of the English gardens they saw overflowed with flowers, Don was drawn to those that were more manicured. “I’m
really a clip-and-design kind of guy,” he says. When they came home, he and Bonny set about adding azaleas, sculpture, and
order. Now that the garden has become a showstopper, they’re more than willing to share it.
The visitors drop in year-round, including one busload of Japanese tourists who had stopped to admire the garden from the street when Bonny and Don invited them in. “Part of the group was a choir, and they gathered together and sang to us a cappella,” says Don. “It was beautiful.”
It’s simple; it’s natural―that’s the way Margaret Davis describes the garden she and her husband, Gordon, created. Simple
doesn’t always mean easy though. To get the look they wanted, the Davises took out the former owner’s railroad-tie flowerbeds
and then added 11 tons of stone and more than 1,000 azaleas.
The result looks like the Augusta National Golf Club, with masses of colorful azaleas all mixed together along a perfect lawn. “I’m a fanatic about the grass,” Margaret admits. Gordon adds, “We just go for the color, and we don’t worry if we get too many in one spot.”
Like their neighbors, Margaret and Gordon enjoy sharing their garden. “We love people,” Margaret says. “And you know, it’s
a testimony to what God has given us.”
Take a lesson from these three Texas families. The next time you spot the neighbors admiring your azaleas, daffodils, or roses―invite them into the garden. Friendships, too, can bloom in the springtime.
More Information: This year is the 50th anniversary of the Tyler Azalea Trail. To find all the information you need, visit www.tylerazaleatrail.com. The trail, open March 20-April 5, is primarily a driving experience through quiet neighborhoods with brick streets, but you can also walk parts of it.