Still, azaleas are the reason for the season, and the city never loses sight of that. You shouldn't either, and another fabulous place to see these shrubs in all their glory this month is Airlie Gardens, a 67-acre public garden a few miles east of downtown. Massive, moss-draped live oaks serve as giant sentries over this paradise, featuring 10 acres of lakes, a fantastic wisteria arbor, and, of course, azaleas.
If you have time to see only a couple of gardens during the festival, Airlie and Henry's should be on your list. Airlie Gardens shows what wonders can be created when you have acres of land, lots of water, and a dramatic setting on a grand scale. Henry's garden shows what you can do when you have lots of love, a few years under your belt, and an adoration for azaleas.
Editor's Note: Henry Rehder passed away February 16, 2004, at his residence. Mr. Rehder was an avid gardener and earned many honors for his civic and horticultural accomplishments and leadership. After press time, Henry Rehder?s garden was taken off the North Carolina Azalea Festival tour. Contact the festival for more information.
Where To Stay
For distinctive lodging downtown, we love the Front Street Inn. The location can't be beat: You can walk to restaurants downtown and stroll the sidewalks in the historic neighborhood. Rates start at $110; 1-800-336-8184. Book early; rooms go fast in this prime property. You'll get a good rate ($77-$89) at the Holiday Inn Express; (910) 392-3227 or 1-800-465-4329.
Where To Eat
Downtown Wilmington abounds in great places to dine. Tops on our list is Circa 1922, a restaurant with a tapas-style menu, great atmosphere, and sensational scallops ($9). We also love Deluxe for dinner (their steaks are superb), and enjoy watching the sun set over the Cape Fear River and enjoying a glass of wine at Le Catalan.
Other Great Gardens To Visit
Orton Plantation Garden: 9149 Orton Road, Winnabow, NC 28479 (about 18 miles south of Wilmington); (910) 371-6851. This former rice plantation features 20 acres of patterned formal and informal gardens. Admission is $9.
Greenfield Park and Gardens: South Third Street; (910) 341-7855. A 5-mile drive curls around Greenfield Lake, with 250 acres filled with flowering azaleas. Admission is free.
The Arboretum at New Hanover County Cooperative Extension: (910) 452-6393. Close to Airlie Gardens, the 7-acre arboretum features aquatic, vegetable, fruit, and flower gardens. Admission is free.
This article is from the April 2004 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.