Sunshine seeps down through the azaleas and fills red and yellow tulip cups on this cool April morning. I bend my knee to eye the blooms, the sound of a trickling stream perfectly complementing the wash of colors. I question softly, "Is this Oklahoma?" Joel Everett, special projects coordinator at the Muskogee Parks and Recreation Department answers with a smile, "You better believe it."
A Festival of Flowers
The first thing you need to know about making a day trip to Muskogee's Honor Heights Park, site of its Azalea Festival (April 3 through 18), is that you won't be alone. Hundreds of thousands of flower lovers have descended upon this city, 50 miles southeast of Tulsa, every April since 1967. Don't be surprised to find yourself in a motorcade slowly idling through the park's curvy lanes. Instead of craning your neck, park in the lot located in the south end of Honor Heights close to the lake, and get out among the flowers to truly experience this place.
While the more than 20,000 azaleas take center stage, the park's 122 acres also showcase dogwoods, redbuds, and grand spreads of bedding plants and flowers all in bloom this month. Arrive in the early morning (park hours are sunrise to sunset) not only because the crowds are lighter, but also because the sunlight is just beginning to illuminate the landscape. Be sure to stand in the Conard Rose Garden gazebo overlooking a hillside blanketed in purple phlox and red tulips. Spend some time strolling through our favorite area of the park, the White Garden, one of the lesser known azalea walks on the southern end.
Take Some Azaleas Home
The beauty of Honor Heights Park triggers impulse buys like you would never believe. "When people walk through here, they decide they want to do the same thing at their houses," says Ray Wright, a 35-year azalea-growing veteran and owner of Green Country Landscaping. He's got a miniature flower shop set up in the park and one at the Honor Heights Methodist Church on Honor Heights Drive. His best sellers, by far, are the 30 varieties of azaleas in 1-gallon ($3.99), 2-gallon ($8.95 to $12.95), and 4-gallon ($20) pots.
For any of your other gardening needs, consider a trip downtown to Thompson's Seed House & Garden Center. You'll love just walking through this old-fashioned store, where Dean Thompson sells seeds from the same antique counter his father used more than 40 years ago.
For more information: Call the Muskogee Convention & Tourism at 1-888-687-6137, or visit www.cityofmuskogee.com.