There's No Better Way to Celebrate the Southern Azalea Than With a Party
This spring, we decided to host a garden party to celebrate peak azalea season. Our casual alfresco event shows off the blooms with clever arrangements (yes, you can—and should—cut them), pretty table settings, and a just-right color scheme. If you were to count the number of times azaleas have appeared in Southern Living, you’d lose track. Our first cover (shot in Mobile, Alabama, in 1966) featured a sea of the blazing pink blossoms. And while it’s hard to imagine spring in the South without the iconic evergreen bushes, they actually didn’t arrive until the 18th century. They were delivered by boat from Asia and Europe to the U.S., where they soon found a welcoming home in the warm climate of Charleston, South Carolina. Not to be outdone, Mobile also stakes a claim to azaleas. Its nickname is the Azalea City, after all and we’re heading to Mobile to celebrate.
Embrace the blooms and head outside for this party. With a garden bursting with azaleas, set up a table and chairs. Here, crisp green linen draped on a round folding table sets off the pink azalea blooms, and simple wooden chairs are elegant but not too fancy for the garden.
Welcome with a Wreath
You’ll want to start this party as soon as your guests arrive. Start with a dampened florist foam wreath and cover the surface with natural moss secured with floral pins. Place azalea sprigs in florist water picks, and insert along lower center of wreath. Loop strands of ribbon around the bottom center for a polished finish.
“Azaleas are easy to work with and fairly long-lasting in water,” says Southern Living resident flower expert Buffy Hargett Miller. For this centerpiece, start with a water-soaked block of florist foam. Place it in a large, decorative dish or bowl. Next, choose a lush filler, like the green viburnums used here, and insert them into the foam. Then fill out the arrangement with garden roses and azalea sprigs (also tucked into the foam), letting the blooms spill out.
Planting Azaleas with the Grumpy Gardener
If the South had a beauty pageant for shrubs, azaleas would take the crown. Learn how to plant them like a pro with this easy how-to from the Grumpy Gardener.
Set the Table
Delicately patterned napkins tucked under each place setting define guests’ individual seats and complement the tablecloth. Mix and match dishes and glassware in shades of pink and white for a collected, vintage look. Keep the table pulled together by topping each place setting with a matching salad plate. We used monogrammed dishes from St. Louis-based Sasha Nicholas.
Handcrafted cone arrangements add an unexpected flourish to chairbacks. First, cut a square from medium-weight paper. Roll it into a cone shape, and secure with glue or tape. Choose two or three azalea sprigs (about seven blossoms), and place in a florist water pick. Insert the pick into the cone. Punch two holes in the back of the cone about a half-inch apart. Thread a ribbon through the holes, and secure to the chairback.