Callaway Gardens Part I: Azaleas
Pine Mountain, GA - Events of Thursday, March 22, 2012
The main reason we went to Pine Mountain, GA was to see Callaway Gardens. We arrived in Pine Mountain on Wednesday, and we headed to the gardens on Thursday morning.
Cason Callaway was the founder of Calloway Gardens, which opened to the public in 1952. Cason made his money in the milling of cotton. He and his wife Virginia acquired land in the area of the present-day Callaway Gardens to build a weekend retreat from their home in nearby LaGrange, GA. They originally named the retreat Blue Springs.
As Cason's brother took leadership in the family cotton mill in the late 1930s, Cason continued to acquire more land around Blue Springs and began farming. He initiated new methods of restoring the eroded, worn-out soil in the area and pioneered improved food processing methods. People came from all around to learn. Cason Callaway, the industrialist, had become Cason Callaway, the farmer.
Then, in 1948, a heart attack forced Cason to scale back his farming, so he turned to gardening. He felt the garden was so beautiful he wanted to share it, so he opened Callaway Gardens to the public in 1952. Cason callaway died in 1961, and the gardens have been run by family members through the Ida Cason Callaway Foundation, which was named for the founder's mother.
Since Cason's death, the gardens have undergone numerous expansions and additions. Today, there are two golf courses, an inn, a lodge, cottages, a horticultural center, a butterfly center, several additional garden areas, a bike trail and more. In 2004, Callaway Gardens began selling home sites, so you can now live on the property. There are also many special events.
We had difficulty planning our visit using the Callaway Gardens web site. Some information seemed a little vague to us, and other information was buried and hard to find. However, we knew the gardens were large (the entire property covers 13,000 acres), and we knew there was a lot to see and do. We figured we would probably not be able to see everything in one day, especially since we didn't want to leave Freeway alone all day. Daily admission during special events (such as during azalea season when we were there) is $25 a day ($20 for seniors 65 and over). Since annual passes cost $45 ($40 for seniors), we opted for annual passes since the cost was the same or less than it would have cost us for daily admission for two days. The passes allowed us to go into the gardens and see whatever we wanted at a more leisurely pace, especially since the campground was located only 10 minutes from the garden entrance, and it also gives us the option of visiting Callaway when we are on our way south in the fall.
We stopped at the Discovery Center pick up our passes and a map. Although azaleas are scattered everywhere in the gardens, they are concentrated in two main areas. We headed for the Azalea Bowl, which was the closer of the two azalea areas.
At Callaway Gardens there are numerous walking trails, but the gardens are too large to be able to see everything on foot. There is ample parking at many convenient locations, and there is also an extensive bike trail around the gardens. We drove everywhere rather than unpack our folding bikes from the back of the car.
The Azalea Bowl, which was opened in 1999, is one of the latest additions to the gardens. It encompasses 40 acres and has 3,400 hybrid azaleas and 2,000 trees and other shrubs. The walkways meander down a gentle slope toward Falls Creek Lake.
Within a fairly short distance, we came to a split in the trail. We followed the left fork toward the Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel. There weren't many azaleas along this particular path as it skirts the upper part of the Azalea Bowl, but we did enjoy seeing some of the other plants and trees and listening to the birds as we walked along the woodland trail.
We arrived at the chapel, which is built mostly from native material. The Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel was dedicated in 1962 and is the site of organ recitals and many weddings.
After visiting the chapel, we headed toward the lower part of the Azalea Bowl along the lake where most of the azaleas are located.
Azalea season at Callaway Gardens is supposed to be March 22 through April 22, but the winter was so mild and the spring was so warm, many of the azaleas bloomed much earlier than usual. Knowing the azaleas would be early, we timed our visit for the early part of the season, but many of the azaleas were already past their peak by the time we arrived. Fortunately, there are many varieties of azaleas at Callaway Gardens that have differing bloom times so there were still some azaleas in full bloom and even a few that still had unopened buds. We may have missed the peak by a week or so; but there were still some beautiful blooms to see.
After walking the trails at the Azalea Bowl, we headed for another part of the gardens. Along the way, we passed an area where artists had set up their easels to paint.
Stay tuned for news about our next stop on our tour of Callaway Gardens.