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Hot pink draws our tourists

The leaves begin turning a beautiful shade of red in northern New Hampshire during the last week of September, most of the time.

The hotels fill up, the cars hit the roadways and tourists descend at about the same time.

As the red foliage covers the state from top to bottom, the tourists follow by the thousands.

And many of these folks are traveling hundreds of miles to see dying leaves.

Wouldn’t it be more fun to hit the road to see life bloom in equally as vibrant colors?

Natchez is home to one of the most amazing collections of azaleas I’ve ever seen. I’m partial to the hot pink ones, but the white and almost purple ones are beautiful too.

About this time every year, I receive an e-mail from a man in Illinois. He and his wife travel to Natchez each spring and want to come when the azaleas are in full bloom.

I’ve always provided my best guess on blooming dates and prayed the man doesn’t plan a long trip to find dead blooms on the ground upon arrival.

Horticulturalists will tell you there’s no exact science to predicting when the colorful bushes may bloom, since they respond entirely to weather conditions.

Yet, my Illinois e-mail buddy has to book a hotel room, arrange his personal schedule and fuel up in time to make it each year.

He always thanks me for my reliable replies, but I suspect there’s a better way to do this.

As our community continues to think about ways to improve pilgrimage, let’s take our lead from the foliage experts up north.

Tourists come to Natchez not only to see our wonderful houses, beautiful river and unique entertainment, but to see us bloom — literally.

We need an online azalea tracker that includes weekly updates in the spring to help visitors time their trips for peak blooms. It wouldn’t take much effort for someone with a greener thumb than me to look at the shrubs and a weather prediction and post a sentence about the azalea status.

Or, better yet, as my Illinois friend asked this year, why not put a web cam in front of some of the beautiful bloomers at Stanton Hall or around the Natchez Visitor Reception Center.

Visitors-to-be could watch the plants themselves and plan their travel.

Azaleas don’t have calendars, and they apparently don’t like to be boxed into blooming in just a certain month.

Two years ago it was mid to late April before we saw the first blooms. This year, the flowers emerged in late February.

Our visitors want this information, and we owe it to them to provide it in an easily accessible manner.

And for those of you wondering what this early spring may do to our flowering friends this year, here’s what the experts said.

“They’ll be nice if it stays warm,” Fred’s Greenhouse employee Tom Smith said.

Smith guessed that some bushes would be in full bloom for at least another week, maybe two.

Mike Upton at Upton’s Nursery guessed a bit longer, saying some shrubs will be blooming until the end of March.


Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.