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Azalea blooms transform local landscape each year

File photo — Bright pink, white and salmon blooms decorate the spring lawns of Natchez grand mansions, like Stanton Hall.

File photo — Bright pink, white and salmon blooms decorate the spring lawns of Natchez grand mansions, like Stanton Hall.

Like the Southerners who grow them, azaleas are strong, warm-weather tolerant and full of character.

And although a recent cold spell has kept these blooms closed, they are about the make their long-awaited debut — just in time for Spring Pilgrimage.

For Bridget Green, owner of The Burn, located at 712 N. Union St., Pilgrimage wouldn’t be the same without azaleas.

“The most important thing about our azaleas is that they have been there for so many years,” Green said. “It’s just lovely to see something that has survived for so long and has given people so much joy.”

The Burn, built in 1832 and known for its Greek-revival style, boasts several terraced gardens with more than 100 heirloom camellias and azaleas.

When March rolls around and all the flowers are in bloom, Green said the property “just comes to life.”

“If you’re looking at the front gallery of The Burn, you’re just surrounded by all different varieties of azaleas,” Green said. “And the back terrace has even more varieties planted on different levels. It amazes tourists every year.”

The evergreen bush that is native to Japan and China bursts with color in many  local landscapes like Missy Brown’s house on South Union Street.

The evergreen bush that is native to Japan and China bursts with color in many local landscapes like Missy Brown’s house on South Union Street.

This year, The Burn will open for tours in the afternoon from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. on March 7, 11, 15, 19, 23, 27, 31 and April 4.

Tourists can also catch glimpses of the vibrant azaleas at Routhland, located at 131 Winchester Road — also on tour for this year’s Spring Pilgrimage.

“They’re just a spectacular sight,” said Catherine Ratcliffe, who has lived at Routhland for 16 years. “My husband, Everette, grew up here and his family probably planted most of them.”

The azaleas, Ratcliffe said, complement the old live oak trees that sprawl throughout Routhland’s front yard. Without the flower’s charming pink color, Ratcliffe said the home would lose its special “pop.”

Arguably the largest pop of azalea color, however, can’t be found on official tours.

Missy Brown, owner of the Clovernook house on South Union Street, has had countless tourists throughout the years stop by to admire the azaleas that spill from her house’s front yard.

“The first of March is when they usually start blooming, and they’ll completely take over a large portion of the lawn,” said Brown, who has lived at Clovernook for 25 years.

Because her house isn’t featured in pilgrimage tours, Brown’s blooms are often a hidden gem of Natchez’s spring scene. But it’s a gem worth seeing, Ratcliffe said.

“People call it ‘azalea heaven,’” Ratcliffe said. “The biggest and brightest azaleas bloom at Missy’s.”

Brown guessed the azaleas were planted at Clovernook more than 60 years ago.

“They’re some of the first to bloom in town,” Brown said. “I’ll have a lot of people who walk this way just to see them.”

Several other houses featured on Spring Pilgrimage — like Lansdowne, Hawthorne and the Shields Town House — boast the popular bloom.

“It’s something tourists come to Natchez to see,” Green said. “It’s just evolved into a beautiful sight.”

Spring Pilgrimage begins March 7 and will feature 24 historic Natchez homes. For more information, visit natchezpilgrimage.com.