Fabulous Flowers – Azaleas and Rhododendrons for Southern Gardens

In May, evergreen rhododendrons and late blooming azaleas put on a show at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Ga.

In May, rhododendrons and azaleas put on a show at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Ga.

Spring is a lovely season to visit gardens in Georgia. Blooms are abundant, and temperatures are usually mild. Favorite shrubs and trees include daffodils, dogwoods, azaleas, viburnums, mountain laurel and rhododendrons.

At Gibbs Gardens, there are hundreds of azaleas and rhododendrons blooming from early spring through summer. Some are deciduous (they lose their leaves at the end of the growing season and new foliage appears in spring), while others are evergreen. Certain varieties are ever-blooming like the Encore series, which flowers over a period of months.

White azalea in bloom in the Japanese Garden at Gibbs Gardens.

White azalea in bloom in the Japanese Garden at Gibbs Gardens.

For the purpose of clarification, it helps to know that all azaleas belong to the genus Rhododendron, but not all rhododendrons are azaleas. For example, the popular piedmont azalea, Rhododendron canescens, is a type of native azalea. In spring, it offers delightfully spicy sweet flowers that appear on bare branches before the new foliage emerges. Mature specimens may reach 10 feet to 15 feet tall over time.

Tried and true hybrid evergreen azaleas for Southern gardens include Indica, Kurume, Kaempferi and the Encore series. Southern Indica azaleas typically have large flowers and leaves. Popular selections include ‘Mrs. G.G. Gerbing’ with white flowers, ‘George L. Tabor’ with orchid-pink flowers and ‘Formosa’ with magenta flowers.

In late April, the native flame azalea, Rhododendron calendulaceum arrives on the scene with striking flowers that range from yellow to orange to scarlet.

Flame Azalea at Gibbs Gardens

Flame Azalea at Gibbs Gardens

Later in May or early June, the air is filled with the perfume of the swamp azalea, Rhododendron viscousum. This native tolerates wet soils but will grow happily in average garden soils, provided it gets regular water.

A perennial favorite of both humans and butterflies is Rhododendron prunifolium, the plumleaf azalea with stunning red to bright orange blooms that appear in late July to August. Plants can easily grow to heights of 15 feet or taller.

Large leaf evergreen rhododendrons are not the first plant that comes to mind for Southern gardens, but with the right location and adequate moisture, there are a number of selections, both native and exotic, that thrive. A few stalwart selections are listed below.  When possible, look for “Iron Clad selections.” These are well suited to tolerate the extreme heat and humidity we experience in the South.

Anna Rose Whitney rhododendron at Gibbs Gardens

Anna Rose Whitney rhododendron at Gibbs Gardens

Rhododendron “Anna Rose Whitney” – deep pink flowers

Rhododendron ‘Janet Blair’ – pink, cream and gold flowers

Rhododendron ‘Nova Zembla’ – deep red flowers, almost bluish red

Rhododendron ‘Roseum Elegans’ – lavender pink flowers

Rhododendron ‘Scintillation’ – pink flowers

For the best effect in your own garden, combine native and ornamental rhododendrons with other plants, including hydrangeas and Japanese maples.

Consider color, texture, form and fragrance, too. With some thought and planning, your garden can offer fabulous flowers for months.

Visit Gibbs Gardens this month to see these brilliant blooms and enjoy a number of special events, including Mother’s Day Brunch in a Box and strolling musicians on May 8, an arts and crafts show May 14-15, and the Twilight “Live” Music Series May 21 and 28. Find the full calendar online.

ericaErica Glasener is the marketing manager for Gibbs Gardens. A horticulturist, author and lecturer, Erica was the award-winning host of HGTV’s “A Gardener’s Diary” for 14 years. Erica is the author of “Proven Plants: Southern Gardens.” She is also the co-author with Walter Reeves of “Getting Started with Gardening in Georgia,” and “Month-by-Month Gardening in Georgia,” revised edition.

Six Ways to Celebrate Mother’s Day Outdoors

Celebrate mom with Mother Nature this Mother’s Day weekend!

Panola Mountain State Park

Panola Mountain State Park

Panola Mountain Hike, Saturday, May 7

This naturalist-led hike ascends to the protected summit of Panola Mountain. Hikers enjoy scenic views along one of the most amazing trails in the Atlanta area. The monadnock shares many of the same features as Arabia and Stone Mountain, with conservation efforts that have preserved thick, colorful blankets of lichen and moss.

New Manchester Mill Ruins at Sweetwater Creek State Park.

New Manchester Mill Ruins at Sweetwater Creek State Park.

Sweetwater Creek Kayaking & Candlelight Hike, Saturday, May 7

Kick off Mother’s Day weekend with a morning paddle exploring Sweetwater Creek State Park by kayak. Kayaking the reservoir is exciting and easy for beginners. The park offers single and tandem kayaks. As evening falls, experience the magic of nature along a half-mile out-and-back hike to the mill.

Richard B. Russell State Park

Richard B. Russell State Park

Hidden Gem History at Richard Russell State Park, Saturday, May 7

Moms meet at the disc golf parking area at Richard B. Russell State Park for a fun, naturalist-led hike through living history of the park’s past homesteads. This hike is part of Georgia State Parks’ Hidden Gems series.

Cloudland Canyon State Park

Cloudland Canyon State Park. Photo by Candy Cook.

Cloudland Canyon’s Sunset Point Hike, Saturday, May 7

One of Cloudland Canyon‘s best kept secrets, a short walk leads hikers to Sunset Point for gorgeous views of Lookout Valley as the sky puts on a colorful twilight show. Moms should meet at the West Rim Access Parking Lot to experience this hidden gem.

High Falls State Park

High Falls State Park. Photo by Candy Cook

High Falls Paws on the Falls, Sunday, May 8

A special surprise awaits each pup who comes out to hike the High Falls State Park Trail. This dog-friendly hike follows a relatively easy trail for a tail-wagging good time with Mom’s Best Friend. Share your pictures from your hike on social media using #exploregeorgiapup!

Chattahoochee Nature Center.

Chattahoochee Nature Center. Photo by Candy Cook.

Chattahoochee Nature Center, Sunday, May 8

Pack a picnic and bring mom to the Chattahoochee Nature Center for free admission on May 8 (only moms get in free). Enjoy a short film about our treasured Chattahoochee River, a Wildlife Walk, animal encounters, and register by May 5 for the Mother’s Day Canoe Paddle!

candycookCandy Cook is Georgia’s official Outdoor Explorer and the author of the blog “Happy Trails Wild Tales.” Click here for more Outdoor content from Candy.

From Fruit to Nuts, When to Pick Your Favorites in Georgia

Strawberry picking in North Georgia.

Strawberry picking in North Georgia.

Each season Georgia has a new crop ready to be harvested. When is the season for your favorite fruit?

Strawberries – Each April through July, strawberries ripen in fields across Georgia. Prime season is in May and June. Each spring, North Georgia’s Jaemor Farms celebrates the harvest with a family-friendly festival.


Peaches – From early May to August, you’ll find ripe peaches on trees throughout the state. During the late summer, the City of Kennesaw hosts the annual Pigs & Peaches Festival celebrating the beloved fruit and some of the state’s best barbecue. Add to your peach-loving fun with a visit to Georgia’s Peach Blossom Trail.

Byne Blueberry Farms in Waynesboro grows organic berries.

Byne Blueberry Farms in Waynesboro grows organic berries.

Blueberries – From mid-April through the end of July, Georgia’s blueberry harvest is at its peak. If you prefer organic blueberries, visit Byne Blueberry Farms in Waynesboro, the oldest organic blueberry farm in the state and the third oldest in the nation.

Apples – You’ll find apples ripe in orchards from late July to October. Throughout that time, the state hosts numerous apple-themed festivals, including the Georgia Apple Festival in Ellijay, which spans two weekends.

PecansPecans are in their prime in October through December in Georgia. According to the Georgia Pecan Commission, the state’s trees produce over 100 million pounds of the nuts each year. Stop into Ellis Brothers Pecans in Vienna (home to the Big Pig Jig annual barbecue cooking contest in November) and fill up on roasted, glazed, spiced, chocolate-covered, candied and any other variation of the nut you can imagine.

eileen-1437426635-thumb-230-230-10-58-1000-783-90Eileen Falkenberg-Hull is Georgia’s official Festival Explorer and the editor of Occupy My Family, the Atlanta area’s most comprehensive resource for family fun. Click here for more Festival content from Eileen.

Memorial Day Getaways Around Georgia

Memorial Day weekend is the official kick off for summer and a perfect excuse to pack up and head out on a long weekend adventure in Georgia. No matter your preference for a beach, city, or lake vacation, you’ll find lots of options throughout the state. Here are a few of our favorites.

Columbus Whitewater 2

Whitewater Express, Columbus

Ride the Rapids in Columbus: Tackle the rapids of the Chattahoochee River by day, relax and let the kids play in the splash fountain in the afternoon, and enjoy a great meal in the evening. The next day, take in the world-class Columbus Museum, a leisurely bike ride along the Riverwalk, or a zip-line into Alabama. Columbus has lots of adventure in the heart of the city.

You're the hero on the New Revolution Virtual Reality experience at Six Flags over Georgia.

You’re the hero on the New Revolution Virtual Reality experience at Six Flags over Georgia.

Fight Aliens in Atlanta: Six Flags Over Georgia has debuted several new attractions this season, including North America’s first virtual reality roller coaster. Theme park guests wear goggles that transform the Dare Devil Dive roller coaster into an alien battle through a futuristic city. If that’s a little too much for you, several other Georgia amusement parks are debuting new attractions, too. In Valdosta, meet life-sized dinosaurs at Wild Adventures, or experience the Jump at Stone Mountain Park. 

St. Simons Island Pier

Stroll along St. Simons Island Pier

Hit the Beach in St. Simons Island: Memorial Day weekend is traditionally a big beach holiday. Take a break from the sand and surf by climbing the 129 steps to the top of the St. Simons Island lighthouse for spectacular views of the island. Learn more about the area’s military history with a visit to Fort Frederica National Monument, or just relax with some freshly popped popcorn on the upstairs deck at Brogen’s and watch the activity on the pier.

Rent kayaks and paddleboards from Energy Water Sports on Lake Lanier.

Rent kayaks and paddle boards from Energy Watersports on Lake Lanier.

Spend the Night on Lake Lanier: For something a little different, rent a houseboat on Lake Lanier. After cruising around the lake, there are lots of different activities available at the Lake Lanier Islands Resort, such as kayaking, golf, horseback riding, zip-lining, and the LanierWorld water park.


Sue Rodman is Georgia’s official Smart Travel Explorer and the editor and publisher of the award-winning family travel blog Field Trips with Sue. Click here for more Smart Travel content from Sue.

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Georgia State Parks Birthday Bash Geocache Game

Georgia State Parks Geocaching Gopher

Georgia State Parks Geocaching Gopher

Celebrate the 85th anniversary of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites with a fun Birthday Bash Geocache game! The treasure hunting game encourages people to get outside and explore some of Georgia’s most beautiful destinations. Players use handheld GPS devices to search Georgia’s parks for 12 hidden caches placed by the Georgia Geo-Campers.

Each geocache contains trinkets to trade and a special stamp for the gameboard. The challenge is simple, and players receive a trackable, commemorative geo-coin at the end of their adventure.

1. Mark gameboards with the stamp found in each geocache.

2. Find at least 8 of the Birthday Bash geocaches.

3. Spend the night in a participating park or attend a Georgia Geo-Campers event.

4. Mail in the completed gameboard to receive the geo-coin prize.


Chattachoochee Bend State Park

The Birthday Bash Geocache game takes players on an unforgettable tour of Georgia featuring waterfalls, historic landmarks, scenic views and a variety of recreational activities from the mountains to the coast. Participating parks include Cloudland Canyon, Red Top Mountain, High Falls, Fort McAllister, and many more.

In addition to the 12 Birthday Bash Geocaches, Georgia State Parks host over 60 other geocaches as part of the Parks and History Trail GeoTours. Grab GeoTour Passports at any of the participating parks and begin the quest to find them all. Players receive custom Georgia State Parks geocoins after finding 15, 30, and 40 caches.

Geocaching in Crooked River State Park

Geocaching in Crooked River State Park

candycookCandy Cook is Georgia’s official Outdoor Explorer and the author of the blog “Happy Trails Wild Tales.” Click here for more Outdoor content from Candy.