"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
Azalea Blooms Aplenty

Azalea Blooms Aplenty

From “Azaleas and Rhododendrons” in Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi:

“Most of us think [azaleas and rhododendrons] are different plants. Catalogues list them separately, and gardening journalists clearly distinguish between them, with reason. Rhododendrons are evergreen with large, leathery leaves; azaleas are mostly deciduous and have finer foliage. Rhododendrons like shade, azaleas don’t. Even the pests and diseases that attack them aren’t the same. Such distinctions don’t impress botanists — they count stamens. Azaleas were once thought to have five, rhododendrons ten or more. When this criterion was found not to be invariable, azaleas were summarily moved into the genus rhododendron….

“Classification aside, no gardener is going to confuse the somehow eminently Victorian rhododendron with shiny leaves that roll up like cigars when the cold strikes them and big, globular flowers, with the airier, more fragile-looking azaleas that seem to belong on a Japanese screen. Even the color ranges are different, indeed opposed, as Gertrude Jekyll long ago pointed out…. Rhododendrons are at the blue end of the red spectrum — mauve, purple, blush pink — azaleas at the yellow: peach and copper, hot reds and oranges….

“America has beautiful native varieties of both:
R. catawbiense that lights up the forest primeval in the Great Smokies, the scented azaleas called arborescens and viscosum, and many more. But the most spectacular come from China and Japan. They are magnificent shrubs in their way….”

From “Japanese Azalea in the Tropics” in Out of Darkness Blossoming: Poems by Edward A. Watson:

Beneath the crumbling verandah
a single azalea bloomed.
Against what and for whom
we concluded nothing,
for in the fifteenth year
and after the fifteenth flower,
their presence mystified us.
And as I tended the seasonal rhythms
of that underworld, I knew, finally,
that bees indeed were a kind of myth
for the one bloom strutted its promiscuity
in the clear presence of toads.

From “Cardinals Mate for Life” in Touching Shadows: Poems by Bonny Barry Sanders:

While I am still locked in the tender cage
of your arms and legs, I hear the cardinal call from the oak
beside the deck. I go out with my gourmet blend:
black oil sunflower, raw peanuts, thistle and safflower.
I rattle the seed container and echo
his raspy chipping. I pitch him the same slur
of notes every day. You might think it has to do
with recognition, but it’s more

than that. Back and forth he and I toss
our greeting like a game of catch.
With each response, he comes closer
until he is in a locust tree by the front door.
I hear the clicking lisp of his mate
ahead of him in the azalea bush next to me.
He is guarding her from above.
He will watch until I go in….


I don’t usually photograph azaleas, mainly because in the spring and early summer they’re So Everywhere around Atlanta that I don’t really notice them — the very definition of ubiquitous, a word I like a lot but hardly ever get a chance to use. Then a few weeks ago I came across some azaleas with blooms in very unusual orange or salmon shades that I’d never seen before — which you can see in large formation in the first three photographs below.

At first I thought it was a trick of the morning light — morning light is like that sometimes! — or a color variation cause by reflected white from the building behind them. But those in the foreground of the photo are more salmony orange-pink than those in the background (which are the more common dark pink or red azalea color), and the color change occurs right in the middle of the cluster of shrubs — suggesting that two different varieties were originally planted here and each one spread laterally.

The next nine photos show the color transitions I found on the foreground plants. The unopened buds are mostly orange; the partially opened flowers are a mix of orange and pink; and by the time they’re fully opened, the pink and orange blend together into a salmon color.

After I spent some time photographing these (which are located just outside one of Oakland Cemetery’s notable structures, the 1899-built Bell Tower), a frequency illusion kicked in and I started noticing all the other azaleas I usually ignored. While none of the others exhibited the same unique color scheme, they were all quite striking on their own, showing off shades of pink, purple, red, and white. I took the remaining series of wide-angle photos in several locations where their big bloom-spans created a nice contrast with the fresh greens of various shrubs, as well as the reds of Japanese Maples and flowering Dogwood trees. Perhaps you can also get a sense from photos like these how pleasant a strolling-place Oakland Cemetery’s Gardens can be.

Thanks for taking a look!

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