by Amanda Wilkins

I was Louisiana-bound the last weekend of March for the 2017 National Azalea Conference in Hammond, Louisiana. The Azalea Society of America met for their annual conference in Cajun Country, and rolled out the best food and hospitality for visitors from all over the country. It was only my second time to Louisiana in my life and I was so glad to get a chance to see the state with the locals. Dr. Allen Owings, Jason Stagg and Gina Herbert were excellent hosts (and Gina totally decked MBG out with lots of cool plants to try!!), and were understanding of my probing questions about Louisiana horticulture. To say the least, I was the youngest person there, though.

Hammond Research Station, Hammond, LA


The conference was based at the research station. The terrible weather thankfully moved out just as I was driving over to Louisiana, and showed how incredible the property is. I hope I get to go back over there during the summer to see all of the plant trials! See more photos here: https://goo.gl/photos/th8dNDxVBMRB7M859

Imahara’s Botanical Gardens, St. Francisville, LA


Mr. Imahara has an amazing story to tell, and he is certainly honoring his family’s complex and amazing horticultural and cultural legacy through building this young botanical garden. His father’s haiku wood carvings alone are worth the trip out there! It is only open by appointment, but I am so glad we were able to go as part of the conference. Mr. Imahara had many stories to tell about the plants he chose and the way the land is sculpted. It was a beautiful trip! See more photos here: https://goo.gl/photos/AiaDqEydLNxbQhA28

Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site, St. Francisville, LA


Gosh, nothing says the Deep South like an alleé of live oaks (Quercus virginicus), and Rosedown has a really special one. It was a stately home with a beautiful formal garden with an old cold frame and yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) hedges. I especially enjoyed the lower pond. It would be great to come back when the azalea hedges are in bloom though! See more photos here: https://goo.gl/photos/btsaMqoN6CQ5Eavp6

Transcend Nursery and Buddy and Dixie Lee’s Home, Independence, LA

Goodness, the famous Buddy Lee, of Encore Azalea fame, opened his trial nursery and home to us to potter and nose about. Buddy’s trial nursery is on an old nursery property, and Buddy has some really interesting plants out there. Exciting to see broadleaf evergreen Rhododendron trials going on. Then, we went over to Buddy’s home and got to see his seed lots of possible future Encore azaleas (as well as get wooed by Cajun music and food). See more photos here: https://goo.gl/photos/e7xXfmgpgnoLB4Kh6

Bracy’s Nursery, Wilmer, LA

I first visited Bracy’s back in February, as this one of the nurseries we source plants from for MBG’s plant sales. We were given the VIP driving tour of the 200 acre nursery with the owners and then were treated to a generous fish fry lunch at their home across the street. Ms. Regina is a planter genius. See more photos here: https://goo.gl/photos/2KKU2FhvHEWvvFSk7

Plant Show and Tell with Margie Jenkins, Jenkins Plant Farm and Nursery, Amite, LA


Finally, the nursery tours ended with a stop at Ms. Margie’s nursery in Amite (am-eet). My goodness, the lady is a legendary plantswoman, and her passion and love for sharing plants are inspirational. Asking various folks to hold up 3-gallons so she could talk about them, Ms. Margie gave us an overview of what azaleas she had available for sale and told us stories from her 94-years of life. Really, what we all wanted to see was the nursery lots of 30 year old seedlings of native deciduous azaleas, many of which were in flower. Giving Ms. Margie a hug around the neck was a wonderful way to end the trip. See more photos here: https://goo.gl/photos/5kibZu3gc7VpvwYA9