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Although the chill of winter still hangs in the air, it won’t be long before breathtaking blooms will reveal themselves as a part of the largest azalea garden in Texas, located in Nacogdoches.

With more than 7,000 azaleas, the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden, located on the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University, is something people wait all year to see and photograph. The 8-acre garden is the centerpiece of Nacogdoches’ annual Azalea Trail.

Elyce Rode-Wald, educational programs coordinator for the garden, said the peak time for the flowers to bloom is from mid-March to mid-April, although there are several encore varieties of azaleas that bloom in the fall.

While people often enjoy the gardens to take family photos, bridal photographs and anything in between, people are asked to stay on the trails so they avoid damaging the flowers, Rode-Wald said.

With as much vibrant color as the flowers bring to the campus during each bloom, it is difficult to select her favorite, but she does, Rode-Wald said.

“My particular favorite are the native azaleas, and these are found near here in East Texas like in the Jasper and Newton area,” she said. “They are fragrant, and they are gorgeous, and they are our very own native plants. They have adapted to our climate and can often be found along the spring banks. How can you not like the beautiful fragrant flower that blooms in early spring?”

Another feature that makes viewing azaleas at the university attractive is being able to go bird watching in the Mast Arboretum, which is known to have 100 bird species, Rode-Wald said.

Barbara Stump, who has loved azaleas all her life, played an instrumental role in the construction of the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden. The construction of that garden is something Stump both did and wrote about in her thesis while working on her master’s degree of science in agriculture, which she received in 2001.

She also wrote a book, “The Azaleas of Nacogdoches,” a photographic tour of some of the finest azalea gardens in East Texas, not to mention the United States.

One thing that makes visiting the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Gardens special is the ability to go through the flowers at a slow stroll and really enjoy the views, Stump said.

“There are 52 benches in the garden, because you need benches in the garden so people can sit and enjoy,” she said.

Along with the azaleas, there are 100 camellias, Japanese maples and other unusual trees that fill the garden.

Another garden visitors will enjoy seeing is the Gayla Mize Garden, which also is full of azaleas, she said. It is across the street from the Ruby M. Mize Garden.

The most distinctive azaleas on the university campus are the purple spider azaleas which are planted in parts of the gardens that face University Drive. These unusual blooms are meant to make people think of purple, SFA’s school color, along with white.

Although the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden has the most azaleas in Nacogdoches in one place, the city is covered with flowers in residential areas and historic districts around town. Nacogdoches has 25 miles of azaleas, and maps to find where they are located for self-guided tours can be found on the Nacogdoches Convention and Visitors Bureau’s web site. Joanna Temple, director of sales for the Bureau, said the beautiful gardens at the university have made Nacogdoches the “The garden capital of Texas,” a distinction awarded by the Texas Legislature. Gardening is one of the things that is promoted as “We have a Nac for that,” in marketing material for the city, she said.

For more information on the peak bloom times or to find out about activities during azalea season, visit www.visitnacogdoches.org. Some of the information will be updated closer to the time of the events.