Nixa Hardware

Azaleas take center stage in Nixa

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By GEORGE FREEMAN

It is now official: Nixa is an “Azalea City” as designated by the Azalea Society of America. That’s in addition to being one of the fastest growing communities in the U.S., and home of the annual Sucker Days, when visitors come to witness the miracle of feeding many mouths with the bottom-feeding, hard-to-catch fish.

Nixa’s prosperity can be seen up and down the thoroughfares, from upscale housing developments to the long list of national retailers, restaurants and box stores.

And yet there remains a yearning to be recognized. Say, like Augusta in springtime during that “tournament like no other” golf tournament.

Anyone who follows golf or longs for springtime after a long winter appreciates the salad of rich colors and greenery at Augusta where the Masters is played. In Nixa and nearby Fremont Hills, they know imitation is more than flattery. It’s also good business.

Hence, the Azalea craze, and the Nixa Azalea Association’s budding effort to turn the community into a gardening destination for fun, profit and a tapestry of color enjoyed by both residents and visitors.


Azalea blooms at Fremont Hills Country Club east of Nixa, MO.

Azalea Blooms at Fremont Hills Country Club, east of Nixa, MO. The communities are cooperating to celebrate the flowering shrub.

Nixa already knows how to grow. It’s the fastest growing community in Missouri, having expanded from fewer than 5,000 residents in 1990 to more than 20,000 in 2010. Christian County, the Ozarks and of course Springfield are economic growth engines, and to the south, Branson sets the pace for tourism.

Now in its fifth year, the Azalea Festival organizers including Dow and Linda Whiting, owners of Garden Adventures, west of Nixa on Missouri 14, envision a destination event attracting thousands of serious gardeners through a schedule of educational events. (The Whitings also donated plants for a new Azalea Garden at the Springfield/Greene County Botanical Center, and Dow pitched into design and help in the planting. Garden Adventures also donated some of the plants to the Dwarf Conifer Garden in 2010. In return, volunteers turned out by the dozen when garden centered was flooded in a late summer gully washer in 2010.

Dow Whiting enjoys a walk in the fairway garden at Fremont Hills Country Club

Dow Whiting enjoys a walk in the fairway garden at Fremont Hills Country Club

Charlene Gabbard says the Nixa Azalea Association’s goal is to create a national reputation for Azaleas (Rhododendron, family Ericaceae), by encouraging planting and related education events throughout the year. Other communities have done so, such as Muskogee, Okla., which calls itself “the Azalea Capital of Oklahoma.” Their events are spread throughout April.

The second is to create an Azalea Botanical Garden in Nixa on what is now only a vacant lot owned by the city where a sinkhole makes development unlikely.

“We hope the idea spreads to nearby communities,” says Gabbard, president of the association, which recently certification from the Azalea Society of America designating Nixa as an official “Azalea City.”

As presented to Mayor Sam Clifton by former Alderman Charles McCorkle on May 7 and May 9, the proclamation reads in part:

“This official designation is given only to cities who have demonstrated that they have earned it through the promotion of these beautiful flowering plants in both public and private gardens.”

The Nixa Azalea Festival Association looked favorably upon Nixa by virtue of the azalea gardens in the Nixa area, the annual Azalea Festival and the garden tour that is part of that festival.” Nixa and other “azalea cities” receive national recognition through the Azalea Society of America’s quarterly journal “The Azalean.”

Dates for the 4th annual Nixa Azalea Festival have already be set for April 30-May 2, 2012, although a new location to avoid the notion that this is a Garden Adventures event. This year, the festival included a driving garden tour, arts and crafts, gardening classes and a golf tournament at Fremont Hills Country Club at noon on May 2.

Events continue in 2011 as well, including a $120 per person golf tournament (did we mention the Masters) at rolling Fremont Hills (now June 13; originally May 2). This fall there will be a Octoberfest event, followed by Winter Wonderland. The association meets at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at Garden Adventures, 1900 W. Mt. Vernon Street, Nixa.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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