Color Burst at the WRAL Azalea Gardens

A springtime tour through the vibrant gardens just off of Western Boulevard on Capital Broadcasting Company’s campus.
by Ayn-Monique Klahre | photography by Juli Lenard

By early April, they make their debut: a symphony of blossoms in shades of red, purple, orange, white and pink, lush against green leaves. In a season where balmy days jostle with the last frosty nights, azaleas are a welcome sight, a harbinger of the lush months to come. And at the WRAL Azalea Gardens, they’re on full, glorious display. The gardens are located on Capitol Broadcasting Company’s campus off Western Boulevard.

They were established in 1959 by the station’s founder, A.J. Fletcher, as a gift to the people of Raleigh. Fletcher, a lover of azaleas, oversaw the planting of the first 1,000 bushes. Today, many of those plants are still blooming — thousands of blossoms over more than three acres.

Signage details the different varieties of azaleas, the names as diverse as the coloration: Formosa, President Clay, Mrs. G. G. Gerbing, Pink Perfect. The gardens are shaded by Loblolly and Shortleaf pines, and whimsical sculptures are tucked into paths that meander and intersect.

Property manager Rodney Collier oversees the grounds of the gardens, along with other CBC properties. “We take a lot of time and effort to keep them alive and healthy; it’s our way of giving back to the community,” Collier says, noting that he sees many of the same people come to visit year after year.

The garden offers a quiet respite in all four seasons, but the crowds are biggest in spring — it’s particularly popular for weddings and photos. “Last season, we had a couple of hundred people here in prom dresses!” Collier says.

Collier and his team work year-round to maintain the gardens. “Azaleas are a high-maintenance plant — you have to stay on top of them,” says Collier. Over time, they’ve planted more and more Encore azaleas, which bloom twice a year. (These also have fun names, like Starburst, Sangria and Debutante.)

In addition, the garden showcases a range of other flowering trees, bushes and perennials, plus annuals they swap a few times a year.

“It’s always different, we use a lot of lantana because it’s really hardy summer blooming, but we’ll put in pansies for winter and tulips for springtime, and we change up the colors from year to year,” Collier says.

Over the next few months, visitors will notice a new patio for weddings, updated signage, expanded grassy areas and more accessible hardscape paths. “But the garden will be open the whole time,” Collier says.

At the entrance to the garden, a fountain murmurs and a small plaque offers a poem, “God’s Garden” by 19th-century English poet Dorothy Gurney: The kiss of the sun for pardon / The song of the birds for mirth / One is nearer God’s heart in a garden / Than anywhere else on earth. Wander the paths on a spring afternoon, and you’re bound to agree.  

The gardens host dozens of varieties of traditional and Encore azaleas, as well as other plants including rhododen- drons, primrose, dogwood, Japanese maple, fig, buckeye, hydrangea and hibiscus.

A mix of hardscape and gravel paths meander through the WRAL Azalea Gardens, with seating at intervals. Shaded by pine and maple trees, it’s surprisingly peaceful within its urban setting.

This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of WALTER magazine.