Beverly Knight has never greeted a stranger. The owner and creator of the Azalea Path Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, located on the Gibson and Pike county lines at 1502 N. C.R. 825 W., Hazelton, Indiana, welcomes all visitors to her gardens as if she’s known them her entire life.
“What I love most about having the path is the people who I meet,” says the 70-year-old Posey County native. “They are all my friends, honestly.”
Her path of azaleas and gardens began from an idea conceived during her time as a driver for UPS. On her routes, she would encounter many plots of plants, flowers, and trees of those she delivered packages to. But it would be her friendship with Dr. Henry Schroeder of Evansville that would start the Azalea Path. (Dr. Schroeder was a gynecologist and obstetrician known for breeding azaleas and rhododendrons.)
“He was a plant hybridizer,” says Knight. “When I bought the property here, he gave me a root cutting and said, ‘Here’s a little cut of azalea, see if they’ll live up there.’”
It was the beginning of a love affair for Knight. What originally started as 15 acres in 1979 — and at one time grew to 100 acres — is now 80 acres filled with more than 400 varieties of azaleas, including 37 hybrids from Dr. Schroeder. Knight also has the collection of Encore azaleas from Robert E. “Buddy” Lee, past president of the Azalea Society of America and a nationally known plant breeder of Independence, Louisiana. Lee contacted Knight when he began to develop the Encore azaleas in the 1980s, sending her cuttings to test his hybrid.
Knight’s property also includes many other blooming plants, shrubs, and unique trees from around the country, Europe, and Asia.
The grounds open to the public feature three miles of walking and hiking trails around two lakes, a cascading waterfall, a koi pond, beach area, pine grove, and more.
“There’s nothing around that even compares to this place,” says Andra DeHaven, Knight’s daughter-in-law who helps with booking events for the path. “It’s its own little hidden paradise.”
Walking the trails gives a true feeling of seclusion. Here there are no sounds of nearby traffic or civilization, just the rush of water from the waterfall and songs of the birds. Benches, seating, and swings dot the pathways and offer visitors a chance to sit, relax, and take in the beauty and peace this large garden in Southwest Indiana provides.
With blooms erupting in mid-April, generally after the Easter holiday, Knight and DeHaven say the Azalea Path stays busy for three to four months straight, hosting at least one wedding, sometimes two, every weekend from mid May to October.
“Just think, this all started from a wooded area,” says DeHaven with a smile. “Every year something changes; Beverly adds something every year. She’s full of wisdom when it comes to this. Her favorite thing to do is get up and take people (around the path).”
The Azalea Path’s season begins in April; through April and May, visitors are welcome seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. From June to October, the path is open Tuesday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Knight asks guests not to bring pets to the path, except for service animals.
For more information about the Azalea Path, call 812-640-9133 or visit azaleapatharboretum.org.