Pinecrest Azalea Gardens shows off springtime splendor

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Missouri Life magazine.

There is an enchanted garden tucked away on a county road in southeast Missouri.

Pinecrest Azalea Gardens makes a breathtaking and blissful first impression. My family and I visited the gardens for the first time just before Mother’s Day in May 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

When we arrived, I was a bit nervous because the area was crowded. But after we drove around to decide where we wanted to park, we quickly realized everyone there was seeking the same thing: simple yet quality family time in a peaceful, outdoor setting. What we got was so much more. We were all respectful of one other. Families and couples waited for others to finish taking photographs before they entered an area to do the same.

We returned in 2021 to repeat that perfect day trip and see spring on full display with the brilliant and bright blooms. We again enjoyed seeing the vibrant azaleas, colorful shrubs, and other perennials that painted the backdrop. We found a gazebo overlooking the lake and benches in shady spots around the sprawling landscape.

Although the spring blossoms are located on private property, the fifty-two acres are open to the public from sunrise to sunset, with peak viewing from mid-April to mid-May. There is no admission fee. Visitors may leave donations to help with maintenance expenses.

Carl and Mettie Penzel started the garden in 1963. Their son, Carl Gene, a lieutenant in the US Navy, took over the gardens after he returned to Jackson, Missouri, and joined his father in the family construction business. Carl Gene retired in 2002 and dedicated more of his time on the family farm and the gardens, which are located between Oak Ridge and Millersville.

Carl Gene, the man who became known as “Mr. Pinecrest Azaleas,” died in November 2018. His wife, Linda, and family continued the tradition of allowing the public to enjoy the garden. Now, daughter Lisa Schamburg and husband Jim, of Jackson, maintain the gardens.

The bright green foliage and spectacular blooms at Pinecrest Azalea Gardens create a colorful backdrop for photos, as 14-year-old Ava Danielle Clifton demonstrates.
—Pamela Clifton photos

Since the 1960s, the gardens have grown into a beloved, photo-worthy destination. Families from all over Missouri and surrounding states travel to Cape Girardeau County to view the azaleas and attempt to capture the beauty of the gardens through photographs. Some people picnic while on the grounds, and others travel to nearby cities and towns to enjoy lunch or dinner, shop, and explore other sites. Nearby travel-worthy stops include Marquand, Marble Hill, Fredericktown, and Perryville. The city of Cape Girardeau, located along the Mississippi River, is a half-hour from the gardens.

I know my family and I will enjoy our third nature-inspired visit to Pinecrest Azalea Gardens this year.

Pinecrest Azalea Garden is located at 799 Torre Lane, Oak Ridge