01 Feb
Fri / 2019

Inside the MFAH
Azalea Trail’s Blooms Mark Rienzi’s 20th Anniversary

During this year’s annual Azalea Trail, which takes place the weekend of March 1 to 3, Rienzi celebrates not only its longtime participation with this Houston tradition, but also its 20th anniversary as a house museum.

On March 6, 1999, Rienzi opened to the public for the first time during Azalea Trail—but the estate was getting lots of attention for azaleas much earlier. When Rienzi was the home of Houston philanthropists Carroll Sterling Masterson and Harris Masterson III, the gardens were featured on the River Oaks Garden Club’s annual Welcome to Spring.

Rooted in Tradition

Houstonians saw their first glimpse of Rienzi’s gardens on the 1956 Azalea Trail. To the Mastersons, gardens were as much a part of the Rienzi ethos as 18th-century decorative arts and paintings. Carroll Masterson is remembered for her love of the garden: “She loved flowers, and she loved arranging flowers,” her daughter recalls fondly.

Colorful by Design

While architect John Staub was designing and constructing the house, which was completed in 1952, landscape architect Ralph Ellis Gunn was creating the formal gardens nestled in the surrounding Texas woodlands. The Mastersons were instrumental in picking the flower palettes and species on their property. In fact, Harris Masterson worked with Gunn to specify color zones in the garden: “I want red up front, and then orange, and this part white, and pink in the back.”

This 1999 photograph shows visitors waiting for Rienzi’s first Azalea Trail. 
This 1999 photograph shows visitors waiting for Rienzi’s first Azalea Trail as the MFAH house museum for European decorative arts and paintings.

A Lasting Vision

Twenty years ago, as azalea enthusiasts lined up along Rienzi’s winding driveway and explored the acres of gardens, the visitors could find varieties of azaleas—G.G. Gerbing, Fielder’s White, and Kate Arendall—along with spirea, pink Debutante camellias, and other seasonal flowering bulbs. Today, with help from the Garden Club of Houston and Rienzi’s garden staff, the color palettes and plantings remain true to the Mastersons’ and Gunn’s plans.

Rienzi hopes to see you this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary! Visit during Azalea Trail on March 1, 2 & 3.

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