Lights, blooms fade to black at local landmark

Flowers will bloom no more and the popular Christmas lights will be dark at Derrick's Azalea Farm in Ballentine.

The family is putting the 10-acre site on a developing commercial corridor on Dutch Fork Road (U.S. 76) up for sale.

"It's a great loss," said long-time customer Judy Wrenn, who lives nearby along Lake Murray. "But this whole area is changing."

Selling azaleas began as a sideline for the Derricks, but it grew so popular that the farm became a landmark along the northeastern corner of the lake.

In spring, plant lovers came to enjoy dozens of varieties blossoming while buying shrubs for gardens across the Southeast.

"We've bought I can't tell you how many hundreds of azaleas from them," Wrenn said.

She also was among the crowds who came late in the year to view a holiday light display that grew more elaborate annually.

By some estimates, the exhibit featured 150,000 light bulbs at its height.

"It was quite a treat," Wrenn said.

Smaller displays appeared at holidays like Easter and Halloween, particularly on the pond the family used to water the shrubs.

But Derricks' legacy is at its end after 40 years.

Pat Derrick - a widow who is the last member of the family - is retiring with fond memories.

"It got to be a pretty big thing," said Derrick, who is calling it quits at 80 after the death of husband, Alvin, and son, Tracy, in the past two years.

Fans will get a chance to obtain mementos.

Wares from the farm will be sold at auctions today and Nov. 14 as part of an estate sale.

Longtime customers mourn the farm's passing even though they understand why it's happening.

The land sits across from a new retail center anchored by Wal-Mart, with neighborhoods rising nearby and other tracts offered for commercial development.

New stores will provide convenient shopping but won't be as memorable as the azaleas and holiday lights, nearby residents say.

"That farm was part of the local landscape," said Joy Downs. "I like it the way it used to be."