Azaleas Granted a Stay of Execution

Glenn Dale Azalea-Unnamed Bicolor-Don Hyatt Photo

Thanks to an anonymous $1 million gift honoring Washington area attorney Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. and Lila Sullivan, the removal of the Glenn Dale Azaleas, the National Boxwood and Perennial Collections at the National Arboretum has been suspended. This gift from the heart was announced on Valentine’s Day by the nonprofit group, Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA).

But this is only the beginning. This largest single donation in FONA’a history protects the collections today but the funding issues for the future have not gone away. The Department of Agriculture will face more budget cuts in the years to come. FOMA is developing a plan for additional private support to ensure the future of these collections. The National Arboretum’s new director, Colien Hefferan, stated, “FONA’s efforts in support of the Arboretum pave the way for us to work toward a new, vibrant future for this treasured place.” Dr. Hefferan said she is planning to meet with key stakeholders this spring to discuss the future of the collections. The Arboretum is also asking for your feedback through its website.

Glenn Dale Azalea-Don Hyatt Photo

The 10,000 Glenn Dale Azaleas (see November blog), the boxwood collection, daffodil and perennial collection were said to be destined for the chopping block due to the loss of a $110,000 grant. After a massive public outcry and a campaign of lobbying politicians, the communal voices received the desired outcome. One of the most vocal protests came from Don Hyatt, an international expert on azaleas and a firm supporter of the 65-year-old Glenn Dale Azalea collection. This month, Don spoke to our Gloucester Master Gardeners, thrilling us with breathtaking PowerPoint photos of species of native azaleas growing wild throughout the Eastern U.S. He ended his presentation with an update and summary of the fight to save the Glenn Dale Azaleas. With the fervor and devotion and passion for preserving the azaleas of the National Arboretum, I have no doubt that it was Don Hyatt who lit the match to start the blaze of public protests leading to the February 14 announcement.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Race Against Time

There is nothing more beautiful in the spring landscape than an azalea, a member of the genus Rhododendron. Fifteen azalea species are native to the eastern part of our country and gardeners are becoming more appreciative and knowledgeable about them. Whether white, pink, red or orange or any combination of these colors, the native azaleas are said to be the most fragrant of all azaleas. These natives grow naturally in woodland settings beneath tall hardwood or pine trees where the sun is filtered and the soil is acidic.

In Gloucester, we feel fortunate to have fellow resident, George McLellan, a landscape designer who values the native azalea. He is a member of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society and chairman of the Species Study Group. He knows his azaleas well, as he does everything else in the world of gardening including native plants, trees, bulbs, perennials, the uncommon, the rare and newest hybrids. He also knows his birds and is a regular on our birding walks where, if asked, will take time to share horticultural knowledge along the way.

Last week George also shared an azalea success story. Recently, on a tiny postage stamp plot of undeveloped land in Gloucester surrounded by a sea of man-made surfaces and buildings, a sign went up announcing the construction of a new fast food restaurant. George and fellow ARS member, Jim Brandt, with no time to waste, took shovels to the tiny woodland site to save a native azalea.

Growing under the pines were Pinxter Azaleas (Rhododendron periclymenoides), a wild azalea found from Massachusetts to Georgia and Alabama. The name Pinxter is the Dutch word for Pentecost, named thus by the colonists because it bloomed on Pentecost, 50 days after Easter. It can grow to 6-8 feet tall with clusters of long-tubed pink to white flowers with a wonderful sweet fragrance. George and Jim were able to save some azaleas before dozers leveled the land, paved and built the restaurant in record time.

Protected in New York state, the species is obviously not safe from harm in Virginia. The azalea is certainly fortunate to have friends in need.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

The Azalea Gardens of Art and Betty White, Gloucester

Whites' Azalea GardenThese spectacular azalea gardens were created by Art and Betty White on the North River in Gloucester.  In the dappled light of loblollies and dogwoods, the Whites have created a natural wonderland of hundreds of mature azaleas and rhododendrons in a riot of colors.  Gentle paths lead to small ‘rooms’ inside the gardens where one can linger on benches to enjoy the splash of colors and individual blossoms. The Whites have generously opened their garden to friends each spring and have twice opened for HGW.  Over the years they have delighted in using their garden as a teaching tool to pass on their special propagation techniques to a multitude of gardeners.  Betty is a member of the Garden Club of Gloucester.

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Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester