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Journal American Rhododendron Society

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Dr. Glen Jamieson ars.editor@gmail.com


Volume 16, Number 1
January 1962

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Winterthur Gardens
C. Gordon Tyrrell

R. 'Coral Bells'
Fig. 1.  R. 'Coral Bells' in bloom along a path at Winterthur
Ask photo

        Visiting famous gardens is rapidly becoming a pleasant part of any well-planned trip, and Winterthur (pronounced winter-tour) is no exception to this rule. Of the acreage of the large estate, some thirty are planted to gardens. and all who visit will find it very rewarding.
        Any discussion of Winterthur should include mention of its architect. Henry Francis DuPont, who was born in the house built in 1839 by his great-aunt and great-uncle, near where the first of the family from France set up their powder mill on the banks of the Brandywine Creek. He inherited the estate in 1927 and since then has worked extensively in the planning and development of the gardens. All of the prodigious amount of work done since then has been under his direct supervision, for, as he will admit with a smile, he is still head gardener! A man of wide and varied interests, his eye for beauty, keen sense of color and balance, and extensive knowledge of horticulture have made of the gardens a creative effort which combines loveliness with the impression of complete naturalness.
        The design of the gardens has been laid out with meticulous care, creating vistas, planting to a color scheme, and always preserving the natural trees and shrubs. Our native trees are predominantly Beech, Hickory, Red, Black, and White Oak, and the magnificent Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera); our native shrubs mainly Viburnum acerifolium, with inconspicuous white flowers and maple-like leaves and Lindera benzoin, the Spicebush, which has very early greenish-yellow flowers, dark green foliage, and an attractive habit of growth. Also through the woods are large masses of self-sowing Viburnums, including setigerum, tomentosum, sieboldi, and dilatatum. The "second story" of the forest is composed almost entirely of Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), while on the ground are massed ferns, trilliums, violets, anemones, scillas, Mertensia virginica, claytonia (Spring-Beauty), bloodroot, and jack-in-the-pulpit. The addition of white azaleas into this pleasing picture of green, white, and soft blue makes the general effect even softer, creating a setting into which the bright pinks, reds, and mauves of the azaleas fit beautifully and naturally.
        Although the genus Rhododendron is the very backbone of our garden, Winterthur is nevertheless not devoted to rhododendrons alone. Nor are we (unlike most arboreta) interested in botanical collections of plants or "sets" of hybrids. We find that groups of this kind create a very spotty picture and are totally unsuited to our purpose, which is to give, through large mass plantings, a total effect in the landscape. To this end, there are no plants more satisfactory than the evergreen azaleas.
        This has become increasingly apparent since 1917, when Mr. DuPont obtained his first Kurume azaleas-seventeen plants that were among the very first to be imported into this country. The ensuing years have seen the rise of numerous hybrid groups - Gables, Glenn Dales, Pericats, Kaempferis, and others - and many of these have become permanently naturalized at Winterthur. Today we have more than 235 species and varieties of azaleas, with the total number of plants well into the thousands.
        Our main planting of azaleas lies on the wooded crest of a hill overlooking the Museum. Leading up to this hill on either side of the path is the tree peony garden of Professor Saunders hybrids, with small group of Japanese peonies. On each side of the lawn are planted a mass of Kurume Azalea 'Coral Bells', earliest to bloom, beyond which is a large bed of 'Magnifica' (white with splashes of raspberry), clone of R. mucronatum, and its mauve sport 'Winterthur' under planted with Scilla campanulata. Also planted in the area are some R. hybrids, such as 'Mme. de Bruin', 'Blue Peter', and R. catawbiense album 'Glass.'

Natural wooded area at Winterthur
 Fig. 2.  A section of the natural wooded area at Winterthur
Gentrys photo

        The path leads into the Azalea Woods, flanked by large Kaempferi hybrids, and still further up are the Torch azaleas, R. kaempferi, tall plants of almost tree-like aspect in shades of red and rose, with touches of orange. Farther along the wood opens out to the main planting of Kurumes, offspring of the original plants bought in 1917. Colors run mainly in shades of pink, with some red, lavender, mauve, and a good deal of white. One block, consisting of the three varieties, 'Snow' (see cover), 'Samite' (Glenn Dale), and 'Rose Greeley' (Gable), is entirely white. Here also is more 'Magnifica', which is extremely popular with our visitors.
        In this area are most of our large-leaved rhododendrons, including some 100 plants of Dexter fortunei hybrids. These bloom with the azaleas and their colors run through light and deep pink, mauve, cherry, apricot, and amber. Fully hardy with us and very floriferous, they are now about 10 feet tall and have enough room to develop to full maturity. Enough is thought of them that records have been kept on 64 clones, and young plants are being propagated for future development of new areas.
        Our cold winters, of course, deny us so many of the beautiful rhododendrons that flourish in England and on the West Coast. Some which we do manage to grow, however, are 'Carita', 'China', 'Goldfort', 'Jalisco', and R. vernicosum. The colors of these are in harmony with the fortunei hybrids just mentioned.
        On the far edge of the main azalea planting is a block of R. praevernum. This species varies in color from pale to deep pink and, though frost sometimes injures the very early flowers, does quite satisfactorily with us. Three plants of R. calophytum grow along with the praevernum. Though not as yet a dependable bloomer, it is a striking foliage plant all year around.
        Here also is a small planting of dark-red azaleas: Gable's 'Flame', 'Sherwood Red', 'Red Pippin', and the blood-red sport of 'Howraku' named by Dr. Thomas Wheeldon, of Richmond, 'Henry F. DuPont.' These come into bloom after R. praevernum, so that any color difficulty between the two is avoided. Instead, the polished foliage of the rhododendron, combined with the dark green of pine and spruce and the light green of young hay-scented-fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula), provides a suitable setting for the heavy colors of the azaleas.
        Leaving this area, the path leads us downhill, past the superb Magnolia soulangeana in pink, white, and dark red. At the top of the next rise in the Pinetum, and, approaching it, we pass through two areas planted to color. The first is in white and reaches its height in mid-May. It includes Deutzia gracilis, Spirea contoniensis lanceata, S. vanhouttei, and R. mucronatum 'Magnifica' planted on a bank facing a road. Color contrast is provided by yellow jonquils, late squills, Star-of-Bethlehem, Iris tectorum and Sibirica, and the china-blue spikes of Camassia scilloides are particularly good with the raspberry-and-white motif of 'Magnifica.' At the bridge the other color motif is mauve, with mauve Kurume azaleas beginning to bloom in early May, with the lilacs, Syringa persica, laciniata, and meyeri extending the color season two weeks.
        The Pinetum, consisting of mature plants of many species of fir, spruce, pine, hemlock, and other conifers, provides a background with a wide range of color contrast and foliage texture for some of the other garden features. The key trees in this area are two beautiful specimens of Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica glauca). Nearby stand the dark, stately columns of Thuja plicata, the Giant Arborvitae, and Libocedrus decurrens, the Incense-Cedar. There are several fine plants of the Oriental Spruce (Picea orientalis), and the elegant Nikko Fir (Abies homolepsis), in addition to such uncommon species as Abies nobilis, fabri, and veitchi; Picea montigena and purpurea, Chamaecy paris obtusa, lawsoniana, and pisifera (including both the "gray-moss" and the "gold-thread" forms of the last: Cephalotaxus drupacea nana, and the Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides. All these trees, with the exception of the last, are about fifty years old. The Dawn Redwood, though only about twelve years old, is already the equal of many of them in height.
        The entire north end of the Pinetum is devoted to the early R. mucronulatum. Backed by a little knoll on which grow White Pine (Pines strobus). Japanese White Pine (P. parviflora glauca), and Japanese Black Pine (P. thunbergi). the mauve mucronulatum are lovely in early April, giving us our first large-scale display of spring. They are planted with three species of pale-yellow Corylopsis and under planted with Hellebores, Bergenias, and mauve Corydalis densiflora. In one corner, somewhat remote from the main planting, are massed the pink forms of R. mucronulatum, including the fine cultivar 'Cornell Pink'. These are planted with other early flowering pink shrubs, Viburnum fragrans, Prunus tomentosa, P. subhirtella, and varieties of P. serrulata, and shaded by large plants of Yellow-Wood (Cladrastis lutea), Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata), and Pagoda Tree (Sophora japonica).
        Adjoining this is a planting of the Gable hybrid 'Conewago' (carolinianum x mucronulatum) which picks up the color in mid April; adjacent plants of R. schlippenbachii come into bloom slightly later. Fine plants of this azalea are scattered through this end of the Pinetum, planted among such conifers as Pseudotsuga taxifolia, the Douglas Fir; Sciadopitys verticillata. Japanese Umbrella Pine; Tsuga caroliniana, the Carolina Hemlock; and varieties of Taxus cuspidata, the Japanese Yew. Also in this area and very early blooming is a combined planting of the lemon-yellow R. keiskei, the purple R. carolinianum hybrid 'P. J. M.,' and the deep mauve hybrid R. chapmanii x mucronulatum. Later color in tones of purple is provided by the Korean azalea R. poukhanense, and the Nearing dwarfs 'Ramapo' and 'Purple Gem', separated from the pink R. schlippenbachii by large conifers.
        Far to the right at the western edge of the Pinetum is a small group of striped Glenn Dale azaleas: 'Killarney', 'Memento', 'Sarabande', and 'Dowager', inter-planted with cotoneasters and fringe-trees (Chionanthus virginicus and C. retusus) This planting gives an attractive off-white effect in mid to late May.
        R. schlippenbachii leads us to a group of evergreen azaleas, chiefly Dr. Wheeldon's 'Miss Susie', with some Pericats and Kurumes, in similar shades of rose pink. Here we have reached the central point of the Pinetum - a large Blue Atlas Cedar surrounded by a circular stone wall. To the left are plantings of evergreen azaleas in shades of salmon.
        Beyond the central point of the Pinetum is a spacious glade with large plants on both sides of Chaenomeles lagenaria in shades of pink, white, salmon, and deep red, a feature of the garden in mid-April, which leads us down into the Sundial garden with its formal beds and box hedges.
        Here the Golden Currant (Ribes aureum) and Gable's hybrids of R. carolinianum and mucronulatum bring in the yellow and purple motif in early April. The main scheme of this area, however, is pink and white. In bloom in late April and early May are four species of Spirea; the Almond Cherry, Prunus glandulosa, in pink and white; Exochorda, the Pearl-Bush; Chaenomeles 'AppleBlossom' and 'Phyllis Moore'; and Viburnum carlesi, macrocephalum sterile, burkwoodi, bitchiuense, juddi, and carlcephalum, as well as the taller Prunus 'Hally Jolivette' and 'Amanogawa'. Beyond the box hedge are the early magnolias, M. soulangeana, kobus, stellata, and its variety 'Waterlily'; Fothergilla major and monticola; and Halesia caroling, Fine old Flowering Crabs and more Chaemomeles meet the Viburnums on the slope down from the Pinetum, creating an expanse of pink and white bloom backed by the dark conifers.
        Blue is introduced into the Sundial garden through Phlox diraricata and stolonifera 'Blue Ridge,' which are used as underplanting for the pink and white Chaenomeles 'Apple Blossom,' and through the lilacs. Included in our collection of the latter are many old varieties of the French type as well as the earlier flowering 'Hyacinthiflora' varieties. Soft lavender-blue predominates in these.
        The same color is repeated in the flowers of the Princess Tree (Paulownia tomentosa), which carries the color across the road towards a newly developed area, dominated by a huge Sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis), beneath whose branches rich purple azaleas bloom in splendid isolation. In this planting may be found 'Sherwoodi', 'Mossieanum', R. reticulatum, and the lovely 'Elizabeth Gable'. These azaleas and the Judas-Tree (Cercis canadensis) bloom in early May. Even earlier bloom is provided by several plants of Forsythia ovata, the earliest forsythia of all, and great drifts of naturalized daffodils. But the majority of bloom in this area comes in June, with species lilacs, Deutzias, Philadelphus, Buddleia alternifolia, many Viburnums, Weigelas, R. brachycarpum and discolor, quantities of Mountain-Laurel (Kalmia latifolia), and the June Dogwood (Cornus kousa). The recent acquisition of a collection of Chugai (Satsuki hybrid) azaleas allows us to extend the azalea blooming season in this area well into June. These are attractive, dwarf plants with immense flowers usually variegated in shades of pink, red, and white. These are on the hillside opposite the quarry. In this quarry, with its boggy base, is a large primula garden, below which is a footbridge leading to Oak Hill.
        Southwest of the Sycamore area, going toward the Museum, lies Oak Hill, The road leading in that direction is flanked by hold masses of the red Kurume 'Hinodegiri'. Beyond a wooded portion with a scattering of white Kurumes, one encounters drifts of the vivid scarlet Kurumes 'Firefly' and 'Yayegiri', each specimen of these varieties a plant six or seven feet tall and ten feet in diameter. At the crest of Oak Hill this bright color scheme gives way to a cloud of white Dogwood (Cornus florida). Through May and June white dominates on Oak Hill in the successive blooming of Cornus florida, R. mucronatum 'Magnifica,' Deutzia and Philadelphus in variety, and the late Japanese Dogwood (Cornus kousa), added color being provided by groupings of Glenn Dale azaleas in many shades, Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius) in yellow, lilacs in pink and mauve, and a collection of native azaleas. These interesting natives, including the species R. atlanticum, austrinum, bakeri, canadense albiflorum, canescens, nudiflorum, prunifolium, roseum, speciosum, and viscosum, are being used in the development of the east side of Oak Hill and below the quarry footbridge, The first of them begins blooming in mid-April and the last blooms sometime in July, but the best of them bloom in early June-the fragrant white R. arborescens, flaming orange bakeri and calendulaceum, and the bright pink hybrids of R. bakeri with arborescens and viscosum. Taking up the red 'Firefly' at the crest of Oak Hill again and continuing towards the Museum, one encounters on the opposite side of the road a planting of our sport of R. mucronatum 'Magnifica'. This plant, named 'Winterthur,' is a large-flowered, cool blue-mauve and blooms in mid- to-late May with the other mucronatum clones. Farther along are extensive plantings of the late Kaempferi hybrids obtained years ago by Mr. DuPont from Professor Charles Sargent and Mr. Hunnewell, of Wellesley, Massachusetts. These are vigorous, floriferous plants, quite large now and giving a laudable performance each year. Their colors, ranging from pink through salmon red, are very clear and bright, and they are among the hardiest of azaleas.
        The Kaempferi hybrids, along with the similarly colored Glenn Dales, 'Revery', 'Gracious', 'Magic', and 'Prudence', extend to the foot of the hill where the Museum parking lot begins. Thus do we complete our circle through the garden, and we see that, as the Winterthur Museum tells the story of America during the early days of the colonists and on through the country's first 200 years, so does the garden show a development which brings us to the realm of today.
        Winterthur in the spring is an experience not to be forgotten, for here the visitor may appreciate a heritage of natural beauty which has come down through the years, and which is intended for posterity.


Volume 16, Number 1
January 1962

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