Going to the Rhododendron Show
Arthur E. Radcliffe, Decatur, Georgia
The plane flew high as it left Atlanta for Asheville, N.C. but as it neared the mountains at Lake Lure it dropped low giving a superb view of the hills. The orchid pink color of the R. catawbiense plants at Craggy Gardens could be seen for as far as 8 or 10 miles.
The show staged by the Southeastern Chapter was held in the spacious club room at Biltmore Dairy. From the surrounding area came fine trusses of 'Roseum Elegans', 'Mars', 'Vulcan', 'Jean Marie de Montague' and many others, an indication of the popularity of rhododendrons around Asheville. Much to my surprise they were eclipsed in numbers and popularity by the deciduous azaleas, natives, Knaphills and Exburys. The natives may not have large size of individual flowers but their trusses of bloom are breathtaking. There were gorgeous chalk whites, whites blending into shades of pink, orchid pinks, and yellows, from the softest tints to rich butter yellows. Then R. calendulaceum added rich shades of orange that blend into the rich orange reds that are found on the higher mountains. Double up your two fists (but not too tightly) for size, see rich shades of yellow in your mind's eye, and you gather an idea of what our mountain azaleas are like.
There were Knaphills and Exburys there too, but as you look upon the beauty of the natives you don't wonder that it took the natives to make them what they are.
Again I saw them in the garden at the Biltmore estate where their beauty is enhanced by the deep green of the large oriental spruces that tower above them, lending the richness of their wide, spreading green branches to nobly display the whites, yellows and reds of these native azaleas.
Why are these gems of the Appalachian mountains so elusive? Dig them from the wild, cut them back, and wait three, maybe four years for them to form nice shapely blooming size plants. Or raise them from seed, and wait seven to nine years for them to produce trusses of bloom that are the equal of the tall, rangy plants from the wild.