New York Honors Robert D. Gartrell
Betty Hager, Albertson, New York
Fig. 53 Nancy Gartrell and Robert D. Gartrell accept his Bronze Medal
Citation From New York Chapter's President Dorothy Schlaikjer, right.
Photo by Emil F. Hager
In recognition of his outstanding contribution to Genus Rhododendron through his hybridization of the magnificent Robin Hill azaleas, Robert D. Gartrell was awarded the A.R.S. Bronze Medal on June 6, 1975 by the New York Chapter. As Mr. Gartrell was recuperating from illness, President-elect Dorothy Schlaikjer made the presentation of the medal and citation in his garden at Wyckoff, New Jersey surrounded by his azalea creations that are now going through a process of critical selection. The blooming sequence covers mid-May to late June.
This breeding program has produced well structured plants, many low and compact. Both habit and foliage were of first importance. Blooms were then carefully considered for beauty of form and good substance coupled with heat tolerance. The soft clear shades of color blend harmoniously in the garden and are accented by sparkling whites and a touch of red. Many flowers are 3" or more in size. Some come out in a burst of bloom while others have the characteristic of opening slowly, one at a time, to linger longer and to allow enjoyment of the bud stage, often as beautiful as the fully opened flower. An occasional sport appears, adding interest.
The azaleas had to be cold hardy to thrive in Wyckoff winters and are rated as -10° F. by Mr. Gartrell, although they lived through a period of -35° F. A R. kaempferi hybrid seedling named 'Oakland' as well as 'Louise Gable' and 'Carol' contributed hardiness genes to many of the crosses. For the flower qualities as well as plant habit and foliage, Satsukis were used, such as 'Eikan', 'Tama Giku', 'Getsutoku', 'Heiwa', and 'Shinnyo No Tsuki', among others. 'Glacier's' glossy round foliage encouraged its use as a parent, also. Approximately one thousand crosses were made and 25,000 seedlings were grown.
Mr. Gartrell's favorite azalea is a beautiful phlox-pink blooming at the end of May. The double flowers are over 3" and the ruffled petals form a complete overlapping circle when fully opened. A cross of 'Vervaeniana x 'Louise' x 'Tama Giku', this plant is truly a lady and has been named 'Nancy of Robinhill' honoring his wife who has given him enthusiastic encouragement during almost thirty years of hybridizing.
Robin Hill plants and cuttings have been given to botanical gardens here and abroad, to selected nurseries in many areas, and to the New York Chapter Azalea Study Group so testing may be conducted under varying conditions of soil and climate. Anyone growing these hybrids should send in reports to Mr. Gartrell giving details on growth and blooming.