Evergreen Azaleas Up From Inferiority
By Franklin H. West, M.D., Gladwyne, PA
Reprinted from the Rosebay, Massachusetts Chapter
No doubt about it - evergreen azaleas are the most frequently planted members of the rhododendron family in the eastern United States. Today, we easterners have a greater advantage in azaleas over Pacific Northwest gardeners than they used to have over us in rhododendrons. Dexter, Gable, 'Nearing, and Shammarello helped even things up in that department. This eastern superiority in azaleas is simply due to the fact that most evergreen azalea developments, beginning with E. H. Wilson's Kurume introductions to Morrison's 454 Glenn Dale hybrids, have occurred in the eastern United States. The trouble is, we easterners have failed to give awards to azaleas the way westerners did for rhododendrons. Most of these eastern azalea selections do not perform in the Pacific Northwest as gloriously as they do for us. Azaleas have such a climate specific genetic endowment (as do rhododendrons) that it will take at least a generation of intensive breeding out there before north westerners can witness the same spectacular azalea displays that we are privileged to enjoy every spring. Bill Guttormsen has made a start in this direction at Canby, Oregon, with his Greenwood hybrids, which are derived in large part from Gable's legacy.
Recent eastern developments in evergreen azaleas have come from continued breeding efforts and extensive testing of azalea clones for adaptability. Many dedicated people have been working not only in the eastern megalopolis, but also in Georgia, West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, western Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Ontario.
Azalea study groups are currently active in three eastern Chapters. Other groups will be forming, thanks to the imaginative leadership of Betty Hager of the New York Chapter. She described her Study Group's activities to the A.R.S. Convention in 1976, and in an article in the Quarterly Bulletin of A.R.S. in 1975. Her letter to a group in South Carolina, chock full of suggestions, follows this report.
Azalea hybridizing has been going on at many eastern locations. Popular attention is presently focused on at least three major groups of new evergreen azaleas. Most of these have appeared since the last edition of Lee's Azalea Book: (1) Hardier Satsuki type hybrids. The Robin Hill azaleas, bred in northern New Jersey by Robert Gartrell, are proving to have wide adaptability and are every bit as lovely at the tender Satsukis. Another group, bred in Georgia by the late Ralph W. Pennington, is being distributed by several nurseries. (2) Hardy greenhouse-type large double flowered azaleas, were developed for outdoor use at Linwood, New Jersey (near Atlantic City) by G. Albert Reid, who calls them his "Linwood Hardies". They made a dazzling display at the '76 Convention and at the Philadelphia Flower Show in 1976 and 1977. (3) Hardier evergreen azaleas for the rigors of the Great Lakes region have been produced by Orlando S. Pride, at Butler, Pennsylvania, Tony Shammarello at South Euclid, Ohio and Peter E. Girard at Geneva, Ohio. These, too, were developed from Gable clones primarily. Only local testing will reveal which of these newer selections will perform well in Massachusetts.
Not yet available, but awaited with great interest, are two other sets of evergreen azaleas: (1) W. L. Tolstead's West Virginia breeding project, using Simsii and Nakaharai genes, could provide valuable late bloomers for a wide region where frosts clobber early and mid-season azaleas. (2) A group of new Japanese azalea selections, imported by David G. Leach, is being propagated by John Ravestein at the Herman Losely and Son Nursery in Perry, Ohio, and will be available in a year or so.
Help for mail order buyers of azaleas and rhododendrons is coming soon from the American Rhododendron Society. All ratings and awards are being given regional designations. In this way, the buyer can tell where the award or rating was given and thereby tell where it can be counted on to perform best. Azalea ratings are not yet generally established, despite our preliminary efforts in the Philadelphia area. Study groups could help make azalea ratings a reality by developing ratings and recommended lists of azalea varieties for each Chapter area.. In this way, the best performers will be quickly identified. Awards should be proposed for the best of the newer varieties. Superior older varieties are eligible for special recognition given by the Ratings committee of A.R.S. - a citation known as "Garden Gem". The future Massachusetts Chapter Study Group could perform a real service here.
For several years there was an Evergreen Azalea Committee in the National Society, which functioned to stir up interest and publication of azalea information in the Quarterly Bulletin. As of this year, the Committee is being re-assigned to the Awards and Ratings Committees, in hopes of gaining recognition for azaleas from within the regular A.R.S. committees, instead of from without. One of the most active azaleas enthusiasts in the East is George W. Harding of Germantown, Maryland, who served on the Azalea Committee. He has a superb collection and is a knowledgeable speaker on azaleas.
Further good news for the azalea hobbyist: Several nurseries have published impressive lists of available clones - enough to satisfy the hungriest appetite. A few to consult after Weston Nurseries: Carlson's Gardens, South Salem, N.Y.; Holly Hills Inc., Evansville, Indiana; Sweet Gum Farms, Alma, Georgia; and Frank B. White, Lanham, Maryland.
And the best to last, the third edition of the Lee Azalea Book should be published before 1980, under the editorship of David G. Leach, sponsored by the American Horticultural Society. If you can't wait for Leach's Lee, there will be a good bit of azalea information of value in our book, "Hybrids and Hybridizers" which should be available from your Chapter Book Committee by the time you are reading this.
The azalea inferiority complex is on the wane! With a lot more effort by azalea enthusiasts in every eastern Chapter, it could be wiped out once and for all. Will you help?