The Vuykiana Azaleas
By Matthew A. Nosal, Wading River, N. Y.
Reprinted from the Rosebay, Massachusetts Chapter
Joseph Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Johann Strauss. Do these names bring thoughts of symphonic splendor to your mind? Or perhaps thoughts of Old Vienna, when it was synonymous with the grandeur and elegance of the Hapsburg Monarchy. To many people they are alive and well in their gardens, along with Chopin, Palestrina, Sibelius, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Mahler: for they are cultivar names of evergreen azaleas that belong to the group known as Vuykiana Hybrids.
They are of diverse parentage, the result of a breeding project started in 1921 by Aart Vuyk of Vuyk van Nes Nurseries of Boskoop, Holland. His goal was to produce a group of very hardy evergreen azaleas with large flowers. He used as female parents a kaempferi Hybrid, Azalea phoeniceum cv. 'Maxwell', and A. mucronatum. For the male parent he used 'J.C. van Tol', a Mollis Hybrid, presumably to instill hardiness into the strain. The history of the Vuykiana Hybrids is filled with controversy, since many horticulturists consider the cultivars are the result of apomixis, not hybridization. Vuyk, however, considered them to be true hybrids of evergreen and deciduous azaleas. The original group was introduced in 1925, and included 'Beethoven', 'Geraldine Vuyk', 'Helena Vuyk', 'Johann Sebastian Bach', 'Johann Strauss', 'Joseph Haydn', 'Mozart', 'Schubert', 'Sibelius', and 'Wilhelmina Vuyk'. Several of the group were imported into the United States around 1928, but they were relatively unknown in this country until large scale importations in the late 1940's.
Unfortunately, confusion entered the scene since two of the varieties were introduced and established in the trade with synonymous names: 'Helena Vuyk' was often cataloged as 'P.W. Hardijzer' and 'Wilhelmina Vuyk' as 'Palestrina'. Vuyk van Nes eventually selected 'Helena Vuyk' and 'Palestrina' as the approved names, but it is not uncommon to find 'P. W. Hardijzer' still listed in English and Dutch catalogs.
The next step in the breeding program was to cross a Belgian Indica Hybrid with the existing cultivars to produce hardy azaleas with good forcing characteristics. This resulted in the "Orange Series", four cultivars that were introduced during the 1940's. They were named 'Koningin Wilhelmina', 'Prins Bernhard', 'Prinses Irene', and 'Prinses Juliana'. They were all orange-red or salmon-orange except 'Koningin Wilhelmina', which was a deep red. They were called the "Orange Series" to differentiate them from the earlier group, which was dubbed the "Composer Series" by nurserymen. However, most Dutch nurserymen referred to this new group of cultivars as the "Royal Family Series". According to Vuyk van Nes, they were not as hardy as the earlier introductions, and at present are no longer being grown by that firm. Several Dutch nurseries are still growing them, and two cultivars have proved hardy on Long Island, 'Koningin Wilhelmina', and 'Prins Bernhard'.
So far, the Vuykiana Hybrids consisted of the "Composer Series", a group of fairly large growing cultivars having either upright or mounded growth habits, and the "Orange Series", which were primarily plants for the greenhouse trade. In 1950 two cultivars were introduced that Vuyk van Nes called "Miniature Vuykianas": these were the result of crossing A. obtusum var. amoneum with the Kaempferi hybrid 'Favorite'. Named 'Little Beauty' and 'Little Princess', they both had hose-in-hose flowers. Some confusion arose in the United States, since Vuyk van Nes advertised these to the trade as "Double Miniature Vuykiana Novelties", and many nurserymen were fooled by the term "Double". In Holland and Germany, what we call hose-in-hose is considered double; and the azaleas that we consider as having double flowers are called filled. A good example would be the Gable hybrid 'Rosebud', which is described in THE INTERNATIONAL RHODODENDRON REGISTER as having double, hose-in-hose flowers would be referred to as filed, double. 'Louise Gable' is considered half-filled in their terminology. In 1950 another large growing cultivar was introduced; 'Mrs. Vuyk van Nes' as it became known in this country, but 'Chopin' to the European nursery trade.
'Purple Triumph' was introduced in 1951. This cultivar was from a cross of 'Beethoven' with an unnamed seedling. Being more compact than the others in the "Composer Series", it was an indication of what was soon to come. Aart Vuyk had continued crossing the named Vuykiana hybrids with many hybrids that had a greater amount of evergreen foliage. He was particularly interested in hybrids that had 'Macrantha' as one parent. From one cross he got a batch of seedlings that had exceptionally shiny foliage, and after proving to be very hardy during several open winters, the best seedling from this group was selected for breeding. He selected what he felt was the best in hardiness, habit, beauty of foliage, and flower texture and shape. He crossed this plant with the cultivars of the "Orange Series", which resulted in hundreds of seedlings lined out for trial. From these, only two were selected and introduced to the trade, 'Vuyk's Scarlet', and 'Vuyk's Rosyred'.
R. 'Vuyk's Rosyred'
Photo by Thomas G. Verbeeck
Vuyk van Nes thought so highly of these azaleas that they secured United States Plant Patents for them. As soon as the patents expired, they were being propagated by the majority of azalea growers. Later in the decade, they introduced 'Florida', a hybrid of 'Vuyk's Scarlet'. This cultivar had similar flower color and form, but a mounded habit of growth. Therefore it was a better garden plant, and of course a much better commercial item. 'Florida', was heralded by nurserymen, particularly in Germany where red is an extremely popular flower color, as a better plant than Vuyk's Scarlet'. In 1953 'Little Ruby' was introduced, similar to 'Little Beauty', and 'Little Princess' in stature and flower. The basic difference between the three was their flower color. Only 'Little Beauty' became a successful commercial variety; the others waning in the popularity of 'Vuyk's Scarlet', 'Vuyk's Rosyred', and 'Florida'.
To a great number of azalea fanciers, the Vuykiana story stops here. Suddenly our attention was centered on azaleas bred on this side of the Atlantic, for the beautiful hybrids of Joseph Gable and Ben Morrison were available and European growers were looking to America for new varieties! As the breeding continued, the 1960's saw the introduction of some very fine cultivars; the first fully double Vuykiana Hybrid was introduced, appropriately named 'Double Beauty'. 'Vuyk's Scarlet' played an important role in the breeding program, being one of the parents of 'Double Beauty'. 'Florida' was one of the parents of the beautiful 'Johanna' and also of 'Christina'. Incidentally, the male parent of 'Christina' was 'Louise Gable'. Other recent introductions are 'Lily Marleen', 'Arabesk', and 'Mahler'.
The aforementioned varieties should be considered Vuyk cultivars of the Vuykiana hybrids, as there is another small group known as Feldyk cultivars. They are of similar parentage of the first introductions of Vuyk van Nes Nurseries and were bred and introduced by Felix and Dijkhuis Nursery, of Boskoop. They are considered Vuykiana hybrids in THE INTERNATIONAL RHODODENDRON REGISTER, and are named 'Aartje', 'Nanny, 'Jeanne', 'Margo', and 'Truus'. They are occasionally referred to as the "Sweet Pea Strain" of Vuykiana hybrids. The Feldyk cultivars are tall growing plants, assuming the stature of Kaempferi hybrids, and have large flowers of good substance.
Two recently introduced cultivars that can be considered as belonging to the Vuykiana Group are 'Janka; and 'Tina'. These are not hybrids, but resulted from witches'-brooms found growing on the Vuyk cultivars, 'Johanna' and 'Christina'. Both are stable in their dwarfness, and the names chosen was an attempt to portray the diminutive form they have in relation to the mother plants. 'Janka' is very slow growing, about an inch per year, and is perhaps best suited for the alpine enthusiast. 'Tina' will grow two to three inches a year, and while suited for the rockery, can also be used with other dwarf plants in the garden.
Listed in Hilliers' MANUAL OF TREES AND SHRUBS in the section entitled Evergreen Hybrid Azaleas is 'Blue Danube'. It is described as bluish-violet; a most striking and distinctive colour, and is listed as a Vuykiana hybrid. It has appeared in several American catalogs, usually described as bright purple, which it really is. It is a very good garden plant but certainly not approaching the shade of blue that one is apt to think of when hearing the term "Blue Danube". Usually the blue of the Danube is a state of mind. It may be true blue in the Black Forest and Bavaria, but as scenic as it is after entering Austria it may only be blue if one sits in the dress circle and looks down on the aquamarine gowns of the Vienna State Opera Ballet Corps, as they dance to the strains of "An der schonen blauen Donau", known to many as simply "The Blue Danube Waltz".
Just how this azalea came to be considered a Vuykiana hybrid is unknown. It has been grown in Boskoop by several nurseries for many years, and apparently originated in Belgium. The Boskoop nurseries catalog it as a Kurume hybrid, and it is not considered a Vuykiana hybrid in the additions to THE INTERNATIONAL RHODODENDRON REGISTER (R. H. S. RHODODENDRON AND CAMELLIA YEAR BOOK 1969)
Many gardeners know the Vuykiana Group by only a few cultivars; perhaps 'Beethoven', 'Palestrina', or 'Vuyk's Scarlet'. They have been diminishing in attention in recent years, no doubt because of the great popularity of the Gable and Glenn Dale hybrids, and all the recent introductions from many other American hybridizers. However, in many situations the Vuykianas are very valuable garden subjects. They should be used in colder areas where many newer hybrids may have borderline hardiness, and certainly some of the newer cultivars deserve more exposure in our gardens. They have been referred to as those "non-descript rosy pinks" by some; "large growing Dutch varieties" by others; and some gardeners find the stronger colors as being too overpowering. However, from this hardy group, one can choose strong or soft color tones; large, moderate, or compact growth habits; large flowers, small flowers' single, hose-in-hose, or double flowers. To state it simply, some are old, and some are new; one is double, but none are blue.
Descriptive Data of The Vuykiana Hybrids
In the following descriptions, RHS refers to the Royal Horticultural Society Colour Chart, and HCC refers to the Horticultural Colour Chart of the British Colour Council. Year of introduction and parentage where known is stated in parenthesis. The cultivar names are those that were accepted for registration by the R. H. S. After the author's comments are the synonyms that are used by nurseries in various countries.
Vuyk Cultivars - Vuyk van Nes Nurseries
ARABESK: compact, mounded habit; heavy, coarse foliage; flowers single, 2½ - 3", occasionally semidouble; deep red, RHS 53D.
BEETHOVEN (1925); 'Maxwell' X 'J.C. van Tol'): large growing, somewhat upright habit, flowers single, 2½", deep lilac, HCC 31/1 with darker blotch and wavy margins. A striking plant when mature, because of wavy margins and blotch will give different appearance as sunlight is reflected, outstanding under high shade but sometimes difficult to combine with reds and strong pinks.
CHOPlN (1950; 'Schubert' X Vuyk seedling): upright growing; flowers single, 2½", bright rose pink, HCC 24/1 with wavy margins. Color plates in Dutch nursery catalogs consistently show this cultivar with semi-double flowers, however, it is never listed as being semi-double. (Mrs. Vuyk Van Nes).
CHRISTINA (1966; 'Florida' X 'Louise Gable'): mounded growth, flowers hose-in-hose and irregularly semi-double, 2", bright deep rose pink, RHS 52A.
DOUBLE BEAUTY(1965; Vuyk seedling 37 X 'Vuyk's Scarlet'): large, mounded growth habit, flowers double 2½ - 3", pink, RHS 55B with slight blotch of deeper pink, RHS 53D. A large, fast grower, this can soon become a loose, sprawling plant. Needs attention when young, but pruning and pinching are well worth the effort.
GERALDlNE VUYK (1925; Kaempferi Hybrid X 'J.C. van Tol'): mounded habit, flowers single, 2", deep pink, HCC 24/2.
FLORIDA (1958; Vuyk seedling X 'Vuyk's Scarlet'): compact, upright habit, heavy, dense foliage, flowers semi-double and irregularly double and single, 2½", bright red, HCC 821/3. An exceptional plant flower-wise, and also for habit and foliage.
HELENA VUYK (1925; 'Maxwell' X 'J.C. van Tol'): large, spreading habit, flowers single, 2½", deep rose pink RHS 58B with darker blotch, RHS 57A. (P. W. Hardijzer).
JOHANNA (1966; 'Florida' X Vuyk seedling): spreading habit, compact; flowers single, 2"; bright red, HCC 721/1. This is truly an azalea for all seasons. The flower color is far superior to most of the red azaleas currently available, and the foliage is very deep green and glossy, and has a bronze tint during summer. In autumn, the foliage turns deep maroon, holding the gloss, and remains so during the winter. Combined with the compact habit it is truly one of the outstanding Vuyk van Nes introductions.
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1925; 'Maxwell' X 'J.C. van Tol'): compact, upright habit; flowers single, 2½", bright purple, HCC 30/1.
JOHANN STRAUSS (1925; Kaempferi Hybrid X "J.C. van Tol'): mounded habit, flowers single, 2½", bright pink, HCC 25/2 with deeper blotch.
JOSEPH HAYDN (1925; A. mucronatum X 'J.C. van Tol'): habit typical of A. mucronatum, flowers single, 2½ - 3", lavender, RHS 77D with distinct purple blotch, RHS 58A. This cultivar should be in every collection where space will allow for it.
KONlNGlN WlLHELMlNA (1941): spreading habit, flowers single, 2½", dark red, RHS 45B with darker blotch, RHS 46A. Sunscalds very easily, requires shade for good garden effect.
LlLY MARLEEN (1965; 'Little Ruby' x 'Dr. Wery'): compact, spreading habit, flowers hose-in-hose, 1½", slightly ruffled margins, bright pink, HCC 25. (MARLENE VUYK).
LITTLE BEAUTY (1950; 'Amoenum' X 'Favorite'): compact; flowers hose-in-hose, 1½": bright rose pink, HCC 24/1.
LITTLE PRINCESS (1950; 'Amoenum' X 'Favorite'): compact, flowers hose-in-hose, 1½", red, HCC 024.
LITTLE RUBY (1953; 'Amoenum' X 'Favorite'): compact, flowers hose-in-hose, 1½", scarlet red.
MAHLER (1965; Vuyk seedling 37 X 'Vuyk's Rosyred'): upright habit when young, later assuming a mounded habit; somewhat compact, flowers single, 2½", purple, HCC 32/1 with slightly darker shading. While the flower color is similar to that of 'Beethoven', lacking the heavy blotch and without the wavy margins, this gives a more subdued color for use in the landscape.
MOZART (1925; kaempferi hybrid X 'J.C. van Tol'): spreading habit, flowers single, 2½", violet red, HCC 627/2.
PALESTRlNA (1925; kaempferi hybrid X 'J.C. van Tol'): upright, compact growth, growing broader with age, flowers single, 2¼", white with chartreuse blotch. Certainly one of the better whites available, this one replaced A. mucronatum in popularity when it became readily available. It was hailed by nurserymen and gardeners in colder regions as the finest white azalea, however, recently it has been overlooked in favor of Gable's 'Rose Greeley' and the Mucronatum Hybrid 'Delaware Valley White'. (Wilhelmina Vuyk).
PRlNS BERNHARD (1945): low growing, flowers single, 2", orange-red, RHS 42B, shaded darker, RHS 42A.
PRlNSES lRENE (1941): compact, flowers single, deep salmon-orange.
PRINSES JULIANA (1941): low growing, flowers single, pale salmon orange.
PURPLE TRIUMPH (1951; 'Beethoven' X Vuyk seedling): upright, compact habit, flowers single, 2½", bright purple, HCC 730/ 1.
SCHUBERT (1925; kaempferi hybrid X 'J.C. van Tol'): upright, compact habit, growing broader with age, flowers single, 2", clear pink, HCC 625/2.
SlBELlUS (1925; 'Maxwell' X 'J.C. van Tol'): mounded habit, flowers single, 2", orange-red, HCC 018/1 with very slight blotch. This is a brilliant specimen in light shade, as with 'Beethoven', the sunlight creates additional color tones at various times of the day, ranging from almost true orange to pale red. As described in THE INTERNATIONAL RHODODENDRON REGISTER, the blotch is called chocolate-purple; however, plants received from Vuyk van Nes and several other Boskoop nurseries show only a light specking of pale brown. Mature plants at the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia which were planted out in the 1940's also lack the blotch of chocolate-purple, so this description remains a mystery to me.
VUYK'S ROSYRED (1954): spreading, compact habit, flowers single with occasional branches with semi-double flowers, 2½" - 3", bright rose pink, HCC 024/1 with slightly darker throat. The description from Vuyk van Nes is hard to beat: smooth, classic petals, a lush and mellow Dutch rose color; a rare harmony of form and color."
VUYK'S SCARLET (1954): spreading, compact habit, flowers single, 2½" - 3", vivid scarlet, HCC 722 with ruffled margins. A plant not only beautiful in flower, but also in foliage, large, glossy bright green leaves that turn dark red in autumn. Flowers of this color usually sunscald easily, but this plant has good flower substance and resists fading.
Feldyk Cultivars - Felix and Dijkhuis Nursery
AARTJE: upright growth, flowers single, 2¾", carmine rose, RHS 54B, slightly darker blotch.
HANNY: upright growth, flowers single, 2½", orange-red.
JEANNE: mounded compact habit, flowers single, 2¼", violet purple. Sturdy flower texture affords blooming over a very long period.
MARGO: mounded habit, flowers single, carmine rose.
TRUUS: mounded habit, flowers single, white.
Witches'-broom Cultivars - Holly Heath Nursery
JANKA (1977; branch sport of 'Johanna'): growth of 1 - 1½" per year, foliage very small, leaves from ½ to ¾" long and ¼" wide, deep green in summer, turning bright red in autumn, flowers single, very small, ½ - ¾", bright red, HCC 721 / 1.
TINA (1977; branch sport of 'Christina"): compact mounded habit, growth about 2 to 3" per year, leaves ¾" long and ⅜" wide, flowers single, irregularly hose-in-hose, ¾", bright deep rose pink RHS 52A.
Editor's note: Matt Nosal, a second generation nurseryman, is the proprietor of the Holly Heath Nursery, highly specialized for Holly, Rhododendron and Azalea. Its catalogue lists no less than 400 varieties of Azalea. Amassed from original sources and personal experience, this information is of authentic value.