New Lepidotes from New Jersey
Elizabeth K. Cummins, Marlboro, New Jersey
Reprinted from Massachusetts Chapter The Rosebay
The Cummins Garden started many years ago as a hobby. As more and more plants were propagated, the nursery and selling naturally followed. It was not a planned endeavor.
While my five children were young, I enjoyed gardening and purchased one book, the Wise Gardening Encyclopedia, that started it all. Winter evenings I enjoyed studying it, and from it learned the basics of plant propagation. The first attempts were successful, and to this day I am still fascinated to find roots on small cuttings stuck under proper growing conditions. No longer, though, do I do them in a goldfish bowl on a kitchen windowsill, as was originally done.
Later, everything was tried, and the fascination expanded. Limits to property size, and the love of the small, compact plants that were found by scouring nurseries in the surrounding countryside, are what dictated the direction eventually taken.
It was through membership in the American Rhododendron Society, Princeton Chapter, that I met two very knowledgeable gentlemen who are involved in hybridizing small-leaved rhododendrons. Leon Yavorsky of Howell, New Jersey, and Dr. David Lewis of Colts Neck, New Jersey, have both been most generous with their knowledge and plants, and it has been my privilege to know them. They have many traits in common, as do most hybridizers: patience, precision in small details, discriminating eyes, great curiosity, an analytical ability and great enthusiasm for their new plants.
Leon Yavorsky, a former factory superintendent, took early retirement to "make money as a nurseryman in Monmouth County." Perhaps he never became rich at it, but he found a great satisfaction in his involvement with plant breeding. A twinkle appears in his eye as he contemplates how "this plant will bloom next year for the first time", a sure prescription for always staying young in heart.
On his two-acre property, he built himself a greenhouse, ten feet by sixteen feet, attached to the north side of his house. The sides are of particle fiberboard and glass, with the sloping roofs entirely of corrugated fiberglass. No heating system is involved, as his plants are all hardy.
For summer and fall propagation, he built a "modified Nearing frame". It is a series of four sections of three-foot by six-foot attached frames, facing north, each with its own glass cover which hooks to the four-foot high back frame.
His carpentry ability again came into good use when he built a walk-in lath house in a lightly wooded area. This house, sixteen feet by forty-two feet, is attached to a shed on one end. Here his potted plants are stored all year, until sold. The sides and top are covered with snow fencing, so the house is completely open to the elements, but also protected from the wind by the neighboring deciduous shrubbery and trees. It was so well planned that, with his permission, I photographed it and had an almost-duplicate built for my nursery.
His hybridizing has been aimed toward:
better foliage plants;
better appearing plant structure;
better flower color;
hardier plants; and
good season extenders.
He does not necessarily look for a rounded plant, but wants artistic growth, "a plant that is beautiful to look at". Leon usually does not pinch his young plants, as he feels it is not necessary and he is more desirous of learning their natural growth habits.
With the newer azaleas he looks for very good foliage, blooms that are double or semi-double and reds that don't fade when grown in the sun.
One group of plants which he started about eighteen years ago are those in his Pical Series. The best known one, which should be grown even more frequently, is 'Alice Swift'. This is an F2 seedling of (racemosum x pink mucronulatum) x carolinianum. It was named for the wife of a fellow New Jersey plantsman. This year I listed it as lavender-pink and was quickly caught up by Leon who said it is a true pink, I shall certainly watch it more closely this year, and feel he is probably correct. Whatever the precise color, it is a great plant, blooming just after 'P.J.M.' Never have I seen the blooms lost to a late frost. It has a good, clean, bright color, and is a heavy bloomer. The winter foliage color is a crisp, bright green, giving excellent contrast to many other plants. Bud set is heavy on all terminals, but dead-heading is not necessary. It grows to about three feet tall.
photo by G. David Lewis
'Carlpi', another of the Pical Series, is a sister seedling of 'Alice Swift'. Leon does not care for it as much and gave me his original plant. It differs mainly in foliage habit as it is more deciduous, retaining only the terminal leaves. However, in the fall, if grown in sun, the stem leaves turn a brilliant red before dropping, giving the plant a second season of beauty. Growth habit is similar to 'Alice Swift'.
'Rik' is (racemosum x keiskei). The name here was taken from the first letters of the names of the parents. This is my favorite of his plants, and all who see it admire it highly. Again it blooms just after 'P.J.M'., is very hardy, has a white flower edged with pink that fades to white, and is low growing. The winter color, with its deep red stem and foliage, is its shining attribute. Here is a real all-season beauty. The original plant is about 30 inches tall.
'Matilda', another small-leaf lepidote, is a seedling of 'Watchung' by carolinianum album. ('Watchung' is a sport of 'Ramapo' that is almost purple in color, but not as easy a grower as 'Ramapo'.) 'Matilda' is the best blue that is truly hardy. It reaches approximately 30 inches in height in ten years. Interest has been seen here by several customers in growing standards, and this is one now being tried, as its natural growth habit the first year or so is vertical, with stem-branching later filling in.
'Virginia Delito' named for the friend of a former New Jersey propagator, is another Pical. It, too, has the same parentage as 'Alice Swift', but is a deep pink, has larger flowers, and is a taller grower, reaching about 3½ feet in ten years.
Many other rhododendrons are still being judged and are still unnamed. These are not given out to others until Leon reaches the decision on their quality. Among them are two about which he is especially excited. He has selected seedlings of keiskei from three areas and is watching them closely to pick the best one. This he plans to cross for the second generation.
The other, 'Cutie' x dwarf keiskei, is wintered outside in the open. It has low growth, with excellent foliage of purplish-red.
His azalea crosses include 'Anna Louise' (unknown white seedling x 'Palestrina'), named for his favorite niece. "Now there's an azalea, the best around!" It has a pure white single flower, 2¼ to 2½ inches across, and is a low-growing spreader, reaching 16 to 18 inches in height and 2 to 2½ feet in width in ten years. It is whiter than 'Delaware Valley White', wider than tall, and a good forcer.
'Edna B.' ('Elizabeth Gable' x unnamed pink seedling) was named for a friend's wife. It is bright pink in color with 2½ to 3 inch flowers which are single, semi-double, double, and hose-in-hose. It blooms here in mid-May, is slightly upright in habit, and should reach about 3 feet in ten years.
'Amy' is a sibling of 'Edna B.' that has beautiful foliage and a double pink 2½ inch flower. It is a medium grower, not as fast as 'Edna B.'.
'Miss Prim', a seedling of 'Edna B.', is more dwarf, reaching only about 2 feet in ten years. It has a medium pink semi-double bloom in mid-season and is a compact, low-growing plant, as tall as it is wide.
A new azalea of his that I think is especially lovely is 'Linda Stuart' (unknown seedling x 'Blaauw's Pink'), named for a friend. It has 2 inch bi-color flowers that are hose-in-hose, with the edge a deep salmon-pink and the center a pale cream. It grows taller than wide, blooms in mid-season, and has good evergreen foliage.
The final two that please Leon are 'Leon's Red' and 'Leon's Sport'. The former cross is 'Vuyk's Red' x Gable's R4G. It is a good red with 2 inch flowers and good foliage, of medium height and blooming in early to mid-season.
'Leon's Sport' is a sport of 'Leon's Red' with smaller leaves, and the hose-in-hose flowers are smaller than 'Leon's Red' and not as red, more pinkish-red.
"In hybridizing of two species or a hybrid and a species, the first cross will not usually give the best progeny. The best results are with the F2 progeny." His F2 or second generation crosses are two siblings crossed or selfed. The F3 crosses give the possibility of further development in foliage or flower. He does not believe you can foretell the results of an initial cross, but if the parents are known, there is a better estimate of what to expect; still, it is only an "educated guess".
Dr. David Lewis is a plant pathologist at Rutgers University, specializing in vegetable diseases; he is also a frequent lecturer and writer. He started hybridizing in the late 1950's "just for the fun of it". He has an interest in lepidote crosses and his goals are:
to produce something different that's nice;
plants hardy for the northeast;
and brighter colors in lepidotes.
One of his best, 'Colts Neck Rose' (minus x dauricum), is a plant he feels has excellent commercial value. It is a good rooter, has good winter foliage color and pinkish-lavender bloom, and fills in well in the center of the plant, making it a good landscape plant.
|'Colts Neck Rose'
photo by G. David Lewis
'Easter Rose' (minus x racemosum) was named for the holiday, as it bloomed for the first time on Easter Sunday, a day that year when the temperature hit 100 degrees and remained high for at least a week. This variety shows great heat tolerance, as it has withstood these extremes far better than others growing under similar circumstances. It has lovely rosy pink bloom here in mid-April. The growth habit is upright, filling in nicely, and 5 feet high by 4 feet wide in ten years. The semi-deciduous foliage, with the lower leaves turning a brilliant red, gives a lovely fall color effect.
R. mucronulatum 'Pink Panther' is a selected seedling he found among hundreds at Eagan's in Connecticut. It was still only in bud, but was chosen as it had the darkest red bud, which opened to a lovely deep pink flower.
|R. mucronulatum 'Pink Panther'
photo by G. David Lewis
'Twister' (carolinianum x dauricum) blooms with 'P.J.M.' and has the same flower color and winter foliage color. It is the pointed leaf and unusual twisted habit of the leaf that gave it its name. The growth habit is superior to 'P.J.M.', as it is more prone to heavy branching. It has at least an H2 rating.
The following are Dr. Lewis's crosses which will be offered in 1983, as quantities permit:
'Northern Lights' (carolinianum album x dauricum album 'Arctic Pearl') blooms just a week after 'P.J.M.', with a white flower with a distinct lavender blush at the edge of the petals — a "lavender glow, looks like a bi-color". It should reach about 4 feet high by 3½ feet wide in ten years. Both 'Arctic Dawn' and 'Snow Squall' are of the same parentage as 'Northern Lights' and have white flowers with only a slight lavender blush. Which one will be introduced depends on which is easier to root and which one grows better.
'Joseph Dunn' (minus x racemosum), named for his father-in-law, has a lovely pink bloom about the third week in May, with a one-inch leaf of good dark green color all year long. In ten years it reaches 4 feet in height by 3 feet in width.
'Banana Boat' (keiskei x dauricum album 'Arctic Pearl') was so named because it "has a lot of yellow in it, and it's catchy!” It is a semi-dwarf, reaching 2 feet high by 2½ feet wide in ten years. It blooms with R. keiskei in mid-April, but the flowers are more flat and open, like R. dauricum. The foliage is a darker green than R. keiskei and aromatic like R. dauricum, and remains a good dark green in winter.
'Wickatunk' (carolinianum x mucronulatum 'Pink Panther') was named for an Indian chief of the former Leni Lenape tribe of this area. It has a bright pink flower with at least an H2 rating, is semi-deciduous in habit, and reaches approximately 6 feet high by 4 feet wide.
A golden yellow deciduous azalea, 'Monmouth Gold', a selected Exbury seedling of great beauty that Dave grows, holds great promise for its deep, rich color. Another of his crosses for the future is one he calls "Yellow Fever" ('Mary Fleming' x 'Banana Boat'). It is a pale yellow with pink mutations that is clear and bright. It is too early yet for a complete evaluation, but it holds great promise.
He has a beautiful bright pink R. viscosum which roots well, has great fragrance, holds its color well, and is a mid-summer bloomer. This was a native plant found in the wild. And finally, a hybrid of his, R. bakeri x R. roseum, which blooms in late June with a fragrant orange-red blossom, will hopefully be introduced soon,.
These plants, as well as some large-leaved crosses which both hybridizers are growing, offer much to us for beauty in our colder climates. As both men have the ability and fortitude to discard the lesser plants, we can rest assured that only the best will be forthcoming.