Fire in the Mountains: Azalea Society of America 2001 Convention
Robert T. Stelloh
Hendersonville, North Carolina
"... suddenly opening to view from dark shades, we were alarmed with apprehension of the hill being set on fire" was William Bartram's first impression of Rhododendron calendulaceum in his book Travels published in 1791. It and the other fifteen azalea species native to North America, nine of them growing in the Blue Ridge Mountains, are the focus of the annual convention of the Azalea Society of America to be held in Asheville, North Carolina on June 14-17, 2001.
Our convention headquarters is the dining hall of the beautifully wooded and landscaped campus of the University of North Carolina-Asheville, one mile north of downtown Asheville, North Carolina. We will register in its entrance, serve ourselves in its cafeteria, and enjoy the evening meetings and presentations in its eating area.
Meals are served cafeteria style, with a salad bar, a choice of entrees, and many choices of side vegetables, drinks and desserts. The food is good, plentiful and inexpensive (we didn't believe it either, until we ate several sample meals). All meals except the Saturday evening banquet are included in one low price, rather than paying for each meal separately. Meals begin with Thursday lunch and continue through Sunday lunch, including box lunches on the tours (vegetarian box lunches available on request). Box lunches are available for an extra cost without buying all the meals, and a wide variety of restaurants are within several miles.
Housing is in Mills Hall, with overflow housing in Founders Hall. Both buildings are air-conditioned, adjacent to the dining hall, and within easy walking distance of the University of North Carolina-Asheville Botanical Gardens (a lovely 10-acre native plant sanctuary). The rooms are organized as two-room suites with a shared bath, with each room sleeping two people. Registering early greatly increases your chances of having a private bath, and signing up for an entire suite at extra cost guarantees it.
To facilitate taking pre- or post-convention tours in the area, you may sign up for a room a few days early or stay a few days later.
Tours expose you to a wide variety of the plants and sights of the Asheville area. Most of them include stops to experience native azaleas, rhododendrons and other native plants in the wild. Each tour takes the entire day, and is the same on both days except for tour P, which includes the North Carolina Arboretum only on Friday.
Tour B: Biltmore Estate and Gardens, North Carolina Arboretum. We will take enough time to tour both the house and the gardens. We will then visit the North Carolina Arboretum and its National Native Azalea Repository.
The Biltmore Estate was begun in 1887 by George Vanderbilt III on 125,000 acres of farmland. The house, with a 390-foot facade, 250 rooms and 4 acres of floor space, is the largest private house in America. After 1,000 men worked on it for six years, the house was opened on Christmas eve of 1895.
Frederick Law Olmsted, best known for his design of New York's Central Park, created a several hundred acre forest as the setting for this outstanding house, along with 10 acres of beautifully crafted formal gardens around the house. The Azalea Garden, a short walk from the house, includes native azaleas collected from the southeastern states by Chauncey Beadle in the early 1900s.
The North Carolina Arboretum is sited on 426 acres in a beautiful natural setting a few miles from Asheville. It features a number of formal gardens, miles of trails, an outstanding bonsai collection, and the National Native Azalea Repository with many hundreds of native azaleas in a natural setting, designed to preserve the germplasm of these important plants.
Tour C: Copper Bald. Fourteen persons go to Copper Bald to see an amazing variety of Rhododendron calendulaceum, R. arborescens, R. viscosum, R. cumberlandense (formerly R. bakeri), interspecific hybrids and wildflowers. We disembark at Burningtown Gap on the Appalachian Trail, at 4,236 feet, and hike a moderate 1.7 miles to Copper Bald at 5,256 feet (yes, 1,020 feet up). After eating lunch beside the trail at the "Mossy Log Café," we go off-trail to experience the azaleas close up for an hour and a half, and then hike that same 1.7 miles and 1,000 feet back down. Warning: be in good physical condition, and wear hiking boots!
Tour H: Hendersonville area. We visit a variety of private gardens, and then see native azaleas and wildflowers in their natural habitat on a short easy hike. Our first stop is the woodland garden of Denise and Bob Stelloh, with meandering trails through azaleas, rhododendrons, ornamental trees and wildflowers. We then visit the nearby garden of Mary and Ed Collins, featuring an outstanding waterfall, and probably the largest collection of Cowles hybrid rhododendrons, along with a large variety of azaleas, wildflowers and other ornamentals. Our next stop is a rock garden created by Ev and Bruce Whittemore with an amazing collection of alpines and other plants. We then go a few more miles to the Dupont State Forest for a quick foray into the woods for native azaleas and other wildflowers in the wild.
Tour P: Blue Ridge Parkway. We travel south along the Blue Ridge Parkway, with stops and optional short hikes to see native azaleas and wildflowers in their natural habitat. We keep going up, to the highest point on the parkway at Richland Balsam. On Friday only, we will also visit the North Carolina Arboretum and its National Native Azalea Repository (thus, not as far and fewer stops on the Parkway).
The Blue Ridge Parkway is the "Appalachian Trail for cars." It runs 469 miles along the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia through North Carolina, with frequent turnouts and scenic overlooks for seemingly endless vistas, protected by an actively enforced prohibition against disturbing wild animals and plants. Because of the range in elevation from 649 to 6,047 feet, peak bloom for a given species of plant extends over a long period of time, such as Rhododendron calendulaceum in mid-May at lower elevations, through mid-June at the higher elevations west of Asheville.
Tour W: Wayah Bald. We see Rhododendron calendulaceum on the trip up to Wayah Bald, and a breathtaking display of R. arborescens at the top. After a long drive on the freeway, we go along a winding picturesque road to the base of Wayah Bald. The winding road to the top is flanked by large populations of R. calendulaceum. We then disembark and enjoy the vistas and R. arborescens, with a short optional hike along the Appalachian Trail for more R. arborescens and late-blooming wildflowers. We then return via the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Speakers will share their extensive knowledge of native and evergreen azaleas with us each evening, with a native azalea propagation round-table discussion Sunday morning.
Steve Brainerd (Designing With Native Azaleas), a landscape designer and builder for the past ten years, founder of the Dallas Chapter ASA, and past president of the ASA.
Ed Collins (Copper Bald Azaleas), past president of three ARS chapters, past district director for two ARS districts, past chair of the ARS exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show for thirteen years, past chair of the 1976 ARS convention; now co-chair of this ASA convention, founder of the being-formed Vaseyi Chapter ASA, active in other area garden clubs, maintaining his 5-acre garden, hiking in search of natives, and giving numerous lectures and presentations.
Don Hyatt (The Best of the Best: In Search of Native Azaleas), an avid hybridizer of azaleas and rhododendrons for over thirty years, with a particular interest in deciduous azaleas, and a math and computer science teacher for 32 years. His web pages at http://www.tjhsst.edu/~dhyatt/gardencenter.html combine his work and avocation in an exceptionally beautiful and useful manner. Don was an ARS district director, and is now president of the Potomac Valley Chapter ARS and an ASA director.
Buddy Lee (Azalea Hybridizing and Seedling Selection Process), involved with azaleas for almost thirty years, developer of the multi-season0 blooming Encore azaleas at his Transcend Nursery, long time member of the Louisiana Chapter ASA, active as their president, coordinator of their 1991 and 200 conventions, and a director of the ASA.
David Sauer (The New Kurumes), an avid collector of azaleas and rhododendrons for forty years, and a past director of the ASA.
Joe Schild (Deciduous AzaleasEast Meets West), an avid collector, propagator, grower and breeder of azaleas for over thirty years, a past president of the Tennessee Valley Chapter ARS, current vice president and president-elect of the ASA.
Ted Stecki (Linwood Hardy Azaleas), propagating and growing rhododendrons and azaleas part-time at his Hill House Nursery for over thirty years, an associate of Al Reid (developer of the Linwood Hardy azaleas), the Budget and Finance Committee chair for the ARS, and a long time member of the ASA.
Plants will be on sale of many varieties of deciduous and evergreen azaleas, both large and small, including a live auction and several silent auctions. We are even negotiating to have some Rhododendron eastmanii (the species azalea recently discovered in South Carolina) on sale!
Registration forms and full information are available at the ASA website http://www.azaleas.org, or by contacting Denise Stelloh, Convention Registrar.
Discounted early registration (enough to cover your ASA membership dues) is available until May 1, 2001. Changes in tours can be made at any time. We also reserve the right to change the day you take a tour and to change the specific tou r itineraries, based on attendance and on what is in bloom next June.
Asheville is a marvelously interesting city to visit, with winding hilly streets and historic architectural gems, with hundreds of arts and crafts galleries and communities, outdoor recreational opportunities, and a variety of entertainment and nightlife. It was founded in 1792 in the valley formed by the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers between the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains. With a population of around 70,000, it is the largest city in western North Carolina. The "Paris of the South," Asheville has made a number of "top 10" lists: one of the ten healthiest places to live (Kiplinger, 1996); one of the ten best small Southern cities in which to live (Money Magazine, 1998); and one of the ten All-America Cities (National Civic League, 1997). At 2,200 feet elevation, Asheville in June may be as cool as 50°F in the evening, and as warm as 90°F during the day.
Flying: The Asheville airport, served by Delta Airlines and USAir, is 10 miles south of the University of North Carolina-Asheville campus. Ground transportation is available for about $20 each way, or you can rent a car and take I-26 west to US 240 east, which will take a half hour or less. The Greenville-Spartanburg airport, served by many major airlines, is 70 miles south of the University of North Carolina-Asheville campus. Because of the distance, it may be least expensive to rent a car and drive to the convention, which will take about an hour and a half. From the airport, take I-85 north to I-26 west to US 240 east.
Driving: Asheville is in the western corner of North Carolina, near the intersection of I-26 with I-40. From the east or west, take I-40 to I-240. From the north, take I-81 to I-77 to I-40 west. From the south, take I-85 north to I-26 west to US 240 east.
From the intersection of I-26 and I-40, take US 240 east to Asheville, bear left onto US 19/23 north (left exit) and follow signs to University of North Carolina-Asheville. Once on campus, bear left to the dining hall on the left. Convention check-in is in the entrance of the dining hall.