'Janet Blair' and Her Children
Dennis Mac Mullan
Harold Greer's Guidebook to Available Rhododendrons1 states as follows: "'Janet Blair' (Dexter hybrid?) 6' – 15°F. David Leach selected this variety for naming. Frilled, light pink flowers have a distinctive green flare on the upper petal. It is a vigorous, good-looking plant...(Leach, 1962)."
This rhododendron, justly popular in the Northeast, is sold by just about every rhododendron nursery in the United States. Why? From the nurseryman's point of view he can offer his customers a plant with the following traits:
1. Full and attractive truss color
2. Cold hardiness and heat tolerance
3. Good plant habit and foliage
4. Resistance to plant pathogens and insects
Overall, what we call a "good doer." But that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I think it can be safely stated that more hardy hybrids (to –5°F, -21°C, or lower) with a good depth of color2 have been created with 'Janet Blair' as a parent than with any other rhododendron. This is especially true in the yellow/orange color range.
Before we look at some of these hybrids, who is Janet Blair? She was Pennsylvania-born and became an attractive actress/entertainer who made films and appeared on stage and television mostly in the 1950s and '60s. She retired from show business some years ago.
'Janet Blair' - the rhododendron - is something of an enigma. We don't know the parentage though it probably contains Rhododendron fortunei. When looking at the plant in full bloom it is difficult to imagine that this attractive but unspectacular rhododendron would offer the hybridizer such creative opportunities.
What 'Janet Blair' does best is transmit color - strong color - to its progeny, whether as seed or pollen parent.
Jim Barlup, the dean of hybridizers, is utilizing 'Janet Blair' extensively in his “East/West” hybridizing program.3 Many of his most successful yellow hybrids are pollen sterile, so 'Janet Blair' is often employed as the pollen parent.
'Janet Blair' is widely used in the Northeast to develop a race of hardy yellows with considerable success. However, crosses with red or purple have not generally resulted in plants of any distinction. Usually the colors are a "muddy" blend of pinkish purple, mauve, etc. There are always exceptions4, but I don't recommend traveling down this road.
I am not aware of many crosses involving 'Janet Blair' having been made with orange or yellow species (e.g., R. dichroanthum, R. wardii, R. lacteum, R. campylocarpum ssp. caloxanthum, R. campylocarpum ssp. campylocarpum). These would be worth a try. Even taking "a shot" with the scarlet-flowered R. haematodes - which has been known to "throw" yellow/orange in certain crosses - would also be worth the effort.
At any rate, if you are interested in developing some hardy, attractive hybrids, I suggest you give 'Janet Blair' a try.
'Janet Blair' x ('Donna Hardgrove' x 'Weston's Hardy Yellow')
Photo by Allan Glassman
'Top Banana' x 'Janet Blair'
Photo by Patricia Walton
Photo by Dick Gustafson
('Janet Blair' x 'Summer Peach')#1
Photo by Jim Barlup
Here are some 'Janet Blair' hybrids that are both hardy and distinctive. (A total list would take up more space than this magazine can allow.) The following are plants with which I am familiar. I recommend all of them, as they are - or as future parents in your hybridizing efforts. All are bud hardy to at least –5°F (-21°C). Some are hardy to –8°F/-10°F (-22°C/-23°C).5
'Temple Meades' (Dick Gustafson). 'Janet Blair' x 'Hindustan'. Light yellow, deeper yellow throat.
'Janet Blair' x 'Goldsworth Orange' (Joe Becales). Orange/yellow/pink.
'Top Banana' x 'Janet Blair' (Patricia Walton). Clear medium yellow.
'Original Vagabond' (Dick Gustafson).
'Janet Blair' x 'Apritan'. Peach, cream, yellow.
'Janet Blair' x 'Hachmann's Brasilia' (Dick Gustafson). Cream with red/orange flare.
'Janet's Fantasy' (grown, named and registered by Werner Brack).
'Janet Blair' x 'Apricot Fantasy'. Yellow/apricot.
'Janet Blair' x 'September Song' (Allan Glassman). Yellow/orange/coral
('Janet Blair' x 'Summer Peach')#1 (Jim Barlup). Yellow/peach/apricot flare.
'Janet Blair' x 'Mary Belle' (Mark Konrad). Peach/yellow.
'Janet's Flair' (Werner Brack).
'Janet Blair' x 'Autumn Gold'. Pink/yellow.
'Janet Blair' x 'Lem's Cameo'. Cream with deep pink and apricot blotches.
('Sunstruck' x 'Janet Blair')#1 (Howard Kline).
'Janet Blair' x 'Whitney's Orange' (John Doppel). Similar to 'Whitney's Orange'.
'Janet Blair' x ('Donna Hardgrove' x 'Weston's Hardy Yellow'*) (Allan Glassman). Peach/yellow.
While Janet Blair the entertainer never achieved true stardom, her rhododendron namesake is truly one of the brightest stars in the hardy hybridizing galaxy! Janet, wherever you are, take a slow, deep bow!
1 Third Edition, Offshoot publications, Eugene, OR.
2 R. degronianum ssp. yakushimanum has been even more popular as a parent, but it does not transmit strong color in most of its hybrids, especially when employed as a seed parent.
3 Barlup “East/West” program utilizes hardy plants (usually from the East Coast) with colorful less hardy plants (usually from the West Coast), hence the appellation "East/West."
4 Notable are 'Maroon Sappho'* and 'Rhein's Picotee' (Dr. Wm. Rhein), pictured in the ARS Journal, Vol. 44, Summer 1990; 'Spring Ecstasy'* (Mark Konrad), cream, pink and red (ARS Journal, Vol. 43, Summer 1989); and 'Ellie Green' ('Janet Blair' x R. strigillosum) (Al Fitzburg/Shirley and Allan Anderson).
5 'Janet Blair' has been a component in numerous complex hybrids consisting of four, five, six or more plants. This article deals with hybrids in which 'Janet Blair' is either the seed or the pollen parent, thus maximizing its use.
* Name is not registered.
Mr. Mac Mullan is a member of the Valley Forge Chapter.