QBARS - v10n1 Further Notes on Exbury Azaleas

Further Notes on Exbury Azaleas
By P. H. Brydon

The disastrous freeze which struck the Pacific Northwest last November is no longer news but the after effects will be felt for quite some time, particularly among nurserymen who make a specialty of broad leaved evergreens. Out of this saddening experience has come many resolutions, observations, and perhaps re-evaluations of hardiness ratings. As far as I am concerned, the one bright and consoling fact was that I could rest assured the Exbury Azaleas were not in the least affected by the cold spell and despite the fact that many Rhododendron buds had been injured, there would be plenty of color to enjoy in the spring when the Exbury Azaleas came into bloom.
In this connection, the following excerpt from a letter written to me by David Leach of Brookville, Pa., is of interest. "I note that the Exbury Azaleas came through the freeze untouched and I thought you might be interested to know that they seem uniformly hardy here in the east. At first there was quite a lot of talk that only a minor proportion would be bud hardy but I think that they are much more cold resistant than had been presumed. I do not know of a single cultivar which has failed anywhere on account of hardiness, which I think is quite remarkable. They appear to be as hardy as the Ghent Hybrids, which means that they are ironclad, thus far at least. In fact, some of the Ghents do lose their buds at times, so their average may not be quite as good as Exbury's."

R. 'Klondyke'
Fig. 6.  R. 'Klondyke'
Brydon photo

Reports from other correspondents in the North East states and in Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan praise the Exbury's for their hardiness under adverse conditions and their brilliant showing in the spring. Of course the hardiness of Exbury azaleas may not be such an important consideration to gardeners on the Pacific Coast as it is to those who live in less favored climates, however, I do not know of any azalea group hardy or otherwise, which can equal them in size or brilliance of flower or the glorious fall color which we enjoy prior to leaf fall in the autumn.

R. 'George Reynolds' R. 'Cecile'
Fig. 7.  R. 'George Reynolds'
Brydon photo
Fig. 8.  R. 'Cecile'
Brydon photo

Each year as additional imported layers from Exbury become established and bloom they amaze me with their color range and strong growth. As a general rule, the first season after importing, the plants do not make a great deal of top growth and the flowers are not up to size. Sometimes the color is off. For my own use, I prefer to sacrifice the first year's display and prune the plants severely so that vigorous growth is promoted from the base or from dormant buds below the soil level. It is from these young sturdy shoots that large flowers arise and this is a point worth noting in their culture, namely to make a practice of aging new growth each year from the base by pruning out some of the older wood directly after the flowering season is past. A dressing of an acid fertilizer at this time will help to give the plant that added push to produce new basal shoots. The size of the flower buds on Exburys when compared to other deciduous Azaleas, is quite impressive. In some instances, notably 'Bright Straw', 'Berryrose', 'Oxydol', and 'Princess Royal', the buds are huge and rival those of the larger evergreen rhododendrons. As far as insect pests and diseases are concerned, Exbury azaleas seem to be reasonably free and the occurrence of pests is rarely a problem. When weather conditions are right, there may be an occasional attack of aphids in early summer, but these are easily controlled by one or two applications of a good contact insecticide. Spider mites will sometimes appear on the foliage in late summer, particularly if the plants are in a dry warm location. If the insects are allowed to remain, pre-mature defoliation may occur and the fall display of color discouraged. Here again, a good contact insecticide applied with pressure will eliminate this pest. While Exbury azaleas will withstand more sunshine than rhododendrons it must be remembered that they need just as much water as their evergreen cousins, perhaps more so, if they are being grown in full sunlight.
There are presently 72 different varieties of named Exbury layers in my nursery and while some of them bear a close color resemblance to others, there are none which could be classed as synonyms. It would be well nigh impossible to arrange a planting of Exbury varieties which would not be harmonious-they blend so beautifully with each other. In limited areas where rhododendrons are being grown, a little thought should be given to a choice of variety since some of the rich shades in the Exbury azaleas would clash with pastels often found in rhododendrons. I have seen the yellows planted with Rhododendron 'Purple Splendor' with good effect and the soft pink 'Maryclaire' blends admirably with Rhododendron 'Alice' and others of that category.
In a previous issue of the Quarterly, several varieties of the Exbury azaleas were discussed and the following notes were submitted as an addition to that list.

YELLOW SHADES: The accompanying illustration of 'Klondyke' (Fig. 6) shows the typical squarish flower and tight truss of this striking variety. The color is golden yellow and each flower measures 4 to 4'.a inches across. This I consider as one of the best in its class, a strong grower with flowers of great substance. Last year, the flowers opened on May 22nd and they were still in good shape on June 22nd. There is an orange flare on the upper petal but the overall effect is that of a golden yellow self. 'Favor Major' is another good golden yellow and differs from 'Klondyke' in that it has a greenish marking on the upper petal. I have become particularly fond of 'Annabella' which is most attractive and has orange red buds which open to golden yellow fragrant flowers with red shadings at the petal tips giving a warm rich color to the entire plant when it is in full bloom. 'George Reynolds', (Fig. 7) an older variety, is nonetheless very desirable. In the illustration it appears smaller than 'Klondyke' but actually the flowers are every bit as large. It has deep yellow flowers, a well shaped truss, and a pleasing fragrance. This particular variety was used extensively by the late Lionel de Rothschild in his hybridizing because he felt that it had great possibilities as a parent plant. The color pictures of 'Basilisk' on the cover of this issue is perhaps a little too dark. The true color might best be described as a rich creamy yellow, with an orange yellow flare. There are twelve flowers to each truss and I consider it to be the best of the creams. Other yellows which have bloomed at Salem and which I think are especially outstanding are 'Bright Straw', 'Canasta', and 'Golden Dream'. All of the foregoing are in the deep yellow group.

PINK SHADES: It would appear that the late Lionel de Rothschild was especially fond of pink Azaleas for he has done a magnificent job in creating so many lovely pink varieties. Out of the 72 varieties at Salem, 26 are in varying shades of pink, ranging in color from the delicately shaded 'Princess Royal' to the deep rich tones of 'Strawberry Ice' and 'Berryrose'. An illustration of this last variety appeared on the cover of the October issue of this Quarterly. The color was fairly accurate, but it did not indicate the size of the truss which is actually quite large, with 14 to 16 fragrant flowers. 'Cecile' (Fig. 8) is without doubt one of the most spectacular in the pink class. On established plants, the individual flowers measure up to 5 inches across and might best be described as salmon pink with a yellow flare. This variety is still very scarce and it will be some time before many plants are available. 'Strawberry Ice' is equally as good as 'Cecile' in my opinion but a deeper color. As the flower buds open they are a rich strawberry pink then change to a lovely clear pink with a faint yellow flare, so faint as to be almost unnoticed and giving the flowers the appearance of being a self. The largest flower of all Exbury Azaleas is 'Princess Royal'. This is a delicately shaded pink with a faint yellow flush on the upper petal and really an outstanding variety.  'Marina' is another very large flowered pink, but a little deeper in color than the preceding. 'Honeysuckle', 'Pink Delight', 'Sugared Almond', and 'Maryclaire' are other good pinks and first class varieties.

RED SHADES: Of the Exburys which have flowered in Salem, the most intense red is 'J. Jennings', however, by comparison to other Exburys the flowers are small. The large flowered varieties in this color category are mostly in orange red and flame shades and it would seem that blood reds are still something to strive for. This does not mean that the red Exburys lack brilliance for there are several in this group which are most desirable. One of the newer varieties which I enjoyed last year was 'Renne', This is a rich flame red, practically a self color since the usual flare on the upper petal was not very evident. 'Balzac' A. M. is another good one and might be described as an orange red with flame shadings inside the flower. The flowers on 'Brazil' are slightly smaller than 'Balzac' but the color is more intense and certainly an established plant of this variety gives a glowing display with its bright tangerine red flowers. 'Royal Lodge' is a strong grower with a many flowered truss of individually large flame red flowers. This is one of the latest to bloom, appearing in mid June and often showing color into July. 'Gallipoli' is an excellent orange red and a new one to us this year in the same color class is 'Frills' which has a beautifully waved flower.

WHITES: Of the whites, I think that 'Ballerina' is without question the best of them all and like many desirable plants, it is very scarce and to my knowledge not available to the trade at present. The flowers are individually large and exquisitely frilled. They are pure glistening white with just a suggestion of yellow on the upper petal. 'Nancy Buchanan' is another good white which has a distinct yellow flare on the inside of the flower. It is not as tall as 'Ballerina' and has a more spreading habit. A new one which has just been received from Exbury is 'Oxydol' and comes highly recommended. Judging from the resting floral buds, which are quite large, this variety should have a large and well frilled truss and gives promise of being a valuable addition to the existing whites.