QBARS - v14n1 Mollis Azaleas

Mollis Azaleas
by L. C. Living, New Westminster, B.C.

With so much being written about the new Knaphill strain of azaleas it is often forgotten that there are still many excellent mollis Azaleas to be had. and that the new ones being made available are equal to any of the other strain. Because these mollis flower early in May before the Ghents and Knaphills the use of them in a garden will extend the length of time that there are deciduous azaleas in flower.
The mollis have been developed from two very similar species, the yellow R. molle from China, and the orange to red R. japonicum from Japan. The development of the hybrids now found in nurseries has all been done by Dutch Nurseries that are centered around the town of Boskoop. There in a few nurseries seedlings by the hundreds are growing, and it is interesting to note that so careful is the selection that some varieties that are still considered good were first sold over 40 years ago.
An example is R. 'Dr. M. Oosthoek'. It was raised in a nursery of the same name and was sold commercially for the first time in 1920. The same year the R. H. S. gave it an A.M., then 20 years later after trial at Wisley it was given a further Award of Merit, proof of general sound quality. This is still considered to be a good variety.
With regards to Rhododendrons and Azaleas the name of Koster is famous throughout the world. In 1935 they named an azalea R. 'Mrs. Peter Koster' after a relative, and the most intense scarlet azalea in any class went on the market. The flowers are true scarlet with a burnt orange blotch and are about 3½ inches across.
The same year it received an A.M. If it has a fault it is slowness with which it makes new strong growth after being shifted to a permanent location.
For size of flowers none can equal the new R. 'Dr. Jacobi'. It was first offered to the trade in 1944, the same year it was given an A.M. by the Society of Boskoop Cultures. The flowers are not quite the intense scarlet of R. 'Mrs. Peter Koster' but are very close to it. The flowers are the largest of any mollis, each being 4½ inches across.
R. 'Radiant' is the latest to be seen having been offered in 1947. It is called a deep orange red, a description that allows a fair degree of latitude but it is in fact between the scarlet R. 'Mrs. Peter Koster' and the signal red R. 'Dr. Jacobi', both in flower colour and flower size.
It is rather interesting to note that the raisers of these mollis hybrids often name their finest plants after men connected with the trade although not engaged in selling plants. Dr. Jacobi was a former horticultural adviser in Boskoop. W. F. Raiffeisen, the last new red azalea to be discussed here was the founder of the Farm Loan Bank. The flowers are a lighter orange red than the others but they equal R. 'Dr. Jacobi' in size.
It should be noted that there is not a great variation in the red mollis and from "The Azalea Book" by Lee we find that although they are of many different shades and tints they come within five consecutive colors. It is encouraging to see that Lee has where possible used the Royal Horticultural colour chart so that the common expression 'orange-red' has been replaced by the correct colour name. Here are some of the older popular varieties.
Nearest to orange is the poppy-red R. 'Speck's Orange', a plant that Frederick Street has a great opinion of. R. 'Hugo Koster' is the same colour, then moving towards red, each one a very slight variation are, R. 'Dr. M. Oosthoek'- mandarin red, 'Koster's Brilliant' red-vermillion, 'Specks Brilliant' - jasper red, 'Mrs. Peter Koster' - scarlet, 'J. C. van Tol'- porcelain rose, 'Bouquet d' Orange' - Delf rose. To these must be added the newer 'Dr. Jacobi', 'Radiant', and 'W. F. Raiffeisen', with their larger flowers and better texture.
Anyone who has grown mollis from seed will know that the majority of seedlings are shades of salmon pink. Even though it has been marketed since 1920. R. 'Mevrouw G. van Noordt' (syn. Jeanne Oosthoek) with large salmon pink flowers and yellow throat is probably the best of this colour.
From the yellow R. molle have come a number of hybrids in the yellow shades. The finest of these is R. 'Adriaan Koster'. It was first sold commercially in 1935. The same spring it was given an A. M. by the R. H. S. In 25 years no other yellow mollis has surpassed it with its 4 inch flowers of deep pure yellow. A strong grower it makes an excellent garden plant.
R. 'Director Moerlands' is a bright golden yellow but even though it makes a fine show it is not equal to R. 'Adriaan Koster', either in the intensity of the colour or the size of the flower. The bright chrome-yellow trusses of R. 'Christopher Wren' that make a bright display in the Test Garden every Spring, show the great advantage of the mollis - and for that matter all the deciduous azaleas. By flowering freely every year and never taking a rest they guarantee a good show.
The very old R. 'Anthony Koster', named after the son of the founder of that great nursery is still to be found in a few nurseries and is mentioned only because of this connection. It is not a good garden plant and is a poor doer in all but a few locations.
A number of these new mollis hybrids were used to good effect on my exhibit at the spring garden show in Vancouver. As a background a circular moon-gate with flanking bamboo screen was built. Through the moon-gate were a New Zealand tree fern, bamboos and as a focal point, a single plant of R. 'Romany Chal'. Immediately in front of the screen were R. 'Earl of Athlone', 'David', 'Blue Peter', 'Alice Street' and one large plant of R. 'Roseum Elegans'. In front of these and sweeping around to the right were clumps of the newer mollis, R. 'Dr. Jacobi', 'Radiant', 'Adriaan Koster', 'Christopher Wren', 'Mevrouw G. van Noordt', and 'W. F. Raiffeisen'. To give scent a number of plants of R. luteum were included.
The remainder of the stand was massed with evergreen azaleas. To the left of the cobble-stone path that divided the stand were clumps of R. 'Purple Splendour', 'Palestrina', 'John Cairns', 'Helena', and 'Blaauws Pink'. On the right were 'Hino-crimson', 'Geisha', Beethoven', 'Addy Wery', 'Mothers Day', and 'Adonis'.
So successful was the stand that the models in the fashion show spent considerable time parading up and down the cobble path, much to the pleasure of my assistants.