QBARS - v23n3 Oxford Rare Plant Gardens

Oxford Rare Plant Garden
Mrs. Sara D. Groves, Manager

There are many of you who knew Mr. Morrison personally. Many of you have corresponded with him. Others of you know of the many horticultural contributions he made during his lifetime.

Let me share a few of the many bits of information we have collected on the Back Acre azaleas. These come mostly from letters written to Corinne Murrah (Mrs. William F. Murrah of Memphis, Tennessee) from 1950 until his death in 1966.

Quoting from Mr. Morrison: "When I made up my mind to retire from U. S. D. A., I started planning work that would busy me when I retired. In order that there should be no official misunderstanding about my intentions to continue the breeding work with azaleas, which I was forbidden to continue inside the U. S. D. A., thanks to a change in organization, I took my immediate superior officer to my home garden, where I had begun and done so much work on the Glenn Dales, and showed him the plants I was raising there, that I intended to bring to Mississippi, and told him of my plans and purposes." The Department was no longer interested in doing any work with azaleas.

He brought 124 flats of seedlings to Mississippi. From these, selections were later made of most of the plants that were first registered and introduced.

He started breeding work again in 1950 and continued with few and fewer crosses until 1959. In 1964 Mr. Morrison wrote: "I now have a huge collection - even after many have been destroyed by burning, a formidable lot of azaleas that are not only splendid, but quite unique."

Again quoting: "This little paragraph tells precisely my aims - doubles that will be cold-hardy and kinds with white or nearly white centers and colored margins." "Some people have asked me why I wanted doubles, and all I can say was that they presented a challenge and that I had thought that if we cherished the Belgians, most of which are doubles, it might be nice to have comparable things that could be grown in cold climate gardens. The same sort of reasoning led me to get white or near white centers."

Let me give you a few statistics: Of the Back Acre plants, Mr. Morrison made approximately 500 crosses: approximately 90 of these crosses were saved. Thousands of plants from 414 crosses were destroyed after they bloomed (as is inevitable in any hybridization project). 34 of the 90 crosses are represented by plants which Mr. Morrison personally named.

Approximately one-half of the plants already in the trade are from only 3 separate crosses. From one cross which Mr. Morrison considered as one of his best, he personally selected 46 plants to save. Two of these plants have been named by him 'Ivan Anderson' and 'Caroline Dorman'. 53 cultivars are registered and over 200 names have been submitted for use in future registration.

The last 3 years of Mr. Morrison's life were a constant struggle to do all the things he felt necessary to protect the selections that he felt were worthwhile, and to destroy those things that he did not feel were as good as the ones he had saved. The year before he died he propagated 1000 plants from 56 selected clones. Nine of these were named and registered.

Quoting Mr. Morrison: "I took the cuttings from the selected doubles that have come largely from about 3 distinct crosses, each of which owes the doubleness to 'Waras Gishi', a double Japanese Satsuki. The Jap is often semi-double and gives not only double seedlings, but semi-double, and some singles.

In June of 1965 Mr. Morrison wrote: "Anderson has done fine photographing for me and each time I brought him a seedling to photograph. I made myself make a complete description. I have a whole folder of such notes. Now I can settle down to deciding which of this series of plants to name and register."

Mr. Morrison's contributions should be preserved so that they might become an everlasting memorial to his credit. We have worked hard to help achieve this. There is much to be done. Ivan Anderson of Pass Christian, Mississippi, Mr. Morrison's best friend, and on whose property the Back Acres were grown, will show us slides of some of these Back Acre Hybrids. He has chosen those plants to show that have already been named by Mr. Morrison. This is not all of the named plants and only a portion of the slides taken...

Slides of the following varieties were shown-'Apricot Honey', 'Badinage', 'Bouffant', 'Cayenne', 'Cora' 'Brandt', 'Corinne Murrah', 'Coral Ace', 'Debonaire', 'Debonaire P', 'Extravaganza', 'Folk Song', 'Garnet Royal', 'Gratitude', 'Habenera', 'Heart Glow', 'Heigh Ho', 'Ivan Anderson', 'Keepsake', 'Largesse', 'Lost Chord', 'Malaguena', 'Margaret Douglas', 'Marion Lee', 'Marion Armstrong', 'Miss Jane', 'May Blaine', 'Moresca', 'Elise Norfleet', 'Orange Flare', 'Painted Tips', 'Rachel Cunningham', 'Rejoice', 'Saint James', 'Spring Bonnet', 'White Jade'.