The Gable Azaleas
H. R. Yates, Frostburg, Maryland
It is an honor to be invited to talk with you about the Gable azaleas. I hesitated to do this because I felt somewhat awed to be on the same program with such noted plantsmen as Dr. Galle and Dr. Magruder and others so outstanding in their fields. I am only a dirt gardener who loves plants and by growing and experimenting with them most of my lifetime have managed to find out a couple of things.
Mr. Gable and his plants is a subject near and dear to my heart. I am so grateful to have had the privilege of knowing him. His friendship is one of the nicest things that has happened to me. It has given me a wonderful opportunity to learn about much of his work first hand and to learn many things that can only be taught by one who has lived a long life time among his plants. I know there are a number of people here who have enjoyed his friendship and I am sure they will agree that he is a most wonderful person. It would take more time than I am allotted to tell of all his qualities but his determination, perseverance, kindness and generosity is not surpassed. I feel all of us here owe him a debt of gratitude and I wish there were some way we could show our appreciation.
The Flowering Forest of Joseph Gable began over a half century ago, when, as a young man, he took over his father's farm and began his first business venture - growing and marketing fruits of various kinds. It was when he branched into a small nursery of landscape materials, that he became interested in azaleas and rhododendrons. A man, not satisfied to do things half-way and thirsting for more knowledge of the plants he loved, he began corresponding with Mr. Magor of England, Prof. C. S. Sargent at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, and other authorities of the day.
He was determined he would develop a strain of hybrid azaleas, hardier and of better color than any available at the time. After much research the decision was reached that the parents for this new strain would be selected from the hardiest species of the Obtusum Series. Such plants as R. poukhanense and mucronatum , 'Hexe' and kaempferi . After searching for the plants and pollen, the first crosses were made. When the seedlings grew large enough they were lined out in a field bordering the Main street in Stewartstown, a little town just north of the Mason-Dixon line, in Pennsylvania. Here these plants were left to grow in conditions of near perfect neglect, with no spraying, no fertilizing, no watering - just left there to battle it out for themselves. You can be sure that many fell by the wayside and there were many vacant places in that field of several thousand plants. Yes, it was a battle for survival of the fittest and there were many casualties. After several years of growing there the survivors began to flower and Mr. Gable began selecting the clearest colors, the plants that seemed the hardiest and those with the best plant habit.
Among the first selected were 'Springtime', 'Miriam', and 'Margie'. Would you believe that the plants of 'Springtime' and 'Miriam' are still growing in their original spots in that field, now the "overgrown old nursery." They grow there in utter neglect, but never failing to put on their annual display of beauty. In fact these plants are rarely ever seen except when a basket of cuttings are needed or Joe takes a walk back to reminisce. It is stated that Joe named about fifty azaleas, but he doesn't claim that many. He tells me there were truckloads of plants that did not meet his rigid requirements, that were almost given away. Many of these were later named by others but they are considered "Black Sheep" in the family of Gable azaleas.
There was much planning, and many crosses were made using as parents his first hybrids crossed among themselves and with other species, always trying to improve the colors, the habit and to increase the hardiness. One of his objectives was to develop a better white and he spent a lot of time working out his recipe. He gave it to me from his records. The first cross should be R. poukhanense x mucronatum . About 400 seedlings resulted and not one of them came white. Then the obvious F2 generation; out of 250 seedlings there were three whites. Also in the recipe there was the cross R. poukhanense x 'Hexe' to get hose in hose; from this, nothing but rosy purple hose in hose, so to lighten them up he crossed poukhanense x 'Hexe' with poukhanense x kaempferi . This was successful, in fact it was a bonus cross for he got several fine pinks. These were crossed with the single whites from the second generation poukhanense x mucronatum cross, and when they flowered Joe had his beautiful hose in hose, white, which he named 'Rose Greeley'. This only took him sixteen years. I ask you, "Is that patience?"
A word about my garden - I live on Big Savage Mountain above Frostburg in extreme Western Maryland where we see temperatures of 10-15° below, and I have seen 27° below zero. You can see I shouldn't even try to grow evergreen azaleas, but not being able to resist their beauty we have tried to raise many varieties. Most of them could not survive, but some did and I would recommend 'Springtime', 'Purple Splendor', 'Mildred Mae', 'Herbert', 'Stewartstonian' and 'Rosebud'. Among newer ones I have not tried are a very dwarf salmon pink being named 'Barbara Hille' and a very fine 'American Beauty' red with hose in hose, frilled flowers, a plant that has been widely tested in many tough spots in Maryland and Pennsylvania's 200th anniversary of being the first capital of the United States.
I will not take the time to give a lengthy description of the plants but I feel I should furnish this list of plants that are favorites of the Gables.
White - 'Rose Greeley', 'Polaris'
Pinks - 'Springtime', 'Kathleen', 'Miriam', 'Rosebud', 'Louise', 'Elizabeth', 'Mary F. Hawkins'
Purple - 'Purple Splendor', 'Herbert', 'Fuchsia'
Red - 'Campfire', 'James Gable', 'Jimmy Coover', 'Stewartstonian'.