QBARS - v30n3 Azaleas in the Landscape - Using Pink to Perfection

Matthew A. Nosal, Wading River, New York
Reprinted from the New York Chapter Newsletter

All color designations refer to the R. H .S. Colour Chart.

Evergreen azaleas are perhaps the most outstanding group of landscape plants available to the gardener. Besides a display of unrivaled color during May and early June, they offer crisp, clean foliage during the summer, fall colors that are comparable to many deciduous trees and shrubs, and growth habits that add texture and charm to the winter scene.

Color selection of azaleas is very important because of their heavy flowering, especially when mature. In this respect they very often give the garden a definite blotch of color if viewed from a slight distance. This can be very extreme with the cultivars that bloom during late May, before a flush of new growth softens the flowering effect. The intensity of red and purple azaleas can sometimes be overpowering, and the rule of thumb predicates that white should be used as a foil; but white planted with red or purple can very often cause very bold contrasts, instead of a soft, muted feeling in the landscape.

It is in this area that pink azaleas are so valuable, since pink in the broadest sense covers the whole range from off-white through the shades of coral, salmon, and cerise to rosy-pink. There are shades described as shrimp-pink, coppery-pink, and hot pink within this range. Pink in the soft pale tones can actually add coolness to the garden better than white in many cases. Many pink azaleas actually have white flowers with a pink wash when examined closely. Since the greatest concentration of color is usually at the petal edge, the garden effect is that of a pale pink flower with a white center. These types are very effective in toning down the harshness of deep pinks, red, or purple.

Some of the best of this type are some of the oldest cultivars known, such as Wilson's 'Ho-0' ('Apple Blossom') with 1¼" white flowers having a pink flush (Red Group 52D, blotch 52A; lightly striped 52B); or 'Aioi' (Wilson's 'Fairy Queen'), usually described as almond-blossom pink (36D shading to 36C, slight blotch 45D) with 1" hose-in-hose flowers. Both are compact growing plants.

Slightly larger growing are 'Apricot' (This is the Domoto Brothers - Cottage Gardens Company introduction of about 1920, not the 'Apricot' introduced by Joseph B. Gable.) (43D, white throat; blotch 43C) with 1½"slightly tubular shaped hose-in-hose flowers, and 'Peach Blow' (48D, with throat; blotch 52A) with 1¼" flowers. A recent cultivar is 'Peggy Ann'; a 1¼" hose-in-hose white with a thin margin of pale crimson (50B) that carries in the garden as pale pink.

Wilson's 'Saotone' (Peachblossom) is a pure pink (55C) with 1½" flowers. 'Kimigayo' (Wilson's Cherub') can rival 'Hinomayo' for flower form, habit, and floriferousness, but the pink (52C) 1 1/8" flowers have a white throat with just the barest suggestion of a pale green blotch. 'Nome', a Deerfield group Kurume has 1¼" flowers of bright pink (55A, blotch 51A) and is often described as a hose-in-hose 'Hinomayo'. It is compact and slightly upright in habit, and very heavy flowering.

'Hinomayo' is a very old cultivar, pre-dating the Wilson and Domoto Brothers introductions by many years. It is one of the loveliest and most popular azaleas, and deservedly so. An interesting account by K. Wada on his search for this cultivar in Japan appeared in the R. H. S. RHODODENDRON AND CAMELLIA YEAR BOOK 1970 . He tells of finally finding this cultivar growing in an old azalea collection, and that 'Hinomayo' is a misspelling of the Japanese 'Hinamoyo'. Mr. Wada states ''I do not intend to correct now the misspelling which was accepted without any reason for nearly a hundred years. But when you name this azalea to any Japanese visitors, please kindly take the trouble to call it 'Hinamoyo'. They would probably feel more affection towards you.''

I often wonder if Ernest H. Wilson came upon this cultivar by the name "Hinamoyo" in Japan, because the Cottage Gardens Company of Queens Village, N.Y. cataloged it as such. Robert T. Brown, their General Manager, was a very close friend of Wilson's, and this nursery was one of the few firms to grow the entire Wilson collection of Kurume hybrids. As late as 1955 it was possible to view acre after acre of specimen Kurume azaleas in nursery rows at the Cottage Gardens fields in St. James, N.Y. To be seen were not just the standard varieties such as 'Hinodegiri', 'Coral Bells', and "Pink Pearl, but the more unusual; 'Aioi', 'Fydesuteyama', "Gosho-zakura", 'Iro-hayama', 'Kasumi-gaseki', 'Rasho-mon', 'Shinseikai', and 'Takasayo' to name but a few. Cottage Gardens also had a nursery in Eureka, California, and in cooperation with the Domoto Brothers Nursery in Hayward, California, introduced many Kurume varieties to the east coast. Some of them were also growing at St. James, such as 'Apricot', 'Bridesmaid', 'Morning Glow', 'Sun Star', and 'Salmon Beauty'. Most of these fields fell prey to the bulldozer.

My father had the good fortune to be Mr. Brown's propagator from 1922 to 1939, and I recall him telling me that Mr. Brown considered both 'Hinomayo' and 'Hinamoyo' to be acceptable. It is only conjecture on my part, but was Brown echoing Wilson in this regard? A catalog of the Cottage Gardens Company, unfortunately undated, but with my father's propagation notes dated June 9, 1934 lists on page 16:

'Hinamoyo'. A slow-growing variety with small, light green foliage and flowers of a clear, soft shade of pink." 'Hinamoyo' or 'Hinomayo', this cultivar can hold its own with any pink.

The Chisholm-Merritt hybrids are unique as a group since they consist of only red and pink flowered varieties. No other group of such a large scale is lacking white, lavender, or purple cultivars. Although many of the pink cultivars have lavender undertones, true lavender is missing. Lee lists fifty nine cultivars in THE AZALEA BOOK, twenty-one are red and thirty-eight pink. All have hose-in-hose flowers except for two cultivars, and as a group they require shade since they have petals of thin substance that sunscald easily. While most of the group are run-of-the-mill, there are a handful that are truly outstanding garden plants.

Perhaps the choicest pink is 'Printemps', with 2¼" perfectly formed hose-in-hose ruffled flowers of light salmon pink (48C) and a pale red blotch (52A). Growing broader than tall, and so heavily flowered that the upper branches over-arch creating a sprawling effect, this is an excellent cultivar for mass planting. Also for naturalistic plantings, where the over-arching branches will inter-mingle with adjacent colors in a layered effect. However, 'Printemps' must be used with caution as it sunscalds easier than most of this group, and can be a disappointing plant when planted in a sunny site. 'Colorado' has the same basic flower color as 'Printemps' but has a more subdued blotch (51B), and the 1-5/8" flowers are unruffled. It is a much neater grower, being compact and mounded and requires less shade. The foliage of 'Colorado' is a definite landscape advantage; large round, lustrous, dark green leaves similar to the Glenn Dale cultivar 'Glacier', but turning coppery-red in autumn. 'Lizette' is a bright pink (55B, blotch 52A) with 1¾" inch flowers that tolerate strong sunlight better than most of this group. 'Ohio' has 1¼" flowers with a lavender undertone (58D, blotch 52A), as does 'Millicent' (58C) with 1½'' flowers. These latter three cultivars are slightly upright in habit and 'Millicent' has exceptional fall color of bright red.

Looking in the opposite direction concerning growth habit, two pink azaleas that should be used more often as low facer plants for dressing down larger types are the Beltsville Dwarf cultivar 'Flower Girl' and 'Vida Brown', a Ferndown hybrid from England. 'Flower Girl' grows more than twice as wide as it will high, and has 1¾" dark pink flowers (61 D, slight blotch 61 C). It is extremely floriferous; the entire plant being covered with flowers when in full bloom. This trait is also possessed by 'Vida Brown' with 2¼" ruffled hose-in-hose rose-pink flowers (5413 slight blotch 54A).

The Kaempferi hybrids are among the most versatile of azaleas; combining large flowers and heavy flowering with stature that is truly shrub-like in comparison to the compact, mounded form of the Kurume hybrids. They are valuable as background plants for the intermediate and lower growing types, and grow large enough to be inter-planted among rhododendrons, mountain laurel, andromeda, clethra, and other plant material used in association with azaleas. While 'Fedora' and 'Favorite' remain two of the most popular pink cultivars, several that should not be overlooked are 'Louise', with 2" dark pink (57D, slight blotch 58B) flowers that carry a trace of violet; 'Cleopatra', a pure pink (52B, slight blotch 58B) with slightly small flowers (1¾"); and 'Mimi', a new cultivar from Holland. Both 'Louise' and 'Cleopatra' are a bit more compact than most Kaempferi cultivars while 'Mimi' has a loose, somewhat open growth habit. 'Mimi', however, is not without charm, for the habit of growth shows the beautiful flowers to greatest advantage. Large (23/4") bright pink (61 D) flowers accented with a red blotch (50A) and wavy margins make 'Mimi' outstanding.

Another pink that has a good red blotch for contrast is the Bobbink & Atkins cultivar 'Mrs. L.C. Fischer', with 1¾" bright pink (49A, blotch 53D) hose-in-hose flowers and a nice compact growth habit. Imagine a hardy azalea with 3¼" semi-double pink (55A) flowers; add a red blotch (51A), that is carried on the petaloid stamens, and that is 'Edna B'. This new cultivar from New Jersey is still relatively unknown, but several New Jersey azalea growers are propagating it heavily so that it should be readily available in a year or two. Heavy flowering and compact habit of growth make this a breath-taking garden plant.

The Linwood Hardy cultivars have some very fine pinks to offer. 'Linwood Blush' has 2¾" semi-double hose-in-hose pink flowers (55A) that are somewhat flat-faced and show to great advantage, and 'Linwood E52' is a light pink (55B) that carries a suggestion of lavender and has 2¼" double flowers. Another hybrid that I assume originated in New Jersey is 'John Cairns' x 'Gumpo'. This plant was growing in the woodland garden at Rutgers University Horticultural Farm No. 2 at New Brunswick, N.J., until it was stolen from the grounds a few years ago. The accession records at Rutgers failed to lead to the donor or hybridizer, but I was fortunate to be allowed to take cuttings for two summers before the plant disappeared. It is late blooming (the same time as 'Kaempo' and low and sprawling, with 2" pink flowers (55B) slightly darker at the margins (55A).

Another fine late blooming pink is 'Corinne Murrah', a Back Acre cultivar that is actually a 2 1/3" white with a pink margin (55A). It has a blotch of deeper rose pink (52A) and carries in the garden as a light pink. The flowers have overlapping lobes and slightly ruffled margins. Another unusual Back Acre selection is 'Dream' x 'Gunrei', with pale pink flowers (55D) that have a slight lavender-pink blotch (62A) and occasional petaloid stamens.

Two recent introductions from Holland that should become popular are 'Royal Pink', with 1¾" pink flowers with a trace of lavender (62A) and long, exerted stamens; and 'Silvester', a dainty, small flowered (1¼") compact grower with bright pink flowers (55C) shading towards red in the throat (52A).

By now, the astute reader will notice that this discourse omits Gable and Glenn Dale hybrids. This is done without intention of slighting these two very important hybrid groups, but I feel that they are too well endowed in gardens and literature to offer further comments here. Hopefully, I have been able to enlighten someone thinking of planting some of the more unusual cultivars, both old or new.

Very often, when discussing newer varieties of azaleas, the remark ''how many different pinks can there be?'' is heard; as if to suggest that any other color is worthy of a spot in the garden but that pink would be superfluous. A large number of gardeners are constantly searching for the truly superior red or white azalea, and often planting new varieties without thought of color, or that a plant collection can be spectacular while being cluttered and disharmonious. This is when pink azaleas, in all their tones and variations, will come to the rescue.