QBARS - v32n4 What are Eden Hybrids?

What are Eden Hybrids?
W. David Smith, Spring Grove, Pennsylvania

Whether we believe in the Garden of Eden or not, we must admit that in the beginning there were the rhododendron and the azalea, as there was the rose. However, it took the hybridizer to turn the rose into the 'Peace' and the "Pristine'. Likewise, it took the hybridizer to give us 'Kate Waterer', 'John Waterer', and 'Gomer Waterer' rhododendrons.
I believe in the Garden of Eden, and after twenty-eight years in the hybridizing of rhododendrons and azaleas, I decided that the result of my labors, both good and bad, would be known as Eden Hybrids. I have raised on the average several hundred to two thousand seedlings per year.
Generally, my hybridizing objective has been to produce plants hardy to the extremes of temperature in south central Pennsylvania, where it averages about 40 inches of precipitation fairly well distributed throughout the year, and it is not unusual to have several days each winter with temperatures below 0° F.
One point further regarding nomenclature: with the many thousands of seedlings grown, it became necessary to group those saved (one to three out of a hundred grown) into groups, such as the "Fiery Group". These groups of azaleas are not all siblings, but were grouped by color. For example, in the case of the "Fiery Group", their colors vary from a strong shrimp (because of the yellow gleam) to the predominating deep pink to a red cast. This group ranges from 'Michael Fiery', a 4" frilled single, to 'Mary Ann Fiery', a 3½" full double, to 'Leisl Fiery', a frilled 4" with rosette center. 'Carolyn Fiery' and 'Donald Fiery' are perhaps the most exciting of this series. This nomenclature keeps them in my mind as a group.

R. 'Leisl Fiery'
R. 'Leisl Fiery'
Photo by W. David Smith

Now a word about the luck of the amateur hybridizer. Many years ago, Mr. Joseph Gable told me that more work should be done with white azaleas. Because of his suggestion, one of the crosses I made was that of the hardy 'Delaware Valley White' and the not-so-hardy Satsuki 'Shinkigen', P. I. 227099, 1955. The idea was to get a large late-blooming white with the hardiness of 'Delaware Valley White'. Alas, not one of the progeny was white, which probably will not surprise the experienced hybridizer. However, in spite of this disappointment, about a dozen plants were saved. These became known as "The Dog Group" with shades of pink, red, and purple. The surprise was that their flowers were hose-in-hose, while the parents are both single. Now since these plants are selfed and crossed, I expect not only to meet my objective, but have many additional surprises.
I now mention the "Evergreenex Group". Here the hardy R. obtusum var. kaempferi , P. I. 227573, was used at the suggestion of Dr. John L. Creech. He collected this plant on Hokkaido, Japan, in 1955. It was crossed with P. I. 235984, a hybrid of R. scabrum x R. mucronatum , and with some other azaleas. These have also produced hardy evergreen plants with exciting blooms.
My most satisfying accomplishment, perhaps, was my success in creating hardy evergreen azaleas with single blooms, 4" across having rosette centers, all with good substance and colors ranging from pure white and red to shrimp and coral.

The word hardiness when applied to azaleas and rhododendrons is relative and must take into consideration drought, heat, cold and the condition of the plant. I have found when the native dogwood fails to bloom and the azaleas and rhododendrons, they have a certain hardiness but not enough. In July 1977 after five days 96° F, we had a drought for thirty days. There were thirteen days of no rain, strong winds and a day temperature of 65° F in mid-November; on November 24th the temperature dropped to 24° F. With the plants in this dried out condition they went into the winter. This was followed by an ice storm on December 5th that covered the plants with ice holding them prostrate for three weeks. On January 11, 1978, while the temperature was only 7° F, forty m.p.h. winds gave us a wind chill of -45° F according to Margaret Pascoe, local weather reporter. In spite of these weather extremes, not one Eden Hybrid was lost or failed to bloom.

For the past twelve years I have given much of my attention to developing azaleas of good foliage with exciting blooms that will bloom inside as house plants over a long period of time, even as much as ten months, and do not require a period of cold dormancy. Since such a plant has only a few to as many as ten or twelve blooms at one time, the flowers must be large and exciting.
One important point: such plants are grown in nothing but a good peat moss and perlite or coarse sand. Use no fertilizer at any time. When transplanting, loosen the root ball, sides and bottom to expose the roots and never use a pot more than two sizes larger. I use plastic azalea pots only. It will be found that each little twig will bear flowers and the plant will remain a controllable size if it is not transplanted more often than every three years. The difficulty originally was to propagate such plants. This necessitates alight feeding of 21-7-7 fertilizer, but at the sacrifice of blooms and a controllable plant. These plants remain in a cool greenhouse all summer for me, but may be set out on a terrace. If one isn't fortunate enough to have a greenhouse they may be placed in a sunny window of a cool room of the house on a tray of water with pebbles to keep the plant above the water. This will provide the necessary humidity around the plant.
While I have been developing specific varieties of azaleas for use as house or greenhouse plants, the handling of them is equally important. It has occurred to me that some of what I call florists' varieties, that are sold in this area at Easter time and are not hardy, might have good results if repotted and my growing procedure followed. It is regrettable that so many of these fine Easter plants are set outside where they are not hardy and are allowed to die. I have not had time to conduct trials of these plants, however.
I would like to express my appreciation for their many kindnesses to Dr. John I. Creech, the late Mr. William Englehaupt (then propagator at the National Arboretum), Mrs. Margaret Pascoe and George Miller.