The Asian Influence in My Garden (continued)

The Evergreen Azaleas

The majority of the shrubs in my garden are evergreen azaleas, and all of the evergreen species came originally from the Orient. Among my favorite azaleas are some of the oldest Kurumes, which were developed after 300 years of hybridizing in Japan on the Island of Kyushu. Some of these plants have been introduced from Japan several times, including the familiar "Wilson's Fifty", a collection of Kurumes which were selected by E.H.Wilson and introduced through the Arnold Arboretum in 1919. I particularly enjoy the lovely soft pink of "Pink Pearl" (syn. "Azuma Kagami") which is believed to be hybridized by a Japanese samurai, Mr. Motozo Sakamoto, sometime in the 1800's. In the landscape, Pink Pearl is a perfect companion with pink dogwoods and harmonizes well with "Apple Blossom" (syn. "Ho o"), which is paler pink with somewhat smaller flowers. A new hybrid which I particularly admire is one by Dr. Sandra McDonald of Hampton, Virginia, called "Dreamsicle". Its single flowers are a blend of those same warm pink tones, but have a mottled effect reminiscent of melting ice cream.

Warm weather is here to stay when the lavender pink azalea in my front yard near the well is in full bloom. I think the variety might be the Kaempferi hybrid, Gretchen , but I didn't keep name tags when I was 5 or 6 years old. One additional thing about this azalea is its pronounced fragrance which perfumes the entire yard for several weeks. Many azaleas and rhododendrons are very fragrant.

Purple Azaleas
Hyatt and Dog
Me and my dog, Lucy, near the well house
Purple Kaempferi Azalea: Gretchen

Among the larger growers, "Magnifica", with its large fragrant white flowers and bold red flare is a real show stopper, unless we have a harsh winter during which it tends to lose its flower buds. Magnifica has been listed as R. mucronatum var. "Sekidera", once considered to be a species, but now also believed to be a hybrid from southern Japan. A scarce and unusual mucronatum hybrid developed by the late Roy Matlack in Arlington, Virginia, is being distributed under the name "August to Frost". As its name implies, this plant usually starts blooming in August and continues until frost. Its beautiful white bloooms are are a treat in the fall season, and it seems to be a bit late for petal blight. Another old favorite is the fragrant lavender spider azalea, "Koromo Shikibu", which is sometimes listed as a Kurume hybrid but is now considered to be a hybrid of the species macrosepalum. My favorite of the spider azaleas, though, is a Koromo Shikibu hybrid developed by Dave Wagner in Burtonsville, Maryland, and has been distributed under the label "Wagner's White Spider #1". "Anna Kehr" is a beautiful double pink developed by Dr. August Kehr, past President of the American Rhododendron Society.

Anna Kehr Koromo Shikibu
A fragrant species
Anna Kehr
A new double pink
Koromo Shikibu
A fragrant "Spider" type
Every spring, I look forward to the opulent display of another old timer, "Cleopatra", a large grower with striking single flowers of watermelon pink. Cleopatra is a hybrid of Japanese species R. kaempferi, and after nearly forty years in my yard, required annual pruning to keep it below the windows on second floor of the house. However, I had to cut it back severely two years ago when I moved the plant to make way for a new deck. I gradually worked my Cleopatra with its enormous root ball, inch by inch across the lawn over a period of several weeks during midsummer heat. The plant is recovering, and so am I. Another robust favorite which will eventually take over the rest of my back yard is the brilliant pink Glenn Dale variety "Dream" which B.Y. Morrison, the first Director of the National Arboretum, developed from the Chinese species, R. simsii. An excellent companion which will hold its own against Dream and maybe even kudzu is Joe Gable's hardy white hybrid, "Rose Greeley". Gable developed this large flowered hose-in-hose white after 16 years of focused hybridization using primarily the hardy lavender Korean species, R. poukhanense. Gable had a goal, and achieved it admirably.

Cleopatra Cleopatra
Dream, a Glen Dale Hybrid
Cleopatra and Dream
Dream and Cleopatra before I built the deck.
There are so many excellent azalea species in the evergreen series from Japan, and some of my favorites include R. indicum var."Balsaminaeflorum", R. kiusianum var. "Komo Kulshan", and R. nakaharai var. "Mt. Seven Star" which have made nice pot plants and if I were a better gardener, they might make good Bonsai subjects. There are also numerous hybrid groups introduced from direct Asian sources including the enormous wealth of late blooming Satsukis and Dr. John Creech's new Kurume introductions. And of course, there are all of those hybrid groups which we have been developing here in the United States which are descendants of the Asian species such as the Glenn Dales, the Back Acres like "Margaret Douglas", the Linwoods like "Hardy Gardenia", the Robin Hills like "Nancy of Robin Hill", the Greenwoods, the Harris hybrids, and so on. Azalea collectors only lack one thing, space.
Nancy of Robin
Hardy Gardenia Margaret Douglas
Nancy of Robin Hill
Hardy Gardenia
Margaret Douglas

The Asian Influence in My Garden

Directory of Pages:
  1. Introduction
  2. Asian Rhododendron Species
  3. Evergreen Azaleas
  4. Deciduous Azaleas

My General Garden Page