Award of Garden Merit for Deciduous Azaleas

In 2016 the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Award of Garden Merit (AGM), the Society's highest plant accolade, was given to the following deciduous azaleas:

R. 'Chelsea Reach': large, double blooms, pale yellowish white, flushed purplish pink on an upright growing plant.

R. 'Crosswater Red': deep true red flowers, upright plant habit, good fall foliage color.

R. 'Gena Mae' long-lasting, double light greenish yellow flowers with orange edges and center.

R. 'Golden Oriole': flowers brilliant yellow with a deep orange blotch.

R. 'Jock Brydon': scented, large blooms, white with speckled reddish orange blotch, upright plant habit.

R. 'Parkfeuer': large blooms, vivid reddish orange, shaded vivid red.

R. schlippenbachii: broad, pale to deep pink blooms, rarely white, on a tall, upright plant.

The RHS reconfirmed AGM's for the following deciduous azaleas:

'Arneson Gem', 'Coccineum Speciosum', 'Daviesii', 'Fireball', 'Gibraltar', 'Golden Eagle', 'Homebush', 'Irene Koster', 'Jolie Madame', 'Klondyke', 'Narcissiflorum', 'Persil', 'Satan', 'Silver Slipper', 'Soir de Paris', 'Sunte Nectarine', 'Whitethroat', R. arborescence and R. vaseyi

All of the azaleas awarded AGM's are hardy to -4° to -5°F (-15° to -20°C).

Calla or Ethiopian Lily

The Calla or Ethiopian Lily has long been grown as a florist flower, popular at weddings and funerals alike, and easily recognized by the elegant, white trumpet-like spathes. Originating in several parts of Africa, the hardiest species, Zantedeschia aethiopica, can be grown in the garden in rich humus soil in full sun, with ample summer water, and is hardy to Zone 4. Growing from tuberous rhizomes, the glossy, arrow-shaped leaves stand upright to 3 feet, and a long succession of large, white blooms from late spring through summer emerge among them. The "bloom" is actually a modified leaf or bract up to 10 inches long, and the true flower is merely the yellow spadice arising from its center.

Selections have been made for more compact forms, as in 'Little Gem' and 'Apple Court Babe', only 18 and 24 inches tall; an extra hardy, stout-growing type, 'Crowborough', and the unusual 'Green Goddess', with bright green and white handkerchief-like flowers.

There are now interesting colored forms available, but these should be grown as potted plants or lifted in fall, as they are not all hardy. The Golden Calla, Z. elliothiana, has 4-in. blooms in a color range from cream to yellow through orange to deep rust and crimson. Leaves are heart-shaped, often spotted white, and stand 2 to 3 ft. tall. The Pink Calla, Z. rehmannii, has more linear leaves and has 2 to 4-in. blooms from blush thru pink to deepest royal purple. Wow! These make excellent accent plants for patios or conservatories, or may be planted in borders and lifted for winter.

The rhizomes of all can be divided in fall for plants to share, or plant again about 4-in. deep. Be careful to provide good air circulation to avoid fungal diseases, especially in cooler weather, and use caution when handling. The sap can cause skin irritation and all parts of the plant are poisonous to eat. The blooms make excellent long-lasting cut flowers and have no fragrance to compete on the dinner table.

Seven Dwarfs Rhododendrons

In 1977 I purchased from a local nursery which was closing forty R. yakushimanum hybrids, 20 cm tall in pots at what seems now a ridiculous price of 40p each. These remained in pots until we moved to our present garden at Radlett in Hertfordshire in 1982 when they were planted out.

Among this collection were a group named the "Seven Dwarfs", created by Percy Wiseman, the well-known hybridizer at Waterers Nursery. In the ensuing years, these plants have grown considerably and are not so dwarf anymore! The following descriptions are of interest to those starting a rhododendron collection in their garden.

'Bashful'
Registered 1971. R. yakushimanum x 'Doncaster'. Pale pink with a brown blotch. A very hardy plant, needs little attention and goes a long time without watering. Now measures 1.6 meter in height by 2.5 meter width.

'Doc'
Registered 1972. Half yakushimanum and half unknown. Pink. Awarded the HC in 1978. This is a fine plant with magnificent blooms and superb compact habit. One of my favorites, blooming in late May. Now measures 1.5 meter in height by 2.3 meter width.

'Dopey'
Registered 1971. Only a quarter yakushimanum with much other blood in its veins; facetum, dichroanthum and griersonianum. From its appearance one would think it had no yakushimanum in it at all. A deep rich red. Award of Merit 1977, FCC 1979. A favorite at Glendoick, I have read. While this is a fine plant, it suffers badly from mildew here in the South East in our long dry summers. Now measures 1.5 meter in height by 2.5 meter width.

'Grumpy'
Half yakushimanum, half unknown. Award of Merit 1979. Peach fading to cream. This is the only true semi-dwarf plant of the group suitable for a rockery or border. It is prone to bark split caused by the late frosts after periods of warm weather here in Hertfordshire. It has fine foliage with brown indumentum, and has a superb hummock-shape with the excellent tight round yakushaimanum-type truss. Only two of the original four have survived. These now measure 1.0 meter in height by 2.5 meter width.

'Hoppy'
Registered 1972. Half yakushimanum and quarter 'Doncaster' and quarter unknown. Award of Merit 1977. The name 'Hoppy' was used rather than 'Happy' as Rothschild registered a rhododendron of this name in 1940. This is also one of my favorite in flower opening pale lavender, fading to pure white. A wonderful sight in a woodland setting. This is "The Giant" dwarf which, in time, will grow into a plant of some size. Now measure 2.5 meter in height by 3 meter width.

'Sleepy'
Registered 1971. Half yakushimanum, quarter unknown, quarter 'Doncaster'. Pale mauve, spotted brown. This is the runt of the litter which I found very difficult to grow. Despite all my efforts, the leaves always showed signs of cholorsis, and the plants lacked any vitality and slowly died one by one probably due to our very dry summers. One plant, which I gave to a friend locally, survived but in a stunted, miserable condition. I have not seen this plant for sale in the nursery trade for some years which I think speaks for itself.

'Sneezy'
Registered 1971. Half yakushimanum, quarter unknown, quarter 'Doncaster'. This is an easy vigorous plant which layers very readily, with good dark green foliage but is not to my taste as it is a rather garish red/pink which fades badly in sunlight and does not sit easily with the surrounding plants in my collection. If you do try it, I suggest placing it amongst white flowering varieties. Now measures 1.7 meter in height by 2.8 meter width.

Amongst the others in the original collection were: 'Venetian Chimes', 'Percy Wiseman', 'Golden Torch', and 'Chelsea Seventy'. The first three have proved to be excellent garden plants, very hardy, keeping their semi-miniature stature. They are beautifully compact in habit, and will fit in every well with smaller garden schemes. 'Chelsea Seventy' while having a startling flower with strong dichroanthum influence has a leggy habit with not particularly inspiring foliage.

Rhododendron sargentianum

R. sargentianum, a dwarf rhododendron, was first introduced in 1903 by plant explorer Ernest Wilson who found it when he was hunting for plants in the mountains of western Szechwan, China. He found it a few other times growing in the same locality, in exposed areas, at elevations of nine to eleven thousand feet.

This is an ideal plant for a rock garden, or tucked into a little niche in your garden, because at maturity the plant is such a little gem. Plants grow to about 18 inches tall and about that wide; there may be some larger than that, but I've never seen one. They grow slowly but start blooming as small plants. Sometimes plants grown from cuttings will start blooming within two years. It is a twiggy compact plant with small aromatic leaves that are shiny green on top and densely covered with tiny rust colored or dark brown scales.

Typically this rhododendron species will bloom in April or early May. The flowers are small, narrowly tubular with spreading lobes that are held in little trusses of five to seven flowers. The flowers are either white, pale yellow, or lemon yellow. The yellow forms are in greatest demand, but many folks prefer the clones with white flowers.

R. sargentianum
Photo by Ken Cox

This is an alpine rhododendron and, like most alpine rhododendrons, it is absolutely essential that it is grown in a medium with good sharp drainage and in an open location. However, try to provide it with afternoon shade, as it doesn't seem to like the hot sun.

R. sargentianum is one of the finest dwarf rhododendrons you can have in your garden. In the spring it will cover itself with a profusion of flowers and when it is not in flower it is still an attractive little shrub. Don't forget that fragrant foliage! R. sargentianum does not look like a "typical" rhododendron and will be certain to add interest and variety to your garden.

Norfolk Botanical Garden Azaleas

The idea for the Norfolk Botanical Garden came from Thomas P. Thompson, Norfolk's first city manager, and Frederic Heutte, a young horticulturalist. Heutte had a fondness for azaleas and thought Norfolk had a climate uniquely suited for growing the plants. Thompson and Heutte believed that Norfolk could support an azalea garden to rival that found in Charleston, S.C., which even during the depression years drew thousands of tourists annually. The city of Norfolk provided Thompson and Heutte with a seventy-five acre section of high, wooded ground and another seventy-five acres of swampy land in the Little Creek Reservoir area to establish the garden.

Thompson, applied for a grant from the "Works Progress Administration" (WPA) to hire labor needed to turn a swamp full of loblolly pines and snakes into an azalea garden to border the new airport. Since most of the male labor force was at work with other projects for the city, a group of more than 200 African American women and 20 men were assigned to the Azalea Garden project. Laboring from dawn until dusk, the labor crew cleared dense vegetation and carried loads of dirt by hand to build a levee for the lake. The laborers were paid twenty-five cents an hour for their hard work. Within less than a year, a section of underbrush had been cleared and readied for planting. By March of 1939, four thousand azaleas, two thousand rhododendrons, several thousand miscellaneous shrubs and trees and one hundred bushels of daffodils had been planted.

To show the city's support for the Garden, the name was changed in 1955 from Azalea Garden to Norfolk Municipal Gardens. The city also selected Norfolk Municipal Gardens as the scenic backdrop for the International Azalea Festival, and for the annual festival that celebrates the member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In 1958 the Old Dominion Horticultural Society took over maintenance of Norfolk Municipal Gardens and changed the name to Norfolk Botanical Garden. Today a garden visitor will find a quarter of a million azaleas on display!

Companion plant: Hamamelis

Winter flowering shrubs in a garden can really help to lift your spirits on those dark, dreary...and often incessant rainy days from December to the end of February. Some of the very best winter flowering shrubs are the Hamamelis or witch hazel plants.

These plants start blooming after the leaves have dropped in the fall and carry right through into March. Many of you may be familiar with Hamamelis mollis which is yellow in color. The flowers have four petals which are very small short straps of color close to the stem. These flowers are remarkably weather hardy and withstand cold spells...even snow. They bounce back after mild frosts although long periods of exposure to frost can turn them to brown mush.

Many different varieties of Hamamelis are available at your local garden center. The best time to shop for these plants is during the winter months when the garden centers usually showcase what is in bloom. They will often have Hamamelis plants in full bloom at the entrances to the sales area in order to attract customers. Who wouldn't be tempted? Hamamelis plants are not cheap! One has to pay a fairly high price compared to other plants...but they are worth it. Hamamelis are easy to grow and reward you each year with an excellent display of winter color. Small one-gallon plants can cost about $10-$14, while a two-gallon about $20-$24. Plants that have been field grown and recently dug can cost about $35 to $60, depending on size.

The witch hazels come in a variety of flower colors...ranging from the pale yellows ('Pallida') through burnt ambers ('Jelena') to a deep red beauty ('Diane'). Many varieties have a strong and pleasant fragrance. 'Arnold Promise' performs well in the garden, flowers heavily, and its light yellow flowers are scented.

Witch hazels can be grown in most soils that are slightly acid or neutral. They should be grown in either full sun or light shade. They are a natural woodland plant, can grow to around 4m with age, and require very little attention by way of pruning. Witch hazels have gorgeous fall foliage color...ranging from yellow to orange and even red depending on the variety.

Hamamelis species come from North America (H. virginiana), from China (H. mollis), and from Japan (H. japonica). The Chinese and Japanese Witch Hazels are the parents of many hybrids that are available in the nursery trade today. Early settlers in America used the whippy stems of H. virginiana for water divining. Its powers are considered to be derived from its similarities to Corylus, the hazelnut.

 
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