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Potomac Valley Chapter ARS

Potomac Valley Chapter
of the
American Rhododendron Society
Newsletter: Summer 2002

Program: "Ask the Experts" plus a Cutting Workshop, Auction & Exchange

Do your rhododendrons look ill after the prolonged drought this summer? Are bugs eating your azaleas? Would you like some advice on spraying, transplanting, pruning, or propagation? Bring your questions and your problems to our next meeting and ask a panel of experts for their advice. Ed Reiley, our ARS National President and author of the book Success with Rhododendrons and Azaleas, will be joined by other chapter experts who will be able answer all your questions.

We will also have a hands-on workshop on how to root rhododendron cuttings. If you have a favorite plant you would like to propagate, bring some cuttings and a few plastic pots with you. If you have choice varieties that you can share, enclose 3 to 5 cuttings in a plastic bag and wrap the ends with a moist paper towel. Some varieties may be auctioned off and we may also ask for others to be donated to our Plants for Members program but most of them will be distributed to attendees.

As you probably know, Margaret White has given her 13-acre estate to Fairfax County for a horticultural center. Several of us retirees are making tentative plans for a volunteer "Friends" group to help Margaret with her garden beginning in September. Officers and anyone willing to help in chapter activities are invited to stay for a Board Meeting afterwards.

Refreshment Duty, A - H: Persons with last names that begin with A through H are asked to bring a dessert to share with others. Coffee will be provided.

Annual Fall Banquet: October 20, 2002 4:00 - 8:00 PM
Theme: "Call of the Wild"

We have an outstanding fall banquet planned for this year that will focus on rhododendrons in the wild. The location and menu will be the same as last year: JR's Stockyards Inns at Tysons Corner in McLean and the entree choices are either Prime Rib or Grilled Salmon.

We are very excited to have obtained Steve Hootman for our speaker who is the Co-Director of the renowned Rhododendron Species Foundation in Federal Way, Washington. He will share his slides and exciting commentary about recent plant collecting trips to find rhododendron species in the wild including his expedition to China with Peter Cox featured in the Winter 2002 ARS Journal.

We will have seedlings of rhododendron species for favors and rare plants for sale at our auction, the proceeds of which will be used to support our speaker's expenses. Details and registration materials will be sent out in September along with membership renewal notices.

Special Thanks to Retiring Officers: Troy Gibbs and Gray Carter

We wish to thank Troy Gibbs and Gray Carter for all their hard work and assistance as Chapter Officers. Gray was our Treasurer for many years and Troy was our Secretary, and although both have asked to step down they will continue to assist with other chapter activities. Phyllis Rittman has agreed to serve as our new Treasurer and Amy McDaniel will be our new Secretary. Welcome!

District 9 Meeting in Annapolis: April 24, 25, & 26, 2003

Chapter officers have been working hard on plans for our District 9 Meeting next April in Annapolis, MD. This will be a mini-convention for the ARS Chapters in our region which include our own Potomac Valley as well as friends from the Mason Dixon and Middle Atlantic Chapters.

John C. White Our current plans begin with a Thursday evening boat ride around the Annapolis harbor. On Friday and Saturday, we will tour public and private gardens in the area including the National Arboretum. We still are working on details regarding banquets and speakers, but you can count on a fantastic weekend including a great plant sale featuring rare rhododendrons and azaleas. We have propagated many hard-to-find Gable, Delp, and Haag hybrids. We will also have quite a few rooted cuttings available of the spectacular, warm pink hybrid, "John C. White" (pictured), named in honor of Margaret White's late husband. Raised by Ray and Jane Goodrich from a cross made by George Ring, "John C. White" won Best in Show with its first debut at our flower show.

Report on the Chapter Field Trip to Roan Mountain and the Smokies

R. catawbiense on Roan Mountain On June 16th, members of our chapter converged in Townsend, TN, to start a week long trip in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee to see rhododendrons and azaleas in the wild. The first day we hiked along the Appalachian Trail near Roan Mountain (pictured) which was in peak bloom. Next, we drove down the Blue Ridge Parkway admiring more vistas, waterfalls, and wildflowers. On June 20th, we met up with members of the Middle Atlantic Chapter in Townsend, TN, to make the famed hike to Gregory Bald. The azaleas were magnificent and so was the weather. We all returned home tired, but with lots of pictures and great memories. Perfection!

Carefree Companion Plants for the Rhododendron Garden by Don Hyatt

Rhododendrons and azaleas form the main structure of my garden but I also appreciate all the companion plants that provide color and interest throughout the year. Rhododendron collections can sometimes look like a nursery sales area: plants and labels all lined out in rows. However, by adding undulating borders of carefree perennials, wildflowers, and carefully selected companion plants, that collection can become a naturalistic garden and an inviting landscape.

Hellebore in Bloom For many years I planted clumps of daylilies and hostas for summer color but these plants are favorite foods of the deer. Shade tolerant perennials with few predators are hard to find but among my favorites right now are hellebores since nothing seems to eat them. These very hardy plants keep their attractive evergreen foliage for most of the year, especially if protected from winter sun and wind. My hellebores begin blooming in late February as shown in the picture to the right and last for months. Even after a hard freeze, the blossoms perk back up as soon as it thaws. If only our early rhododendrons and azaleas were that resilient to frost!

Hellebore flowers come in many colors and often have bold spots and patterns. What looks like petals of the flower are actually enlarged sepals which may be why they last so long. Personally, I prefer whites and pinks, but they are many lovely shades of cream, green, and yellow as well as reds and deeper forms that appear almost black. My red hellebore is striking on a cold winter day when lit from behind by the late afternoon sun. Although some hellebore varieties do hold their flowers upright, most of them seem to have nodding flowers. I try to plant my hellebores on a bank so I can gaze into the blossoms from below so I can easily see the delicate structure and stamens inside.

In my own landscape, I have planted pink hellebores in front of early flowering rhododendrons including the pink species R. metternichii "Wada's Form", and two favorite lepidote hybrids, the clear pink "Olga Mezzit" and the white "Balta". I backed up the planting with a great yellow witch hazel hybrid, "Arnold's Promise" to complete the picture. My neighbor has an attractive bed of a hellebore species with finely divided leaves and yellow-green flowers called Heleborus foetidus. These really compliment the shrubs behind, the delicate, lemon-yellow Buttercup Winterhazel, Corylopsis pauciflora. Another combination I like is my creamy-yellow hellebore near the pale yellow species, Rhododendron keiskei, and a greenish-yellow lepidote hybrid called "Shamrock".

Daffodils and narcissus are great companion plants in a rhododendron garden and I have them planted everywhere, either in broad sweeps along the shrub border or scattered accent clumps. I especially like the dwarf golden yellow "Tete-a-Tete" which looks like a perfect miniature daffodil, only 6 inches tall. This variety is a great perennializer, multiplying rapidly with little or no care. Dwarf daffodils are great companions with other perennials since they do not compete heavily with plants that leaf out later in the season. Since daffodils are toxic to most animals and their roots and foliage discourage pests, I plant them in between all my hostas and daylilies to deter the voles.

Ferns are excellent in the shady garden and I am thankful the deer completely avoid my very favorite, the evergreen Christmas Fern or Polystichum acrostichoides. On a bank beside some garden steps, I also planted the miniature Ebony Spleenwort Fern, Asplenium platyneuron, so I could appreciate the delicate fronds as I ascend the stairs. Dwarf plants are always more effective when they can be viewed at eye level without bending over.

R. makinoi A landscape combination that I particularly like in my garden is the Japanese Painted Fern, Athyrium niobium "Pictum", planted at the base a rhododendron species from Japan with very narrow leaves, R. makinoi (pictured). The subtle coloring in the fern foliage, shades of gray-green and silver with hints of burgundy, compliments the narrow indumented leaves and lovely pink flowers of R. makinoi. The new growth of this choice rhododendron is fuzzy white as it emerges but later in the season as foliage expands, the whorls of leaves turn silvery gray and look like a fireworks display. Eventually, as the fuzz on the surface wears off, the leaves become deep green.

Anemone nemorosa 'Vestal' One of my favorite companion plants is Anemone nemorosa (pictured), a European wildflower that grows very well in moist acid soil. I have two forms, one with blue daisy-like flowers and yellow centers, and a pure white with a double center called "Vestal". The flowers bloom later and are a bit more delicate than the bulb Anemone blanda (which I also like) and they also spread by underground rhizomes. I saw the double white form of Anemone nemorosa for the first time as a ground cover under Rhododendron yakushimanum plants at the Cecil Smith garden in Portland, OR. The small flowers formed a carpet of delicate white stars among the rhododendrons. They blooms for weeks and I have now started some under my R. makinoi plants too. Anemone nemorosa seems to be pest free and since the foliage dies down in early summer, the area can either be mulched or planted with shallow rooted annuals such as impatiens or ageratum. The deer and bunnies do not like ageratum.

Sedges and various ornamental grasses are gaining in popularity, and I have started including some of the lower growing forms in my landscape. I am fond of several dwarf sedges that are doing quite well with minimal direct sun. They survived the drought and seem to be pest free. One of my favorites is the dwarf Carex hachinoensis "Evergold" which I planted beside a rock and a low, creeping evergreen azalea, R. nakaharae. The intermingling of the orange red azalea flowers and the narrow yellow foliage of the carex is very effective. Another favorite ornamental grass is the graceful variegated Hakone grass, or Hakonechloa macra "Aureola". It spreads slowly and grows only 8 to 10 inches tall with drooping, variegated leaves in a bright yellow. According to some of the literature, this grass is supposed to be difficult to establish in hot climates, but my clump has been very happy in a site with rather heavy, wet soil. For color contrast, I planted the mahogany Heuchera "Palace Purple" nearby and a yellow Knap Hill azalea "Goldflakes" behind. Eventually I will add to the grouping my red fern-leaf Japanese maple, Acer palmatum dissectum "Garnet".

I have started collecting tree peonies now since they can take more shade than the herbaceous forms and are not bothered by the deer. Their spectacular blooms can measure 10 inches across and make wonderful accents in the rhododendron garden, but more on these later. If you have favorite care-free companion plants in your garden, share your thoughts with us or bring a pot or two to our next plant sale or auction. Sometimes companion plants bring higher prices than rhododendrons!

Donald W. Hyatt, Editor

Copyright © Donald W. Hyatt