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Potomac Valley Chapter ARS

Potomac Valley Chapter
of the
American Rhododendron Society
Newsletter: Fall 2001

Loss of a Great Friend

It is with great sadness that I must tell you of the passing of Dr. August Kehr on September 27, 2001. "Augie" was one of the founding members of our chapter, a past President of the ARS, and recipient of both the Gold Medal and Pioneer Achievement Awards from our organization. He was one of the greats in modern horticulture.

Augie was an innovative hybrider, working with many plants including azaleas, rhododendrons, and magnolias. He utilized a chemical called colchicine to develop polyploid plants that would not only have heavier flower substance but would also have the proper genetic qualities that could advance some sterile breeding lines. Augie was a great scientist, a wonderful plantsman, a kind and generous person, and a good friend. He will be greatly missed.

Chapter Seed Exchange

In recent years, our chapter has sponsored a local seed exchange but due to the concerns over the mail system, we may try to arrange an alternative method for seed distribution. If you have seeds to donate, please contact me, your chapter president: Don Hyatt.

Our past seed exchange chairman George Ring has not been well this fall, so we do want to thank him for all of his hard work as we try to carry on his program. We wish you a speedy recovery, George!

"Good Doer" Rhododendrons" - Some Thoughts by Don Hyatt

From year to year, our East Coast gardens are stressed with every possible extreme. In some summers we have had blistering heat with temperatures exceeding 90 to 100 degrees and no rain for months. Remember the disastrous summer of 1999? I was hauling buckets of rinse water from the laundry to try to save parched azaleas and rhododendrons drooping in the garden, all the while worrying that my well would run dry. In contrast, the past two summers have been wonderful with mild temperatures and a surplus of rain. However, some plants with inadequate drainage experienced root rot from excessive moisture.

Our winters can stress plants too. In some years we've seen great temperature fluctuations, mild days as high as 70 degrees followed by drops into the teens. Such extremes are difficult for even for hardy plants since they often break dormancy before winter is over and then are damaged by the next cold snap. In some winters we can have heavy snowfalls, yet in others there have been prolonged cold spells with no protective snow cover at all. Such conditions can desiccate the foliage and cause freeze damage at the root system. Some winters fell below zero.

It all averages out I suppose, but our gardens rarely experience an "average" growing season. The rhododendrons that grow well in our region over the long term are truly rugged plants, and the ones we should call our "good doers" for the Potomac Valley.

So many rhododendron varieties that I have tried over the past 40 years have succumbed to environmental stresses. The late Newton Edwards, one of the founding members of our Potomac Valley Chapter in the 1960's, often talked of publishing a list, "Things We Tried That Died". Newton kept a bushel basket full of tags as a testimonial to rhododendrons he had tried to grow in his Annandale garden that didn't live. We often laughed because I had an equally long list, but we wondered if it were wise to publish such folly thereby documenting how much money we had wasted on our hobby. Instead, it is probably better to focus on the much smaller list of rugged plants that stand the test of time.

In my garden, the rhododendron hybrids developed by Joe Gable in Stewartstown Pennsylvania are clearly the best. The pale pink hybrids "Cadis" and "Caroline", as well as the white "Disca" are well over 30 years old now and never fail to bloom. Most of the Dexter hybrids including "Great Eastern"and "Gigi", and Dexter derivatives such as "Wheatley", "Bell Ringer", and "Janet Blair" and also great plants for me. In general, most plants that were hybridized in the East tend to grow well for us.

Surprisingly, very few of these good doers are ever found in local nurseries so in order to make good plants available to our members, our chapter has begun a "Plants for Members Program." We are trying to propagate and distribute good doer rhododendrons, especially hard to find hybrids such as those developed by Joe Gable. I have a number of cuttings that I have tried to root from plant material donated by Jane Goodrich and George Miller. These will be offered at the District IX meeting in 2003. We also want to add to the collection of Gable Hybrids at Margaret White's Garden, the wonderful13-acre estate that she has given to Fairfax County for a horticultural park. If you want to become involved, please let us know.

In addition to being good doers in our gardens, it is also helpful to identify plants that are able to tolerate the expanding wildlife population. In recent years, my yard has become the local salad bar for deer, rabbits, voles, shrews, squirrels, and chipmunks. So far, neither the deer nor the bunnies have been eating my lepidote rhododendrons, the smaller scaly leafed rhododendrons such as the blush pink "Windbeam", the deeper pink "Olga", or the compact, double white "Weston's White Diamond". Most lepidotes have aromatic foliage and that characteristic may make them less savory to certain animals.

Rhododendron species with fuzzy or indumented foliage, such as R. metternichii, R. makinoi, R. yakushimanum and yak hybrids like "Mist Maiden" and "Ken Janek" seem less favored by the critters, too. I have raised a number of seedlings from a cross I made of R. yakushimanum and R. metternichii over 20 years ago and they are never bothered by anything. The plants are rock hardy, able to withstand the coldest winters and hottest summers, yet the blush pink and white flowers never fail to bloom in early spring. I recently acquired a small plant of "Ruth Davis", one of Joe Gable's hybrids from a similar cross. Like my seedlings, "Ruth Davis" has that same beautiful shiny dark green foliage with thick white indumentum underneath. Every plant I have seen from this cross has wonderful foliage and would make a spectacular year-round landscape plant even if it never bloomed.

Many regional introductions are among my favorites right now, such as Hank Schannen's "Solidarity" and "Anita Gehnrich" by past ARS President, Bud Gehnrich. Both of these are from the same cross, "Jean Marie de Montague" by R. yakushimanum, and open deep pink but eventually fade to blush. For tall growers, I like Betty Hager's white "Hardy Giant" with its huge leaves, and the lovely pale lavender "Great Smokey", a "Hardy Giant" hybrid raised by Russell and Velma Haag in North Carolina. For lepidotes, Dr. August Kehr's lepidote cross of the tetraploid form of R. carolinianum "Epoch" with the difficult blue species, R. augustinii, has pale pale, icy lavender trusses that are beautiful in their own right. However, this plant has the potential to breed hardy blues for our region. All of these hybrids were developed on the East Coast and appear to be good doers for the Potomac Valley.

It is always fun to try new things. Some of the Hachmann hybrids from Germany such as the red and white "Fantastica" have done very well for me, but others including "Hachmann's Charmant" with its pale pink blossoms and striking red blotch have been quite difficult. Sometimes the key is finding the right microclimate for touchy plants, so I don't give up until I've killed it at least three times. A northeast exposure with afternoon shade is favored in my garden.

For the truly good doers, we need to evaluate plants growing in a wide range of gardening conditions and over much longer periods of time. How plants seem after 5 or even 10 years is nice to know, but if the plants of a certain variety continue to get more beautiful each year in everyone's garden even when they are 20, 30, or 40 years old, now that is a good doer rhododendron!

I hope your garden has been growing well, and that you have managed to avoid the hungry plagues that regularly visit me. We'd like to know about your favorite plants and good doers, and any hints you have for successful gardening. Tell us what you tried that died. I bet many of us have already killed it too!

Problems with Deer?

If you haven't been bothered by deer yet, it is just a matter of time. Living inside the Capital Beltway within view of Tyson's Corner, I never thought I would have a deer problem but I stand corrected. The animals are in my garden on almost a daily basis right now. I have tried sprays, barriers, light fencing, and a number of other deterrents but they are not sufficient. Deer are vigilant and find a way into the garden eventually.

Norman and Jean Beaudry report great success with a product offered by Benner's Gardens in Pennsylvania. This company's deer fence is 8' high, made of heavy gauge, black plastic mesh, and really works. For more information, contact the firm by one of the following methods:

Phone: 800-753-4660
FAX: 800-323-4186
Internet: www.bennersgardens.com

The company can also be contacted by mail at the following address:
Benner's Gardens
201 Fayette St.
Conshohocken, PA 19428

Donald W. Hyatt, Editor

Copyright © Donald W. Hyatt