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Potomac Valley Chapter
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American Rhododendron Society
Newsletter: Early Spring 2005

Photographing Flowers and Gardens” by Joshua Taylor, Jr.
March 20th, 1:00 – 4:00PM

“Photographing Flowers and Gardens” by Joshua Taylor, Jr. March 20th, 1:00 – 4:00PM

Our March 20th meeting will focus on photography. Our distinguished speaker is Joshua Taylor, Jr., an award-winning photographer who has over thirty years experience in newspaper and magazine photography. He is on the faculty of the Corcoran School of Art and Design as well as the Smithsonian Studio Arts Program, and is an instructor at the US Botanic Garden too. Josh is a member of the Garden Writers Association, the Fujifilm Talent Team, and the Northern Virginia Photographic Society. He has also worked at Penn Camera. His specialty is flower and landscape photography and we are very excited to have him speak at our meeting. Come learn from an expert how to take pictures that have the “WOW factor”.

Josh is not only a skilled photographer but also a superb teacher who will reinforce his points with lovely photographs, wonderful explanations, and touches of humor too. Learn some principles of composition like “power points” and the “rule of thirds” that help you better position the subject and horizon in a picture. Look for diagonal lines that can add drama and excitement. Discover how to simplify compositions to get rid of extraneous elements. Before you take a picture, look for that one special flower that says, “Photograph me!”

You will be amazed when Josh shows how he uses simple materials like plexiglass, mirrors, aluminum foil, and coat hangers to help capture his gorgeous “magazine cover” photographs.

We ask you to bring a few of your own photos so Josh can use them in a critique period at the end. It helps reinforce the concepts he has taught.

For anyone interested in turning some photographs into greeting cards or calendars, Josh recommends the following source:

The Photographer’s Edge
855-C Garden of the Gods Road
Colorado Springs, CO 80907

After Josh’s presentation, you may also want to enroll in one of the workshops he teaches locally.

Friends of the White Garden

We are finally getting a formal Friends Group organized for Margaret White’s Garden. As most of you probably know, Margaret transferred title of her 13-acre estate to Fairfax County so that it can become a regional Horticulture Center.

The first Friends Meeting is scheduled at Green Spring Gardens Park on Wednesday evening, March 30th, from 7:00 – 8:30 PM. David Vismara of McCrillis Gardens will be the featured speaker.

The Park Authority will be holding a public planning workshop at Green Spring Gardens the prior week on Tuesday evening, March 22, at 7:00 PM. They will be requesting public input into the master plan for development of the White Garden.

We in the Potomac Valley Chapter should try to get behind these activities. It can be our way to say “Thanks” to Margaret for her generosity over so many years, including the wonderful gift of her garden to our community. We really need your support, so try to attend these meetings.

Margaret will be celebrating her 99th birthday on March 31 so wish her a Happy Birthday too!

Chapter Field Trip to Roanoke: May 9-10

We hope that many of you will be able to join us on the proposed Chapter Field Trip to Roanoke this May. The trip will be approximately the same one planned for the post Convention tour in 2006, except we are not renting a bus and will be driving ourselves. We are anxious for our members to participate this year since we will need you to help stage, and then clean up after the convention.

The dates will be Monday, May 9 and Tuesday, May 10, 2005. Since this is comparable to the week prior to the 2006 convention dates, it will be better for seeing peak bloom of the Delp and Haag rhododendrons in Paul’s garden. More details will be available at our March 20th meeting and in a later mailing, but below is the proposed schedule:

Monday, May 9, 2005

  • Meet in Charlottesville. Have lunch at historic Michie Tavern around 11:00 AM.
  • After lunch, tour nearby Monticello (house and gardens) from 12:00 – 3:00 PM
  • Drive from Charlottesville to Roanoke for the evening, staying at either the Colony House Motel or the Quality Inn Tanglewood. These two hotels are south of Roanoke, off of I-581 where it becomes Rt. 220. This is very close to Paul James and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Dinner is on your own at the nearby Western Sizzlin’ Steak House, Red Lobster, or nearby Tanglewood Mall.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
  • Car pool to Paul’s garden, 8:00 – 11:00 AM. Return to motel to get cars and some lunch.
  • Drive north on the Blue Ridge Parkway stopping at Thunder Ridge, Peaks of Otter, and any other place where rhododendrons, native azaleas, and wildflowers are in bloom.
  • Leave the Parkway at Buena Vista, Steele’s Tavern, or Waynesboro to get on I-81 north. Return home or stop somewhere for the evening. If the weather is good and the NC Blue Ridge Parkway is open, some may head south to Asheville to see the vaseyi, which should be in peak bloom about that same time.

Paul James and the Delp Hybrids

When we took our first chapter field trip in May of 2003 to see the garden of Paul James, we were curious about the rhododendron hybrids of the late Weldon Delp. Paul has probably the largest collection of those plants anywhere, but few of us had never seen a single one. The color insert in this issue is devoted to the Delps in Paul’s garden.

Because I had listened to some criticism from others about Weldon Delp’s hybridizing program, I had already formed an unflattering opinion of his work, but that soon changed. People claimed Delp had named too many plants, and had not properly tested them. Weldon did live in the western Pennsylvania at Harrisville (zone 4), but he raised his seedlings in a greenhouse. Since his plants were not grown outdoors, surely they must be tender. Weldon did start with hardy stock though, species like maximum, yakushimanum, and brachycarpum, and hybrids from Gable.

By the time Weldon stopped hybridizing in 1993, he and his wife Ginny had registered 389 of his hybrids. The critics chided, “How could so many plants be worthy of registration?” The truth is that Weldon started hybridizing in 1947, and by the time he made that last cross 46 years later he must have evaluated untold thousands of seedlings over many years. He made scores of crosses every season, and even if he picked just 10 or 12 plants out of all those crosses each year, he could easily have 500 choice selections by that time.

That same criticism had been made about the 454 named Glenn Dale azaleas. I don’t grow any bad ones; in fact, I would love to have them all.

Weldon knew he was not weeding out the less hardy forms but not everyone lives in zone 4. He was just anxious to see those first blooms and could get faster results by using his greenhouse.

He really perfected seed growing techniques, and that accelerated his hybridizing program too. Whereas most of us will take 4 to 5 years to see those first blooms from seed, Weldon flowered his seedlings in just 14 to 18 months! With the best of those, he would make more crosses. He would make the hybrids and left it to others to determine their adaptability. He said the best plants would survive because people want to grow them.

Ginny Delp did keep meticulous records on her computer so we know much about the crosses Weldon made. She not only recorded parentage, but also flower color, when they bloomed, and every other detail one would need to officially register the hybrids with the ARS.

Ginny also had a gift for naming plants. In fact, she came up with an amazing 1286 clever names for their hybrids, although perhaps only a third of those were formally registered. Anyone who has seen the complex pedigrees in many crosses, such as our own seed exchange this year, will know how convenient short names might be for anyone writing nametags. For instance, wouldn’t it be nice to have something short to reference the Beaudry’s cross that was selection #54 in our seed exchange this year? The parentage is listed below doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it?

54. [(Brookville x Mary Garrison) x (Yellow 9-59 x Dexter’s Tan)] x [Kay Kay x Apritan]

If I get a fragrant yellow or soft pink from that cross when my seedlings bloom, I will likely reference the plant by something manageable too.

Fortunately, Paul James became enamored with the hybrids of Weldon Delp early on, and has now helped preserve them for us to enjoy. He must have 700 to 800 selections and once you see them in bloom, you will agree they are extraordinary.

I was just in Roanoke on February 21 checking out details for our field trip and stopped by to see Paul. He has been working hard all winter to get his garden ready for the garden tours. It was so immaculate and his rhododendrons have the heaviest bud set in years. This spring should really be spectacular. You won’t want to miss the trip!

The 2005 Seed Exchange

Once again we had tremendous interest in the chapter seed exchange. I mailed out nearly 600 packages of seed this year! Almost every seed type except a few open pollinated evergreen azaleas was requested, but there were some clear favorites. This spring, please make some crosses so we can have exciting things to offer next year.

One of the most popular selections was the R. schlippenbachii from Bruce and Marianne Feller. Many of us had seen that deep pink beauty take top honors at the Middle Atlantic Chapter truss show. It was certainly the finest form I had ever seen. It seemed that nearly every person who purchased seed requested a packet of that variety. The seed capsules were not full, and as I divided up available seed, there were mot many seeds in a packet, but I tried to give most people a few to try. Please tend them carefully, and if you end up with more plants than you need, bring the extras to a chapter meeting and give them away.

The other most popular seed sources were the native azaleas, especially the ‘Big Red’ form of R. calendulaceum from the Big Yellow Mountain area. We haven’t had a good red calendulaceum in our seed exchange before. Other popular seeds included calendulaceum forms like ‘Jacob’s Coat’ and ‘Roan Molten Lava’, R. alabamense, Mike Creel’s crosses, and Vijay Chandhok’s R. campanulatum seed from India. Happy growing!

Trip to Roan Mountain and Gregory Bald

We are planning another chapter field trip to Roan Mountain and Gregory Bald this year, a joint activity with the Ben Morrison Chapter ASA. Since we have selected June 12-17 for this trip so we can try to hit peak bloom, and the Sandwich Club meeting on Cape Cod is June 4, we will postpone our chapter picnic until July.

Our first destination will be Roan Mountain on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. We will spend Monday and Tuesday there so we can hike the Appalachian Trail in the Roan Highlands on whichever day promises to have the best weather. On the other day, we will explore the upper Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.

On Wednesday, we will drive south to the Smokies to explore that area next. We will try to get to Wayah Bald this time to see the R. arborescens, and then hike up Gregory Bald either Thursday or Friday of that week depending upon the weather. Before leaving, we will try to get by Vivian Abney’s East Fork Nursery to buy some native azaleas to plant when we get home.

You may decide to return to the Roan area June 17-19 to attend the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy annual meeting. If peak bloom on Gregory Bald is late this year, some of us may return there the following week for yet another climb. George McLellan and Jim Brant of the Middle Atlantic Chapter ARS have been trying for two years to get an aerial view of Gregory Bald in peak bloom. Let’s hope that both the weather and flowers cooperate this year.

As with the other field trip, we will publish more details in the next newsletter. We will appreciate knowing if you plan to join us for the entire trip, or even just part of it. That way we can keep you informed of any last minute changes in plans. Below is the proposed schedule for our tour so you can better plan your summer vacation:

  • June 12th, Sunday
    Travel to the Roan Mountain area staying in either North Carolina or Tennessee. If there is time in the afternoon, some of us might head up to Carver’s Gap and the Appalachian Trail to take a quick view of the rhododendrons and azaleas. We may switch activities on June 13 and 14 depending upon the weather. We want to hike Roan when the weather promises to be clear so we can appreciate those majestic views.
  • June 13th, Monday
    After breakfast, we’ll drive to Roan Mountain to see the famous Rhododendron Gardens. This private park charges an entry fee of $3 per car, but it has restrooms and paved trails through the rhododendrons that are wheel chair accessible in many places. Some may want to participate but feel they are unable to make the hikes. The group may split up here with those who wish to hike on the Appalachian Trail parking at Carver’s Gap and the rest can tour other nearby sights. The hikers will spend the rest of the day along the Appalachian Trail in the Roan Highlands, one of the loveliest spots on earth. Depending upon the weather and the amount of hiking one wants to do, that hike can be divided into three parts. The first section is about a 35-minute walk from the parking area to the top of Round Bald and Engine Gap where the calendulaceum begins. The next section takes about the same length of time and will go out to Jane Bald. The final stretch is a side trail to Grassy Ridge Bald where we usually stop for lunch. If the catawbiense is in full bloom we will hike all the way out to Grassy Ridge Point where the entire mountain turns pink from the mass of rhododendrons there. It is a sight to behold!
  • June 14th, Tuesday
    Assuming we made the Roan hike on Monday, we will drive along the upper Blue Ridge Parkway from Boone, NC, down to Asheville today. Unfortunately, many portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway were closed last year after the hurricanes dumped so much rain on the region. At this time, we don’t know if the full route will be open in time for our trip in June but we are planning as though they will have the roads repaired. There are lots of stops along that route including Moses Cone Manor, Linville Falls, Grandfather Mountain, Craggy Gardens, and Mount Mitchell. We’ll stop at Spruce Pine, NC, for a late lunch or early dinner, and will probably spend the night outside of Asheville so we can get an early start the next morning for the rest of the trip.
  • June 15th, Wednesday
    We expect to drive the southern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville all the way to Cherokee as it is one of the most beautiful stretches of the road and very rich botanically. There are rhododendrons, native azaleas, kalmia, and wildflowers everywhere and the views are magnificent. We will try to allow time to see Wayah Bald and the arborescens on top of that mountain before heading north across the Smokies to spend the evening in Tennessee near Cades Cove.
  • June 16th, Thursday
    If the weather is not threatening, we will hike to Gregory Bald today. Otherwise, we will postpone till Friday. We will rise before dawn so we can get to Cades Cove when they open the gates. The climb to Gregory Bald is challenging, and I take 3 to 4 hours each way. You will be able to judge if you are up to the trip by the Roan hike. A shorter route via the Hannah Trail was washed out and will be closed through all of 2005. The only way to the top is the longer Gregory Ridge Trail. The Gregory Ridge Trail is longer, but prettier. For those who choose not to hike, there are many other things to see near the Smokies, such as Clingman’s Dome, the Cherohala Skyway and Hooper Bald, Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, waterfalls, lakes, and much more. If members in your party are tired of seeing wilderness by now, there are many nearby touristy places like Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Dollywood. East Fork Nursery is nearby too.
  • June 17th, Friday
    If the hike to Gregory as successful, those who made the trip will probably be pooped. Leisurely options are many, such as seeing some of the sights listed as alternatives for June 16th. People may decide to head for home, or drive back to the Roan area for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy annual meeting. That SAHC meeting will have more hikes to places near Roan, such as Big Yellow Mountain.

Some Dos and Don’ts of Hiking – Don Hyatt

Bill Bryson had not written his hilarious best seller, “A Walk in the Woods” when I took my first overnight hike along the Appalachian Trail. My first hike was in the 1960’s when I was in high school. Since I made so many mistakes, I wanted to share them with you. Don’t repeat my folly!

My first error in judgment was to think that I could break in new hiking boots on such a long trip. Warning: new boots rub old feet in bad ways. Calluses don’t develop rapidly, but blisters do.

I probably walked at least a mile before I felt the first discomfort in my feet. That soon changed to searing pain. I had blisters, huge blisters, blisters upon blisters. I can remember rummaging in my pack for bandaids, extra socks, anything to pad those sore feet but it was no use. By the time we got to a trail shelter at Hawksbill Mountain, I was nearly crippled. We spent the night there.

The next morning, my feet were so swollen and sore, I couldn’t put on my boots. As I repeated my Scout motto, “Be Prepared”, I looked through my pack and found a pair of sandals! Why I brought sandals, I’ll never know but I wore them for several more miles. Strolling along the boardwalk and hiking the Appalachian Trail are different. Soon those sandals found new nerves to torment. I walked the last ten miles barefooted.

I tried to act cool as we passed other hikers on the trail, pretending to be some barefooted Johnny Appleseed in total harmony with nature. They, of course, correctly saw me as a total boob. Ergo, buy good boots and break them in before a hike!

Tennis shoes are fine around town but not good on steep trails, especially in wet weather. I need shoes with traction, and that is more important on the return trip than the climb. The body’s weight adds momentum on the descent, so shoes easily slip going down steep paths. I have done the splits, and even fallen into a ravine because of bad shoes.

Even as a teenager I was raising seedlings. I am embarrassed to say I took bags of Kurume azaleas with me to “landscape” the Appalachian Trail, scattering them from Luray to Swift Run Gap. I hope they died but if botanists find evergreen azaleas up there, the seeds did not blow in from Japan. An ill-advised youth planted them. Please, don’t contaminate the wilderness with anything!

As for wildlife, most parks post signs, “Do not feed the animals”. I suspect Park officials are not as concerned about keeping the critters on Weight Watcher’s, but know animals that look to humans as a source of food soon become obnoxious pests.

This I discovered on my first overnight hike too. As soon as it got dark, the shelter on Hawksbill Mountain was crawling with field mice. They were everywhere! Apparently, I was the Good Humor man and had come for treats. I fought rodents all night trying to keep them from chewing holes in my pack for the peanut butter. Raccoons made several assaults that evening too.

Bears were not so common in the 1960’s and they spared us a visit that night. However, hikers should be cautious about bears today. First, they eat more than mice, and second, are not as easy to chase away. In fact, bears do kill people! Since bears are prevalent in the Smokies, I take bland foods I don’t like, such as granola bars sealed in airtight packages. They taste like sawdust but somehow that’s OK on the trail. I’d prefer a ham sandwich, or my lifeblood, peanut butter, but bears have a great sense of smell. When I get off the mountain, I reward myself at a good restaurant in town with a tasty meal. Never approach a mother bear with cubs, and make noise along the trail so the bears know we are coming and avoid us.

I have some other recommendations for long hikes, such as dressing in layers to accommodate temperature changes. Clothing that breathes and allows perspiration to evaporate is good. It doesn’t become a cold, wet towel when you stop for a rest.

Plan for rain, and try to keep dry. A waterproof jacket or poncho is great, but I carry a collapsible umbrella too. I can pull that out at a moment’s notice should a light shower pass by. I also carry plastic bags in many sizes. They weigh nothing but can be very handy in wet weather: zip-lock bags for keeping cameras, film, and equipment dry, medium bags for trash or wet clothes. A large plastic bag can make a very good tarp or poncho.

It is very important to carry plenty of fluids on the longer hikes to prevent dehydration. It is surprising how much moisture the body will lose on a warm day. I usually pack 2 or 3 pints of bottled water plus 6 to 8 boxes of juice for the Gregory hike. I need a little less for Roan.

I also suggest wearing a broad brim hat and applying sun block to avoid sunburn. The sun is quite strong at those higher elevations in June, and it can burn the skin even on cloudy days.

If you have hiking suggestions, share them at the next meeting. Hope to see you on the trail!

Our First Convention Potting Party

When our three chapters in District 9 decided to join forces with the Azalea Society of America to host a joint Convention in 2006, our thoughts immediately turned to the plant sale. We wanted to showcase rare plants and new introductions from our region but most of these varieties are not generally available from commercial sources. We decided to propagate the plants ourselves.

The convention was less than three years away, so we didn’t have much lead-time. We decided to rely on Van Veen Nursery in Portland, Oregon to root most of the rhododendron cuttings. It is hard to beat their $1 per rooted cutting offer.

Our District 9 members were extremely generous with cutting material. Paul James took over 1000 cuttings from his favorite plants including many rare Delp, Haag, and Gable hybrids. We gathered choice cuttings from the Beaudry’s Margaret White, others too and sent them off to Kathy Van Veen in the fall of 2003. We had no idea where we would grow the plants, but at least we would rhododendrons on the way.

Since native azaleas and rhododendrons are of particular interest in our region, that fall I collected seed from a number of rare plants in the wild. I sowed many buckets of seed under lights in February of 2004 and by spring I had thousands of young seedlings on the way. I transplanted into trays that spring and let the seedlings grow. only in the stems and veins but also in large areas of the leaves. I also had 500 seedlings of a “red” R. vaseyi discovered near Mt. Pisgah, NC, and an equivalent number of calendulaceum seedlings from selected plants in the Roan Highlands. These were to be gifts for our convention attendees.

By the summer of 2004, less than a year had elapsed since we had agreed to host the convention. The focus now shifted to azalea cuttings. I sought new varieties developed by our local hybridizers like Joe Klimavicz, Pete Vines, Sandra McDonald and other. We could root those ourselves. Soon I had several thousand cuttings, nearly 150 varieties, under lights in my basement.

By September, we had finally reached a crisis point. Kathy Van Veen was waiting to ship us those well rooted rhododendron cuttings, but my driveway could no longer handle the expanding plant sale. We needed more room. Fortunately, Harry Weiskittel offered us space at his Marshy Point Nursery, a large wholesale operation near Baltimore, MD. (Thank you, Harry!!)

We arranged a “potting party” at Marshy Point on Saturday, October 23, and asked for volunteers. Bill Mangels brought bales of peat moss, bags of perlite, and tags. Bill Meyers and Judy Smith of the Mason-Dixon Chapter arrived with pickup trucks filled with ground pine bark fines. George McLellan and Jim Brant of the Middle Atlantic Chapter helped transport pots, fertilizer, and those rhododendron cuttings sitting on my driveway. We had nearly 30 people converged at Marshy Point that morning, and some had traveled great distances. Our Alternate District Director, Frank Pelurie, had driven 400 miles one way from West Virginia just to help. That’s commitment!

Before starting, Ed Reiley demonstrated how to pot the cuttings, emphasizing the root ball must not be planted deeply. He had provided expert advice on the potting medium too, a porous but well-drained mix of approximately 1/4 peat, 1/4 perlite, and 1/2 pine bark fines. We mixed that medium as needed on a large tarp.

We asked the volunteers to form teams of three to four people and had each group work with only one crate of plants at a time, double checking variety names and making sure each plant had two labels before getting additional plants. With one label in the pot and one wrapped around the stem, we hoped to avoid losing variety names in the months ahead.

By lunchtime, we had nearly finished potting up the cuttings and people were now busy alphabetizing plants in the frame house. Phyllis Meyers brought a big pot of delicious chili and some brownies to supplement bag lunches or fast food meals picked up at the local deli.

Mike White gave each pot about a teaspoon of a 13-13-13 slow release fertilizer. We needed that to replace nutrients consumed by the decomposing bark. We watered everything well.

Next, we started to transplant the rhododendron seedlings and by mid afternoon we were done. Everyone was amazed at the number of plants we had potted up that day, nearly 1300 rhododendron liners and more than a 1000 seedlings too.

It was hard work but we heard no complaints. In fact, everyone seemed to have a great time. Of course, the perfect weather that day plus the lovely setting of Harry‘s nursery on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay certainly helped.

The wonderful camaraderie that developed with our volunteers made us realize that the potting party was a great team building activity. We were able to bring together people from many chapters to work as a single unit and hoped that the sense of cooperation will continue through the rest of the convention. Besides, we have all those azalea cuttings we need to pot up this April, and still more seedlings on the way too.

We could have probably sold the entire lot just to our volunteers that day, but decided that all of us should wait for the convention plant sale like everyone else. We hope you get involved with other chapter activities in support of the 2006 Convention. We desperately need your help, but I think you will enjoy the experience too.

Committee for Proven Performers

Ed Reiley has called on all chapters to develop updated lists of Proven Performers for their areas. He would like the information by October 1st of this year, and has asked that we continue to update every five years, adding new plants that do well and removing others that fall short. Those lists will be used as the primary source for selecting future Rhododendron of the Year Awards.

Ed states that Proven Performers should grow well in our region over a long period of time with minimal care. He suggests the following criteria:

  • Plants must be widely tested in numerous gardens in the region for at least five years. 
  • They must grow well with the care an average gardener might give.  Plants that require special care from expert growers in order to perform well are not proven performers for the average gardener, and should not be listed. 
  • Plants should be available for purchase so that they can be bought by the general public and by our own members.  If plants are not listed in nursery catalogs, such as Greer and Roslyn, they are probably not widely available.
Ed recommends that we appoint a committee consisting of the most experienced growers in our chapter.  If you would like to serve, please let us know. He warns that a popularity poll, with all members voting, may not be accurate since many will not have grown the plant and only know it from a picture or written description.
Copyright © Donald W. Hyatt