Our Chapter
Contact Us
Site Map

Potomac Valley Chapter
of the
American Rhododendron Society
Newsletter: Late Spring 2005

Flower Show & Plant Sale – May 7th

We really need people to help out with this year’s Flower Show and Plant Sale. It will be held at the National Arboretum on Saturday, May 7th. Set up and truss entry will be from 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM. At 10:00, we will open to the public for plant sales while at the same time we will be judging the show. We must take things down and clean up at 4:00 PM that same day too.

Please bring flowers and help us out at the plant sale. Remember, those who help set up will get first choice of those plants. Some of our regular exhibitors and helpers will not be there this year, so we really need new people to help us out. Come join us, it is lots of fun.

Open Garden at Margaret White’s
May 3, 2005 4:30 – 7:30 PM

Fairfax County is having an open house at Margaret White’s Garden on Tuesday afternoon, May 3rd, from 4:30 to 7:30 PM. The rain date is May 4th. We are would like to have some chapter members help us stage the event.

There will be no parking on Margaret’s property that day, but people are asked to park at nearby Sleepy Hollow Elementary School, 333 Sleepy Hollow Road, Falls Church, VA. The county will have a shuttle bus to provide transportation to and from the garden. To reach the school from Annandale Road, turn onto Kerns Road, then right onto Sleepy Hollow Road. The school can also be reached by continuing straight on Annandale to Holloman, past Princess Anne, then left on Kennedy to Sleepy Hollow Road.

For information on the Master Plan for the White Garden and the open house, visit:


Chapter Field Trips:

We have two chapter field trips coming up this spring. We hope you have a chance to join us on one or both of them. Please tell Don Hyatt if you are coming so we know to expect you. Roanoke, Paul James Garden: May 9-10

We have made arrangements with the Quality Inn Hotel in Roanoke Tanglewood for our stay. They have given us a group rate of $59.99 per night. The hotel has reserved a block of 20 rooms for us. Mention “Rhododendron Society” to get the group rate. If the Quality Inn runs out of space, the Colony House Motel is next-door and comparable in price.

This trip is practice for the post Convention tour in 2006, except we are not renting a bus and will be driving ourselves. Join us for any part of the trip but please let Don know when to expect you. Below is the proposed schedule:

Monday, May 9, 2005

  • 7:30 AM, Convene at the Virginia Wayside Rest Area on Route 66 near Manassas.
  • 8:00 AM, Arrive Louer Garden in Haymarket. Leave at 9:00 AM for Charlottesville
  • 11:00 AM, Meet for lunch at Michie Tavern in Charlottesville. Depart at 11:45 AM.
  • 12:00 Noon to 3:00 PM, Tour Monticello house and gardens.
  • 3:30 PM, Depart for Roanoke. If people are interested and there is time, some may drive part of the way on the Blue Ridge Parkway entering at Afton and leaving at Buena Vista.
  • 6:30 – 7:30 PM – Check into to Quality Inn Motel for the evening. Have dinner at one of the nearby restaurants, such as the Western Sizzlin’ Steak House, Red Lobster, or others.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
  • 7:00 AM - Continental Breakfast in the hotel or nearby restaurant. Meet in hotel parking lot and car pool to Paul James’ garden.
  • 8:00 AM - 11:00 AM, Tour Paul’s Garden. Return to hotel to pick up other cars and have some lunch at fast food restaurants.
  • 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 south of Asheville is open, some of us may head south to the R. vaseyi, which should be in peak bloom about that same time.
Hotel Contacts:
Quality Inn, Roanoke Tanglewood:
3816 Franklin RD SW, Roanoke, VA 24014

Colony House Motel:
3560 Franklin Rd., SW, Roanoke VA 24014

Making a Cross by Don Hyatt

Now is the time to start making rhododendron and azalea crosses. It is easy to do, and one of the most exciting aspects of gardening - creating new plants that never existed before. Certainly there is lots of chance involved, but that is really part of the allure. Will a cross produce a prizewinner?

Hybridizing reminds me of playing cards. Not every hand will be a Royal Flush in poker, or Seven No Trump in bridge. We need everyone to raise lots of seedlings and evaluate results. Someone will end up with the next top rated plant.

To make a cross, all we need to do is transfer pollen from the stamens on one flower, and put it on the pistil of another blossom. The bees do this all the time as they randomly fly from flower the flower in the garden. It is better that we do a controlled cross where we know what the two parents are so we might have a say in the outcome.

Some flowers have better pollen than others, and I prefer plants that have lots of pollen dripping from the anthers. Some species like R. fortunei have scads of pollen but others are stingy. For a first cross, find something with gobs of pollen.

Then I look for a plant to use as the seed parent. We need to find a good pistil. The pistil is usually longer than the stamens and has a sticky surface at the end of it called the stigma. That is where we will place the pollen to make the cross.

Many people will “emasculate” the flower before making a cross. That means they remove the petals and stamens leaving only the pistil. This makes the flower less likely to be attractive to the bees and that way they won’t add pollen from another source to your cross. It is not that this will add additional traits to your cross, but some of the seedlings will be the ones you planned, and others will be from what the bees have done. You may not be able to tell until the plants bloom.

I once made a cross of the pink Dexter ‘Scintillation’ with a yellow that had a pink edge called ‘Maryke’ which was rather tender. Over the years, all of the seedlings died except one, and that turned out to be a very nice light red. I am sure that ‘Maryke’ was not the pollen parent, but something the bees brought in that year.

I usually pile the pollen on the end of pistil and try to cover it completely. That makes it less likely to accept pollen from another source. Also, I try to pollinate half the flowers in the truss. If I get big seedpods on the ones I crossed, and nothing on the other ones, I feel I have made a successful cross. However, if all the flowers develop big seedpods, I suspect that the plant has either pollinated itself or the bees have done their thing instead. If no pods develop, the cross didn’t take. You typically don’t need that much seed, but you have many pods there will be plenty to share with others in our annual seed exchange.

Pods will develop over the summer and should be harvested in the fall before they break open. Then just plant the seed and wait for blooms. In a few years, you can admire the plants you created.

Discouraging the Deer – Don Hyatt

The only real defense against hungry deer is a high fence, but I don’t have one of those yet, but I have deer. I intend to get a fence, but in the meantime I have been trying all kinds of ways to keep the deer from destroying my garden. I will share a few of those deterrents in this article.

Below is a picture of “Bubba”, one of several deer in the herd that visits my garden on a regular basis. My garden was the daily “all you can eat buffet”. After gorging themselves every day as we humans just do on Thanksgiving, the deer will relax under my rhododendrons with their potbellies hanging out. I feel sure they are lamenting, “Why did we eat so much!”

Last summer, I started to fight back. I tried a number of sprays, including a homemade egg mixture suggested by Ed Reiley. I have now modified that recipe and suggest it to anyone who has deer problems. For the first time in many years, my hostas and impatiens grew and bloomed all summer. I sprayed my azaleas over the winter as well, and although the deer took a few bites I essentially kept them from devouring plants like the azalea ‘Glacier’, a real favorite.

Deer Repellant Spray:
    6 raw eggs
    1 cup milk
    1/8 tsp Dawn Liquid Detergent
    1/3 cup Hot Pepper Sauce
    3 gallons water

In a blender, I beat the eggs, milk, detergent, and hot sauce on high until smooth. I use Crystal Louisiana Hot Sauce rather than Tabasco since a 12-oz. bottle costs about $1. I then add the water, shake well, and spray anything the deer might like: leaves, flowers, buds, and stems.

The detergent helps break up the egg mixture, but you may prefer to use a better spreader-sticker. The sticker helps the mixture cling to the leaves longer but it does add to the cost.

This spray is rather inexpensive compared with commercial products, but worked as well for me. It only costs about $1.00 for 3 gallons. However, be sure to clean the sprayer very well afterwards so regularly replacing your sprayer doesn’t add to your overhead. If that egg mixture ever hardens in the sprayer it is ruined.

In addition to egg mix, I sprayed many woody plants during the winter with dormant oil since it seemed the deer did not like the taste. I also hung little bags of mothballs on many of my native azaleas. On really choice plants like my Yellow Lady’s Slippers, I shook garlic powder on the fuzzy leaves for added protection.

Some people are having success with little posts powered by batteries that release an electric shock when a deer licks the bait. Both Havahart (www.havahart.com) and Wireless Deer Fence (www.wirelessdeerfence.com) make versions and I intend to try a few of those too.

A Personal Letter from Joe Gable:

The following is transcribed from a letter written over 50 years ago by Joseph B. Gable, a pioneer hybridizer and one of the founders of the ARS. Gable was replying to an inquiry from Dr. John L. Creech, former Director of the United States National Arboretum. Dr. Creech has kindly provided us with that correspondence, which we will forward to the ARS Archives at the University of Virginia Alderman Library.

As you likely know, the Gable rhododendrons like ‘Cadis’ and ‘Caroline’ are among our hardiest landscape plants. We thought you would enjoy reading some of Joe Gable’s thoughts on rhododendron and azalea species, hybridizing, and observations on the weather as he recalled how winters used to be in Stewartstown, PA.

January 1st, 1954

Dear Mr. Creech,

I have just come across your letter of Dec. 4, which it seems has not been answered. It is a most interesting letter and I laid it aside until I could get more time to answer – and to check up on just what I have along these lines and what I might have for you. Also, I was away for over two weeks in December. I plan to answer a letter and think over what I can do about it and then – sometimes – I think I have written it down and mailed it.

As for R. quinquefolium I have no plant at all under that tag now even though my notes say that I have sowed seeds in 1928 and several times since. All that have flowered seemed to be R. reticulatum or one of its many forms – (following Wilson in the Monograph of Azaleas). Personally I think there are too many different things under one specific name.

However there is a plant growing here under the tag “R. pentaphyllum” that several visitors who know their azaleas think is R quinquefolium. It is one of two plants I bought from Harlan P. Kelsey of Boxford, Mass. in 1927. The other plant died perhaps five years ago and this one seems in the best of health but has not flowered. I wrote to Kelsey a few years back and he replied that he had not known of a single flower on any of that lot of plants. My plant is in rather dense shade now, and should no doubt be moved out from under the trees that have grown over it in these twenty-five years. I just forget about it.

Your crosses of reticulatum and weyrichii sound interesting and I hope they will do alright with you in spite of their losing vigor the second year. Let us hope it is some environmental check and not a genetic fault.

One of your observations would seem a little along lines of what I wrote above, -that your seedlings of this cross are “absolutely identical”, -since this would tend to strengthen the theory that the various forms coming under R. reticulatum are rather well fixed in their forms genetically and one does not get all the variations in the form that are accredited to this species in seedlings from one individual plant. It is my experience that if I grow seedlings from the form with small flowers and seed capsules less than ¼ in. long I get that in my seedlings and also the form with the ¾ in. capsules and much larger flowers and leaves (rhombicum?), comes true. Another pronounced form with tiny seed capsules and leaves very hairy approaching amagianum in general appearance – I have never tried from seeds as it loses its buds so regularly but it is more shapely in plant forms. The ‘rhombicum’ is the prettiest but the tall growing form with the ¼ in. capsules is the hardier.

I have long considered--- I have been ‘considering’ it too long for here it is the 4th of Jan. and I am just back to my typewriter to find your unfinished letter in it and I can not quite recall what was being ‘considered’.

But now I believe it comes to me! That the Sciadorhodion and closely related Rhodora sections offer the best opportunity for “pioneering” in rhododendron breeding and also the greatest challenge? Or if we ‘consider’ the later classification based on the ‘Species of Rhododendron’ the subseries, canadense, schlippenbachii, tashiroi and – possibly (nipponicum and Obtusum?)

The only hybrid of schlippenbachii that I ever flowered was a hybrid of Mucronatum var Ledifolia alba x schlippenbachii! And the only hybrid of the Rhodora section that I know of having flowered is canadense x japonicum or R. Fraseri made by George Fraser of Vancouver Island. This I saw in flower in the Arnold Arboretum a few years ago, so it may be some that can be perpetuated whereas my cross mentioned above with seeds sown in 1928 kept dying off until it was missing from the 1934 inventory. A few plants grew with unusual vigor and it was these that lasted longer and perhaps four flowered. These more vigorous seedlings were all much deformed and tended to have fasciated stems. My notes record one stem three inches wide, very heavily covered with large leaves and one flower resembling Led. alba but pale pink or rose in color and heavily spotted red. Most of the florets on this and the others that bloomed were distorted and inferior.

Just how many matings in this group were attempted here I do not know. Generally nothing is recorded in the inventories until it is transplanted into pots or outdoor beds and most of this class never reached that stage. The notes are made up from the inventories and these infant mortalities are unrecorded. At the moment a single four inch pot with a plant in it that purports to be weyrichii x schlippenbachii and from its looks may be just that, is all I have to show for all the attempts I have made in this field. But I am decidedly of the opinion that something can be done. I get so little time to make crosses when the time comes to do. Some I plan to make are never made and others so hurriedly and carelessly. It is right in the busiest season and only me to do it all.

But I think and plan to do these things and suggest them for your cogitation as to whether you think them worthwhile to work on, and my plan now is this, - to try hybrids of the more closely related species of this group irrespective of their probable garden value, the object being to get some hybrids started as sometimes hybrids soften up a species for further crossing. Sometimes too they make mules but these species are undoubtedly closely related and if clannishness and tendencies to apomixis (did I spell that right?) can be broken we might get some strain that would accept pollen much more readily than anything we have at present. Perhaps too long a campaign for a veteran of my age but you are still on the field for many long campaigns we hope, but if such a strain would appear it would certainly help? Your weyrichii x reticulatum –(or of course any other cross in this group) – might produce such a clone and all seedlings that flower should be tried until one or two have been found that hybridize easily regardless of their other characters. It is possible for extremes in fertility and sterility to occur in the same lot of seedlings, examples with me being atlanticum x japonicum and racemosum x keiskei with something less than five percent showing full fertility and perhaps seventy five sterile.

The rhododendrons prunifolium, alabamense and canescens that you mention have all passed out here though canescens lived to flower quite similar to roseum which is much prettier, hardier and difficult to obtain satisfactory –i.e., -fertile hybrids from.

Prunifolium ought to be hardy and I would like to try it again as I hear it grows in spots that should be as cold as I am. I do not know where to obtain a good plant well dug and all. The plants I had were apparently collected –and roughly- and never came back to normal vigor.

Alabamense I should think is hopeless but austrinum was hardy enough though I have lost my plant from drought. This last by luteum has given some fine tall growing, vigorous yellows and quite fertile. The flowers are on the small side but make up for it in the masses produced.

As to there being no place for any other azaleas but those of the Obtusum group, in areas where they are hardy – it may prove true. But this I know. If we ever get back to our normal winter climate again in the eastern U.S. the present great fringe area where thousands and millions of these plants are being grown now for some 8-10 years it is going to be practically wiped out and a lot of varieties and species will disappear from the more favored sections too. And the so-called “hardy” Gable azaleas will get a black eye too – perhaps both eyes. We have had several periods of mild winters in my azalea growing experience with a corresponding build up in the number of varieties and amount of plant material which we lost when a hard winter came but never such a long continued series of mild ones as this.

We used to cut ice for summer use and store it every winter. We thought it had to be six inches thick to be of any use. Until we got our electric refrigerator I never knew a winter when we did not get plenty of it and once cut ice two feet thick – too d - - n thick for the guy who has to do it! Now I do not think we have had six-inch ice on our pond in ten years or more. I have no record and may be wrong but it has been a long time. Could it be that we will never see twenty below again? Around zero and that only for a night or two has been all we have gotten lately. Once we had about a week when the temperature staid below the whole time or nearly so. I do know that it was seven below at noon one day when a neighbor came and asked me to help dig a grave in 28 inches of frozen soil where it was bare. There was two – four feet of snow among my plants.

Well let’s hope those extremes of around twenty below are no more anyhow.

I had a nice New Years wish for “Plenty of Work and a Lot More Success” – which might be a good one to pass on to you?

With Most Sincere Regards,

Joe Gable

Copyright © Donald W. Hyatt