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Potomac Valley Chapter
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American Rhododendron Society
Newsletter: Winter 2006

Next Meeting: January 22, 2006

Our next chapter meeting is scheduled at the U.S. National Arboretum Administration Building on Sunday, January 22, 2006, from 1:00 – 4:00 PM. The program will be chapter “Show and Tell” and we really want our members to participate. Please bring 5 to 10 pictures (digital, prints, or slides) of flowers or gardens. Tell us about your garden, some favorite rhododendrons, places you visited, or new things that bloomed. Let Jon Wallenmeyer know if you have something to share so we can get you on the program.

Email: jjjp1984@mac.com

We already have a number of volunteers for Sunday. Jane Goodrich will show slides of a gorgeous frilled pink rhododendron hybrid she recently registered, ‘Fair Isle’ (pictured to the right). The cross, (‘Disca’ x ‘Romany Chai’), was made by Joe Gable and Gable’s daughter Caroline gave Ray and Jane Goodrich cuttings of this plant saying quite a few years ago saying it was a great rhododendron that should be introduced. Caroline passed away before she had time to register the plant, but Jane got permission from the Gable family to introduce the clone in 2005. Jane will also talk about some of her favorite plants including several that are in our seed exchange.

Norman Beaudry will talk about some of the Cowles hybrids from Heritage Plantation on Cape Cod. Cowles was Charles Dexter’s gardener. Norman will show some of these outstanding hybrids and will talk about the Sandwich Club, a group that meets each year at Heritage.

Phyllis Rittman will share thoughts on some gardens visited at the 2005 ARS Convention in Victoria including the Butchart Gardens. Don Hyatt will show a few odds and ends including slides from two leading hybridizers including Frank Fujioka on Whidbey Island north of Seattle, and Bob Furman from Cape Cod.

Convention News & Chapter Gift Basket

By now, the winter Journal with the Convention registration materials should be on its way to the homes. We will be calling on people to assist in the weeks to come, and thank those who have already volunteered to help at the various activities.

There will be a silent auction, and each chapter has agreed to put together a gift basket representing our region. If you have some ideas of items to include or wish to donate something for the basket, please share your thoughts. We will try to collect those materials at our March meeting.

Update on the Plant Sale Azalea CD

We are still looking for a few images to add to our Convention Plant Sale CD. We have over 1000 images right now representing 220 azalea varieties and about 240 rhododendrons.

Among evergreen azaleas, we are still missing about 20 of the Holly Springs hybrids and need just a few others: ‘Mitey White”, ‘Ragedy Ann’, ‘Flower Queen’, Malcolm Clark’s ‘Robert Pete’, and the Satsuki ‘Haru-no-sono’.

With the rhododendrons, we need the following Delps: ‘Can’t Lose’, ‘Royal Jelly’, ‘Sister of Tano’, ‘Microtones’, ‘Tickley’, & tetraploid carolinianum’. With the Dexters we are missing ‘Delayed Surprise’ and ‘Sheer Delight’. We also need Augie Kehr’s ‘Carolina Gold’, Yates’ ‘Earline’, ‘Knippenberg Beige’, Todd’s T-17 and Todd’s T-27, and a few miscellaneous plants: ‘Deep Purple’, ‘Kordus Pink’, ‘Red Cap’, and some local crosses. If you have images of those hybrid groups or any of the missing images on the CD, please let Don Hyatt know.

Rhododendrons of the Year for 2006

The Rhododendrons of the year for 2006 were just announced. They are: ‘Bellringer’ (Elepidote), ‘PJM Elite’ (Lepidote), ‘Elsie Lee’ (Evergreen Azalea), and ‘Homebush’ (Deciduous Azalea). We hope you have them as they are great plants.

Potting Party Scheduled in March

We expect to schedule another Potting Party at Marshy Point Nursery toward the end of March, so please keep us in mind. The exact date has yet to be finalized, but we still need to repot about 500 Red Max seedlings that are destined as banquet favors. At the same time we will try to organize the sale plants and inventory the azaleas and rhododendrons. We can always use helpers.

Winter Weather Woes

It is hard to know what effects this strange winter weather will have on our flower display next spring. Things in many gardens went into dormancy fairly well, but December had prolonged cold temperatures that may have harmed a few plants, especially those in containers. Root systems are cannot take the same level of cold as the top growth.

The exceptionally warm January is a greater concern, especially if we get a return to winter conditions late in the season. If plants think it is springs and break dormancy where the sap begins to flow, a cold spell can cause more severe problems including bark split and bud blast.

Bark split happens when the moisture in the stem tissue freezes underneath the bark. Expanding ice crystals rip the bark away from the stem which essentially girdles the plant. Flower buds that are beginning to expand are not as cold hardy as those in dormant conditions, either. When spring finally does arrive, I guess we’ll know.

Late Winter Pruning – by Don Hyatt

From late winter through early March is a great time to prune overgrown azaleas and rhododendrons. I have been out with my pruning shears in these abnormally warm winter days trying to clip back a few unwieldy plants that I have neglected for many years. Never prune back more that 1/3 to 1/4 of the plant during any one year since heavy pruning can hurt or even kill a plant. Also, remember that you will be cutting off the spring flowers, too.

I use those pruned branches in different ways. With some early flowering azaleas, I have been able to force them into bloom inside the house. The flowers are usually not as large or colorful as they would be on the plant during the normal season, but it is nice to see a few flowers of any kind in winter.

Another good use of winter pruning is to try to root some dormant cuttings. I make short cuttings not more than 1 to 2 inches in length and pick out the flower buds since they will waste the plant’s energy that I want to go into root formation. After dipping the end of each cutting in a rooting hormone such Dip-n-Grow, I stick those cuttings in a pot filled with my standard mix of damp peat, sand, and perlite. I enclose the pot in a clear plastic bag, and then stick it under lights or in a cool window sill. As the cuttings break dormancy and form new growth in the months ahead, they usually form roots at the same time. By spring they will be ready to transplant. I intend to try dormant deciduous azalea cuttings this year, too.

The Story of Russell and Velma Haag - As told to Ed Collins

Reprinted with permission from Velma Haag’s presentation at the Breeder’s Roundtable at the 1994 ARS Convention.

Our gardening experience began in the late 30's when we owned our first home. Russ bought me a rose plant for Mother's Day. He carefully planted it for me, and guess what…. it didn’t grow. So it was appropriately replaced by the store (Sears). That one didn’t grow either!

So, said I: We shall go to the library and get some reading material – and so we did. Russ, being the avid reader, digested several books on roses and the bug really bit. We ordered rose catalogs and bought roses - maybe 15 or 20, and Russ maintained the rose garden, hilling them up in the fall and down in the spring, spraying and dusting according to directions.

Then, as our family had grown by four, we moved. This new home had plenty of room on the inside as well as the outside. But it also had more than ample shade, which was not to the liking of the roses. So we changed our gardening to azaleas. And then, slowly but surely, to rhododendron. About that time, a co-worker of Russ's who owned property in the Pennsylvania mountains said we could have all the rhododendrons we wanted. Of course, we took him up on this offer and added untold Maximums (Maximi ???) to our property.

About that time, Russ read about the American Rhododendron Society and, of course, we joined. That led to new sources and acquaintances with other folks who shared our blossoming interest in rhododendron. We were among the dozen or so people who founded the New Jersey Chapter. It was a real privilege to have Guy Nearing among our membership. The Knippenbergs were also members.

About this time the Saturday Evening Post ran an article entitled "The Flowering Forest of Joseph B. Gable". So we visited the Gables that Spring and every Spring for many more years, always buying anything and everything available!

During these early years Warren Baldsiefen was rooting rhododendrons from Gable & Nearing. And on one occasion, Gable took a load of plants to Warren's and stopped by our place on his way home. Our Blue Ridge was in full bloom at the time and Gable was really impressed. Fortunately, we had an extra and it was our pleasure to give it to him!

Sooner than later, we started hybridizing. We really had no particular goal, although eventually yellow became the goal. Most of the yellows on the market were hopelessly tender. Russ built a concrete block enclosure to give a few plants winter protection. But it was many a year before we saw a yellow seedling bloom.

As retirement came, we relocated to the temperate mountains of Western North Carolina and a 176 acre property in Cedar Mountain. We were fortunate in being able to ship many, many seedlings and small plants by way of a truck that had been bringing plants north and returning empty. The plants liked the NC climate with plentiful rainfall and milder winters. One winter, however, was unforgettable: after a warm February and March, the temperature dropped to 12 degrees on March 29th. That created lots of extra space in the beds, and some of them were combined.

We continued our hybridizing until 1985. Russ kept all the records of crosses and what was in which planting bed. He also took care of the pollen. The plants were listed by name and the number of the bed in which they were planted. We never put a name on a plant until it had proven itself thru a number of years

In the first years over 100 beds were planted with approximately 100 plants in each bed. We later emptied 25 of these beds and replanted. Some of these plants are worth propagating including one which is going to be a tree. It has 4" florets, 11 to the truss. I call it Lily Tree because the floret looks like a lily and one parent is a tree.

There are also a number of yellows and, perhaps, some are worth propagating. Many of the last to actually bloom have never been tagged as to identity. Someone might possibly like this job.

All in all, we must have planted out almost 16,000 of the seedlings. What a pleasure it was. I'm sure we might have been more selective in our crosses, but we enjoyed what we were doing.

Russell Haag passed away in 1995 at the age of 85. Velma, now 95 years old, is well and continues to garden there. The Haag family maintains a website with additional information about the Haags and their lovely property, RhodoGardens, located near Brevard, North Carolina. They hope that this horticultural treasure will eventually be passed on to some other rhododendron enthusiast when she eventually decides to sell. Check out their website for more pictures of other unnamed Haag hybrids:


The 2006 Seed Exchange

The Seed List for 2006 - The Chapter offerings in 2006

Due to a very busy autumn and a number of commitments related to the 2006 Convention, some of us didn’t get out into the wild to collect native azalea and rhododendron seed this year. The seed of arborescens, calendulaceum, and vaseyi in the listing this year was left over from last year, but a test germination in December shows that it is still viable. Also, Bob King’s yakushimanum seed is leftover from last year.

George McLellan did gather some fresh seed of atlanticum from Prince George County, east of Richmond, VA. He also gathered seed of prinophyllum and periclymenoides in the mountains of Virginia. Bill Miller collected seed of the native periclymenoides from closer to home in West Bethesda. Thanks!

Our listing is close to the same size this year because we have many more rhododendron crosses in the exchange. In perhaps a quest for the perfect white, Norman and Jean Beaudry have sent us some exciting crosses. Some of the seed plants include several excellent whites in their garden, such as their spectacular ‘Hardy Giant’ (pictured below), maximum x ‘Sir Charles Lemon’, ‘Cape White’ which is a Dexter with tight, frilled white trusses, ‘Nestucca’ which is a compact fortunei x yakusimanum hybrid from the West Coast, and a large flowered, late blooming species, R. diaprepes.

For pollen sources, the Beaudrys used a number of interesting things including ‘Snow Candle’, pollen sent to them from noted hybridizer, Jim Barlup, in Seattle. Jim said that plant has full white trusses and he uses it often in his crosses. Another common pollen source was max-calophytum (maximum x calophytum) from Paul James. We all admired that spectacular foliage plant (pictured below) with its flawless, long pointed leaves and white trusses in Paul’s garden this year during the chapter field trip.

Don Hyatt’s focus this year was on fragrance. He made crosses with some of the more fragrant rhododendrons in his yard and with pollen he got from others including two pale salmon pinks, ‘Apritan’ and ‘Dexter’s Honeydew’, that look so much alike. He also used the white ‘Dexter’s Spice’, pink ‘Betty Hume’, and a cream and pink Dexter hybrid called ‘C.O.D.’ (Charles Owen Dexter). He also made a number of crosses with ‘Janet Blair’, a proven parent that usually allows the color of the pollen parent to come through in the next generation.

John Wise of the Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond has sent us another cross for fragrance. He used the Dexter ‘Chatham’ crossed with a decorum they have raised from seed collected in China. The decorum had reddish new growth.

Maynard Shirven has sent us some exciting evergreen azalea crosses this year as well as one rhododendron cross. He explained in his letter, “The parents of these crosses survived under 10 feet of water and muck from Isabel.” The pollen parent in that rhododendron cross (69-2006) is off-white with rich apricot buds and came from cross #590 by Mary Oleri in the 1994 ARS seed exchange. The flowers open pale apricot-cream.

He said the goal in his azalea crosses was for corollas that would resist heavy rain, and he used ‘Elsie Lee’ frequently. He added a note about the open pollinated R. kaempferi ‘Eastern Fire’ parent. He raised that from our 2003 exchange, seed donated by Bruno Kaelin. It was the quickest he has ever had an azalea bloom from seed.

Marshall Stillwell sent us two crosses on a cream colored hybrid (‘Fawn’ x ‘Repose’) that Marshall raised from the ARS seed exchange. One of the pollen parents is ‘Peachy Jean’, a plant with rather complex parentage that came from one of the Beaudry’s hybrids: (Brookville x Mary Garrison) x (Yellow 9-59 x Tan). The Beaudry’s named the sister seedling ‘Lara Jean’, an excellent pale yellow that we have often seen in our truss shows. The late Austin Kennel started calling the peach colored selection from the same cross ‘Peachy Jean’ but it is not registered, just easier to write out.

Dr. Gerry Hudgens has sent us some seed from his R. prunifolium plants for our exchange (picture below). One of the most distinctive features of R. prunifolium is its late season of bloom. The beautiful coral to deep red flowers of this species open in late summer, usually starting in July or August and sometimes lingering into September or even later depending upon the selection.

R. prunifolium, also known as the Plum Leaf Azalea, was a relatively rare native azalea at one time. Botanist Roland M. Harper first collected this species in 1913. Originally found in isolated pockets in just a small region of the United States in southwestern Georgia and eastern Alabama, through preservation efforts by Callaway Gardens, the late Fred Galle, and others, this native azalea has become more widely available.

The species is sometime difficult to self, but the huge plants in Gerry’s garden cross freely with one another. It very easy to grow from seed, and we have plenty to go around, so give it a try and give your excess plants away to friends and neighbors.

Jim Willhite from West Chester, PA, sent us some interesting things. In the open pollinated species, he suspects that R. fargesii and R. vernicosum are likely selfed. Some species often self pollinate like R. maximum, metternichii, and makinoi since every flower sets a seedpod. He suspects that the seed of his R. sutchuenense var. geraldii, another spectacular foliage plant and early blooming species with clear pink flowers and a prominent purple blotch, could be crossed with fargesii which is nearby. The picture below of R. sutchuenense was taken by the late George Ring. George’s wife Helen gave the chapter his extensive slide collection after he passed away.

Jim also sent us quite a few open pollinated deciduous azalea selections, too. He suspects that his ‘Clear Creek’ may be crossed with a nearby austrinum or ‘Sunny Side Up’. He also mentions a mixed group of cumberlandense (bakeri) hybrids that come in a range of colors from red, orange, salmon, light and deep pink. He provided open pollinated hybrids of other primary native azalea crosses. They could be selfed or possibly back crosses with one or more of the parent species which are growing nearby. The exact parentage will be nearly impossible to determine, but as anyone who has seen the hybrid swarm of native azaleas on Gregory Bald will testify, every native azalea hybrid is lovely… there are no bad ones!

Raising Rhododendrons and Azaleas from Seed

Try raising some seedlings this year. It is very easy. Fill a flower pot with a mixture of peatmoss and perlite, moisten the medium but don’t make it too wet, and then sprinkle the seeds thinly on the top. Enclose the pot in a clear plastic bag and place it under some fluorescent lights or in a bright window. The seeds usually germinate in a couple of weeks, and the seedlings can stay in that mini-greenhouse until springtime without any additional care. Then it will be time to repot them, and in a few years, you may have a prize winner!

Copyright © Donald W. Hyatt