In his latest newsletter, nurseryman Tony Avent, weighs in on a hot issue here in DC – the plan to destroy a bunch of azaleas at the National Arboretum. Tony, owner of Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina, is to my mind THE original garden ranter.
There has recently been a big uproar in the nation’s capital over a plan by the US National Arboretum to remove a section of the Glen Dale azalea display. Azaleas lovers across the country have launched an email campaign to prevent the arboretum staff from removing the azaleas.
While I like azaleas as much as anyone, I have a different take on the issue. The azaleas in question are breeding rejects from the USDA program which produced the Glen Dale Series. The breeding work of the late Arboretum director, Ben Morrison, produced the release of 454 azalea cultivars. Do we really need more azaleas from a program that has yielded 454 named varieties? When most breeding programs are concluded, the culls (rejects) are typically discarded. For some reason, these culls were never discarded, and over the years folks have become emotionally attached to these plants and consequently are now protesting the plan to discard them.
The land at the US National Arboretum is some of the most expensive land in the country and is not the place to maintain a collection of cull azaleas…no matter how nice they look for a couple of weeks in spring.
My suggestion to concerned members of the Rhododendron Society and the general public is that they raise private money and pay for the plants to be moved to a nearby park, which has more space and is in an area which is not focused on genetically important collections. Perhaps then, the USNA can replant a complete, labeled collection of the named Glen Dale hybrids along with other important hybrids that can serve as a real reference collection instead of the mass of unlabeled, unnamed plants that exist there now.
Hat tip to Linda Keenan.