Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Native Azaleas are the Best...Fern Valley 4/23

One of the things that I get sick of reading or hearing is, "it had to go to Europe and they had to develop it before we could appreciate it." Wow. That is so condescending and so wrong. And do we think that, for example, all those Helenium cultivars are so special? I don't think so. And I don't think the European selections of our native grasses are enough to make us give up the species. Hey, the Germans do pick a special plant here and there, but so does Tony Avent. Lets not just concede European sovereignty.

Oh my. For years the only incarnation in which our incredible native azaleas occurred was as a part of the Mollis/Exbury hybrid complex. And while these are good plants, tell me why anyone would not want to grow Rhododendron austrinum (pictured), the Florida Azalea. Intensely fragrant flowers in colors from yellow to orange bedeck this ~7' deciduous shrub in early/mid April. This is a stand alone plant. It doesn't need to have rose highlights, or more subtle color shading. Disease and pest resistant, it has no issues with lacebugs or petal blight. And there are other wonderful native species. Not difficult. Many fragrant. Others that bloom in July and August. Try Rhododendron arborescens, or atlanticum, or cumberlandense, or calendulacea. The commonest azalea in the woods hereabouts is Rhododendron periclymenoides. Its a great plant. just one of a number of great native azaleas. Give them a try. And if you are in the Washington, DC area, come to the Arboretum and visit Fern Vallley or the Azalea Collection and look at what I'm talking about.

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