Keep heritage azaleas alive at arboretum
The U.S. National Arboretum in Beltsville, Maryland, has plans next summer to destroy several thousand azaleas because of cuts to the agency's budget.
The arboretum also has said that because many of the plants in the popular azalea collection can't be identified, they must go.
If these plants are uprooted it could mean the loss of some rare varieties of azaleas that might not be enjoyed by future generations of Americans.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, along with the Great Gardens of America Preservation Alliance, has started an effort to save this azalea collection. But in the event that our efforts fail, we have requested that the destruction of the collection be postponed so we can take cuttings next summer to re-establish the collection in Charleston and at our 30 sister gardens around the country.
If the arboretum does not want the azaleas, why not allow them to be put in our garden in Charleston, a city known worldwide for its preservation efforts?
There is a ray of hope. Last week the arboretum got a new director. Colien Hefferan has accepted the position. Numerous websites and articles are popping up around the country. A Save the Azaleas at the National Arboretum page is on Facebook and a humorous cartoon is on YouTube.
The arboretum touts the azalea collection it wants to destroy. Admirers come to the arboretum each spring "to witness one of Washington's premier spring attractions," according to the arboretum's website. "Thousands of azaleas cover the flanks of Mount Hamilton in a blaze of color. The first warm days bring out the flowers, and the slopes take on a surreal, almost luminescent glow."
The mature azaleas, many of which are more than 60 years old, cover an estimated three to six acres of the 446-acre arboretum. Space should not be an issue, and the azaleas are not overgrown or in decline.
If the arboretum destroys the plants, they will also destroy part of its history. The arboretum apparently has forgotten that the azalea collection was developed by its first director, Benjamin Y. Morrison. Morrison's massive and unequaled breeding project produced the first large flowered azaleas hardy enough to survive in the Mid-Atlantic region.
The arboretum has said it lost funding from a private donor who paid the salaries of two gardeners. However, neither of the privately funded positions involved the azaleas and boxwoods and perennials that also are slated for removal.
The arboretum has said the azaleas attract too many visitors and that creates problems. The arboretum, however, has several large parking areas, which for years has provided a shuttle service to the various attractions.
The arboretum has said the azaleas on the Glenn Dale Hillside are not well documented even though the Morrison breeding records still exist. However, volunteers in the area are making progress to identify the plants, and it seems to me that even unidentified plants still have merit.
Unlike taxonomists on the arboretum's staff, whose goal it is to identify plants, I am a gardener who highly values plants even though their lineage might be unknown.
It is unthinkable to destroy a popular collection of such beauty that has taken so many years to create. Contact our Congressional Delegation in Washington to enlist their help in saving the azaleas at the arboretum so we can pass their beauty to the next generation.