There is nothing more beautiful in the spring landscape than an azalea, a member of the genus Rhododendron. Fifteen azalea species are native to the eastern part of our country and gardeners are becoming more appreciative and knowledgeable about them. Whether white, pink, red or orange or any combination of these colors, the native azaleas are said to be the most fragrant of all azaleas. These natives grow naturally in woodland settings beneath tall hardwood or pine trees where the sun is filtered and the soil is acidic.
In Gloucester, we feel fortunate to have fellow resident, George McLellan, a landscape designer who values the native azalea. He is a member of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society and chairman of the Species Study Group. He knows his azaleas well, as he does everything else in the world of gardening including native plants, trees, bulbs, perennials, the uncommon, the rare and newest hybrids. He also knows his birds and is a regular on our birding walks where, if asked, will take time to share horticultural knowledge along the way.
Last week George also shared an azalea success story. Recently, on a tiny postage stamp plot of undeveloped land in Gloucester surrounded by a sea of man-made surfaces and buildings, a sign went up announcing the construction of a new fast food restaurant. George and fellow ARS member, Jim Brant, with no time to waste, took shovels to the tiny woodland site to save a native azalea.
Growing under the pines were Pinxter Azaleas (Rhododendron periclymenoides), a wild azalea found from Massachusetts to Georgia and Alabama. The name Pinxter is the Dutch word for Pentecost, named thus by the colonists because it bloomed on Pentecost, 50 days after Easter. It can grow to 6-8 feet tall with clusters of long-tubed pink to white flowers with a wonderful sweet fragrance. George and Jim were able to save some azaleas before dozers leveled the land, paved and built the restaurant in record time.
Protected in New York state, the species is obviously not safe from harm in Virginia. The azalea is certainly fortunate to have friends in need.
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester