Celebrating Native Azaleas – ASA 2001 Convention – Asheville, North Carolina
Yes, real firemen!
Our convention on June 14-17, 2001 in Asheville, North Carolina, was a blast! The native azaleas must have known about the theme, because R. calendulaceum and R. arborescens were in peak bloom along the Blue Ridge Parkway and on the balds. Our headquarters was the dining hall of the University of North Carolina – Asheville, one mile north of downtown Asheville, with housing in the nearby Mills Hall dormitory. It worked out really well, except for an early wakeup call in the form of a fire alarm, complete with a fire truck and firemen – fortunately, a false alarm – at 4:45 Saturday morning!
One hundred and forty two attendees went on five different tours during the day. When they got back from their tours, they selected from the wide array of species and hybrid deciduous azaleas and evergreen azaleas available for sale, and the many attractive items bearing the ASA logo. Then, after a drink or two, and after a good meal, they heard some excellent talks in the evening.
R. calendulaceum on the Blue Ridge
The Blue Ridge Parkway tour, led by Wes Burlingame of Laurel Springs Nursery, was a great tour. Wes knows most of the plants along the parkway personally, so they were on their best behavior when he brought us by to admire them. Our tour explored the southern end of the 469 mile long Blue Ridge Parkway (the “Appalachian Trail for cars”), from around milepost 393 to 425. We started at the Fish Hatchery, just off US276 in Mt. Pisgah National Forest, stopped to see the nearby Slick Rock Falls and Looking Glass Falls, and continued up US276 to the parkway. We then went south to Devils Courthouse at the US215 junction, and then came back north to US191, with stops along the way to admire the native azaleas and the vistas. At MP 422, we stopped to see three of the rarest native plants in the world, all growing together: R. vaseyi (unfortunately, no longer in bloom), Hypericum buckleyi, and Pieris floribunda. Next we stopped at Graveyard Fields and did a little hiking, and then at Pisgah Inn to do some shopping and admire the views. All along the way, R. calendulaceum and R. arborescens were in full bloom, as were Kalmia latifolia, R. catawbiense, and many of the other native plants growing among the rocks and seeps beside the parkway.
A major stop was the North Carolina Arboretum, just off the parkway at US191, where we visited their formal gardens, their outstanding bonsai collection, and their National Native Azalea Repository, a 5 acre woodland garden with major collections of native azaleas designed to preserve their germplasm.
The Biltmore Estate tour, led by Doley Bell on Friday and Jim Holmes on Saturday, took enough time to tour both the gardens and the 250 room house built in 1895. We had a guided tour of the Azalea Garden, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and developed by Chauncey Beadle in the early to mid-1900s with native azaleas collected from the nearby mountains. We then visited the North Carolina Arboretum, as above, and finished the day with a quick trip north on the Blue Ridge Parkway with short stops at the Folk Art Center and Craggy Gardens, where we saw some R. calendulaceum and R. catawbiense in bloom.
Used with permission from Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina.
The Wayah Bald, Blue Ridge Parkway tour was ably led by Joe Schild. After a long bus trip, we saw R. calendulaceum on the Wayah Bald access road, and a breathtaking display of R. arborescens at the top, and some of us took a short hike along the Appalachian Trail – at least we did on Friday. On Saturday, we had a bigger bus, which couldn’t get all the way up to the top of Wayah Bald. We returned along the Blue Ridge Parkway, where the R. calendulaceum in peak bloom made it all worth while, even on Saturday.
The Copper Bald tour led by Aaron Cook took a small group of hardy folks to see an amazing variety of R. calendulaceum, R. arborescens, R. viscosum, R. bakeri, interspecific hybrids and wildflowers. It started with a long drive on the freeway, and a more interesting drive on a variety of access roads to Burningtown Gap at 4236 feet. We then took a fairly strenous 1.7 mile hike up the Appalachian Trail to Copper Bald at 5256 feet (yes, 1020 feet UP). We then went off-trail to experience the azaleas close up. After hiking back, we returned part of the way on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Ed Collins and the Nanneys admiring a wildflower The Hendersonville gardens tour, led by Ed Collins on Friday and Bob Stelloh on Saturday, was a more traditional tour. We visited a variety of private gardens, and then saw some waterfalls and a few native azaleas and wildflowers in their natural habitat on a short, easy hike.
Our first stop was the woodland garden of Denise & Bob Stelloh, with meandering trails through azaleas, rhododendrons, ornamental trees and wildflowers.
We then visited the garden of Mary & Ed Collins, with an outstanding waterfall, probably the largest collection anywhere of Cowles hybrid rhododendrons, and a large variety of azaleas, wildflowers and other ornamentals. Ed Collins at top left, Don Hyatt at bottom right
Manger conifer garden Next we made a short stop at the Ted Manger conifer garden. While he does have lots of other plants, he mostly has conifers of every shape, size, texture and color. Even in July, there was a lot to see and savor.
hmm . . . but there isn’t any We had some marvelous hors de oevres and lunch at “Fort Knox”, the home of Ev & Bruce Whittemore. After lunch we toured their spectacular rock garden, complete with a roof garden, miniature mountains and streams, carefully created microclimates and delightful whimsies. It is a rather new garden, planted with an amazing collection of alpines, dwarf conifers and other plants. Why “Fort Knox”? Well, as Ev says, “Because we have put all our money into it.”
We then went a few more miles to the Dupont State Forest for a foray into the woods to see Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, and a few native azaleas and wildflowers in the wild.
Our final stop was the Haag garden, to meet Velma Haag and see some of her hybrid rhododendrons and azaleas, with a few late bloomers, and her stunning hillsides of shortia, galax, trillium and other native wildflowers.
Triple Falls, Dupont State Forest
a rapt audience
Each evening, excellent speakers shared their knowledge of azaleas with us.
On Thursday evening, Buddy Lee (Azalea Hybridizing and Seedling Selection), involved with azaleas for almost 30 years, and best known as the developer of the multi-season blooming Encore Azaleas, described and showed us his techniques for the development and testing of new evergreen azalea varieties.
Ed Collins (Copper Bald: Azaleas and Allies), involved with rhododendrons and azaleas and plant societies since the mid 1960’s, and the president of the new Vaseyi Chapter, took us along on his trips to Copper Bald, and showed us some of the plants of the bald, and some of the folks he travels with.
Ted Stecki (Linwood Hardy Azaleas), a part time nurseryman for over 30 years, described his work with Al Reid and Al’s Linwood Hardy azaleas, a fine group of rather little-known and under-appreciated evergreen azaleas, usually doubles.
Our new president, Joe Schild
Joe Schild (Deciduous Azaleas – East Meets West), an avid collector, propagator, grower and breeder of azaleas, and in particular the deciduous forms, described some of the fine Asian azalea counterparts of our deciduous species azaleas.
David Sauer (The New Kurumes), a past director of the ASA and an avid collector of azaleas and rhododendrons for 40 years, delighted us as he described his close relationship with some of his plants. David truly appreciates the beauty of his plants and their blossoms, and taught us how to really look at them.
Steve Brainerd (Designing with Native Azaleas), a past president of the ASA and a landscape designer for the past 10 years, wrapped up the evening as he taught us some of the principles of landscape design, particularly with regard to the strong characteristics of native azaleas.
John Brown . . . would you buy a used plant from this guy?
On Saturday evening after a fine banquet, our auctioneer, John Brown, delighted the audience and coaxed them out of a lot of money in a very short time for some really outstanding plants.
We then had a brief annual meeting, which included:
- a signing ceremony and presentation of their charter to the new Vaseyi Chapter, which hosted the convention, and which serves the western Carolinas, northern Georgia and eastern Tennessee
- election of officers – and a standing ovation for Bill Bode, our misty-eyed outgoing president
- the Best Azalean article award to Joe Schild, our new president, for his Fire in the Mountains article
- an affirmative vote on a number of bylaws changes
- the drawing for the Delectable Mountain Azaleas quilt featuring R. vaseyi and other native azaleas worked into the classic Delectable Mountains quilt design by the renowned quilter Teresa Reilly, which sent Leslie Ann and David Nanney home with an instant heirloom
Don Hyatt wrapped up the evening with his talk on The Best of the Best: In Search of Native Azaleas. Don, a director of the ASA and an avid hybridizer of azaleas and rhododendrons for over 30 years with a particular interest in deciduous azaleas, recounted his frequent hikes to the mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee to search for the finest forms of our native azaleas. We enjoyed the magnificent views along the Appalachian Trail near Roan Mountain as he documented exceptional forms of R. calendulaceum, and strolled with him through the hybrid swarm of native azaleas on Gregory Bald as he tried to identify the “best of the best” in one of the greatest flower shows on earth. Through slides and commentary, Don shared his appreciation of the rich botanical diversity in these and other treasure spots in the southern Appalachians.
The convention concluded at noon on Sunday morning after an excellent and well-attended roundtable discussion on the better ways of propagating native azaleas.
All of the sessions were video-taped. The tapes are available through Ed Collins.
The pictures are courtesy of William C. Miller III. Thanks, Bill.