Best Bloomin' Azaleas in Bay Country
ASA 2004 Convention
Tour A: National Arboretum
Friday, May 7, 2004This tour begins at Boxlee Azalea Farm in Glenn Dale, Maryland, and includes a visit to two special private gardens in Silver Spring before continuing to the US National Arboretum.
Boxlee (right), owned by Courtland Lee, is a 10-acre farm and historic site that has thus far survived in a rapidly urbanizing area east of Washington, DC. The town of Glenn Dale is only a mile from the USDA Plant Introduction Center where Ben Morrison developed the Glenn Dale azalea and Dr. George M. Darrow developed the Olallie Daylily, both featured items at the US National Arboretum. Boxlee’s display gardens are set amidst tall tulip poplar trees. The farm propagates azaleas by growing cuttings from a number of old azalea collections from the Maryland area, with an emphasis on the “Ten Oaks” Glenn Dales. Other hybrid groups include the Linwoods, Kurumes, Satsukis, Kaempferis, Beltsvilles, Kerrs, Gables, and Back Acres. Also grown are some unusual boxwood varieties, the Olallie Daylily, and a few native azaleas. The tour will include a drive by the Plant Introduction Center, which unfortunately is being phased out by the USDA and is in decline, with the last few years of drought having taken their toll.
After Boxlee, we’ll visit the private gardens of Bill and Karen O’Brien and William and Susan Poling, both in Silver Spring (left).
“When we first saw ‘the azalea house’ in the spring of 1995, the stone pathways that wandered through the more than 250 azaleas were barely visible,” recollects Bill O’Brien. “Many of the 50-year-old plants appeared never to have been pruned, reaching 15 feet into the air. Accenting the azaleas were sprawling rhododendrons, fragrant boxwoods, white and pink dogwoods, hollies, mahonia, aucuba, a Chinese redbud, magnolia, crepe myrtle, camellia, weeping cherry, pine, Carolina hemlock, ash, and mountain laurel, as well as ferns, Virginia bluebells, May apples, native ginger, snowdrops, wild strawberries, myrtle, jack-in-the-pulpit, trillium, and a carpet of English ivy,” he noted.
“We have since all but eliminated the English ivy, pruned back the azaleas, added a weeping China bell, some unusual viburnums, chaste trees, butterfly bushes, witch hazels, winter hazels, nandinas, cherry laurels, hydrangeas (including an oak leaf), summer sweet, hostas, epimedium, Solomon seals, plumbago, liriope, various ferns and, in place of an asphalt drive, created a perennial and herb garden. Since all of the above are shaded by, among other trees, half a dozen towering tulip poplars, ours is almost entirely a shade garden. The azaleas include a few Glenn Dales and some lovely surprises.”
In 1992, William Poling and his wife, Susan, became owners of a home built in the mid-1930s for Stuart Armstrong and his wife, Marion. “As explained in an article in the Azalean (March 1994), our current efforts to maintain and restore the garden began when we acquired the property, after it had suffered a long period of neglect,” William Poling noted.
As many know, “Stuart Armstrong was a neighbor and friend of Ben Morrison, the creator of the Glenn Dale and Back Acres hybrids,” Poling said. “He was also an avid amateur horticulturalist who served as president of the American Horticultural Society between 1957 and 1960. Over a period of more than 30 years, Armstrong amassed a sprawling collection of Glenn Dale, Back Acres, and other azaleas in his yard overlooking Sligo Creek Park.” (Glenn Dale Azalea 'Refrain' pictured left.)
“Armstrong died in 1970, but hundreds of his azaleas survive today in our half-acre garden. Most are single specimens. In addition to very mature Glenn Dale and Back Acres azaleas that were obtained directly from Morrison himself, the garden retains numerous exotic hollies and other trees that date from Armstrong’s time, including unusual conifers. Some azaleas still bear their original metal and/or plastic name tags. Most are not tagged and their identities are uncertain.”
Neither the US National Arboretum nor the Curator of the Azalea Collection, Barbara Bullock, needs an introduction to those who love azaleas. The Glenn Dale Azalea Hillside, the Morrison Garden, and the Frederic P. Lee Garden comprise the 12,000-plus Azalea Collection, the country’s premier reference collection. Full credit for the extensive restoration of the Azalea Collection—which has not only improved the garden but resulted in the discovery and identification of many older plants—goes to Bullock and her team of volunteers.
We’ll have a box lunch and visit the Bonsai Collection and Herb Garden on our own prior to embarking on a 2-hour private tour with Bullock. If you haven’t recently visited the Arboretum, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. (One of the many ancient bonsai plants in the National Arbortetum collection pictured left.)