The 5pm Post – “Dear PoP: national arboretum to destroy mature azaleas exhibit because it draws too many people”


Photo of Azaleas by PoPville flickr user J Y W Obviously not from the arboretum but a good example of azaleas.

I’ve been getting a lot of emails about this.

“Dear PoP,

I find this outrageous. Read it and weep. I think I love the azaleas at the arboretum more than the cherry blossoms on the Mall. It always seemed like a secret treasure known only to locals. Judging from the arboretum’s proposed actions, apparently not.”

The Washington Gardener has the full story:

“On November 8, 2010, Aaron Cook, the President of the Azalea Society of America, learned that the U.S. National Arboretum in NE Washington, DC, plans to remove the mature azalea display on Mount Hamilton. The Garden Unit Leader at the National Arboretum, Mr. Scott Aker, announced that the azaleas will be cut down in the summer of 2011 and their stumps painted with herbicide. Many of us are upset by this decision.”

Contact info from Washington Gardener for who you can write to express your concerns after the jump.

You can still advise USDA officials of your concerns:

1. Dr. Judith St. John, Deputy Administrator, National Program Staff, 5601 Sunnyside Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705 Phone: 301-504-6252 Fax: 301-504-4663
Email: [email protected]

2. Dr. Joseph Spence, Beltsville Area Director, 10300 Baltimore Blvd. Bldg. 003, BARC-West, Room 223, Beltsville, MD 20702 Phone: 301-504-6078 Fax: 301-504-5863
Email: [email protected]

3. Dr. Ramon Jordan, Interim Director, U.S. National Arboretum, 3501 New York Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20002 Phone: 202-245-4539 Fax: 202-245-4574
Email: [email protected]

38 Comment

  • why don’t they at least let people uproot and take them home?

  • I don’t even like azaleas all that much, but this is insane. That entire display, habitat, and network of trails are a wonderful thing just AS IS.

  • I would like to hear the rationale behind this decision first. It seems like we are getting an incomplete story here.

  • If they do decide to remove them, at least let all the area high school horticultural programs and regular classes have access to all the cuttings that will result from the demolition (at the right time of year) and perhaps some supported urban sheltered growing space for the kids (and adults) to facilitate expansion of the lot. How about a nice cutting farm next to the community garden at Fort Totten? Could use all the new plantlets to spruce up streets all around town once they are ready. Would be a good task for the Mayor’s summer youth job program too. We could even have kids sell plantlets to raise money for school programs.

  • What the frack!? I’m completely baffled how they could possibly think this is a good idea! Is the person who decided to do this suffering from a brain injury? Or perhaps dementia?

  • In order to draw even fewer people, they should consider relocating the National Arboretum to somewhere just east of Trinidad off New York Avenue, or somewhere equally inaccessible by metro or bicycle.

  • Thanks for posting this – surely there are alternatives to tearing up these azaleas.

  • it’s all about their budget. this sort of threat is a bid to get their budget increased.

    • I agree. The arboretum is woefully underfunded and in the past they’ve talked about restricting it’s hours to weekdays, and even closing it to the public altogether because, despite all of the gardens and what not, it is first and formost a Department of Agriculture research facility.

  • It costs alot more to uproot and move a mature tree than to cut it down.

  • Please don’t remove the azalea garden. You have a remarkable collection of well labeled, historically significant azaleas. Those getting leggy might be modified or removed or replaced but to lose this graceful set of paths that come alive with color each spring would be insane.
    Also this garden is an important migrational habitat for huge numbers of warblers who find this urban oasis to be a welcome resting/feeding stopover on their journey north.
    Please reconsider this decision.

  • John,

    Here are the people to whom you should address your comments:

    You can still advise USDA officials of your concerns:

    1. Dr. Judith St. John, Deputy Administrator, National Program Staff, 5601 Sunnyside Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705 Phone: 301-504-6252 Fax: 301-504-4663
    Email: [email protected]

    2. Dr. Joseph Spence, Beltsville Area Director, 10300 Baltimore Blvd. Bldg. 003, BARC-West, Room 223, Beltsville, MD 20702 Phone: 301-504-6078 Fax: 301-504-5863
    Email: [email protected]

    3. Dr. Ramon Jordan, Interim Director, U.S. National Arboretum, 3501 New York Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20002 Phone: 202-245-4539 Fax: 202-245-4574
    Email: [email protected]

  • I heard they were going to pave the place and put up a parking lot.

  • Contact our US Representative NOW! to get her help!

    Email: https://forms.house.gov/norton/webforms/issue_subscribe.htm

  • Just FYI that are name is speeled Washington GardEner. (There are two Es in gardener.) The blog is one of the online publications of the print publication Washington Gardener Magazine. A part two of this story is in the works and will be posted shortly to our blog, facebook pagem twiyter feed, etc.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      Even if it’s just a typo I really can’t express how happy I am that you misspelled ‘spelled and twitter’ in that comment…

      Nevertheless I look forward to part 2 and hope this crisis can be averted.

      • Great reply, PoP!

        Seriously, I had to read her first sentence multiple times in order to figure out what she was trying to say, mostly because of her most egregious error — “are” instead of “our” (which PoP didn’t even point out).

        Anyone who reads this blog regularly would have known that the “Gardener” mistake was a typo. A quick e-mail to PoP with a gentle correction would have been more appropriate — and less embarrassing for the commenter.

        Back to the subject at hand…Thanks to you both for the heads-up. I really do hope that this is an idle threat designed to get more funds. Please keep us up-to-date!

      • *cringing* I deserve that and a bit more — can I plead caffiene withdrawal?

        In any case, thank you for the coverage and the correction.

        Back to the real subject, Part 2 of our coverage is posted now at:
        http://washingtongardener.blogspot.com/2010/11/part-2-of-save-usna-azaleas-and.html

  • Agreed. Budget reasons aside, there has to be more to this story.

  • A petition has been started;

    http://act.ly/2p9

  • “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

    Yogi Berra

  • This letter was posted to the Brookland list-serv:

    “Just thought I’d pass on the response I received from Joseph T. Spence, in regards to my fiery expression of discontent 🙂 . It sounds like their plans for the azalea garden are much more logical and good natured than the Washington Gardner article implied:

    Thank you for your support of the USNA. I have been impressed at the outpouring of support for this scientifically important and beautiful facility. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation that has been put forward.

    The facts are that the azalea collection will not be removed. What was proposed was removal of the undocumented plants that have no germplasm value, which amount to less than 20% of the collection. They would be replaced with new well-documented plants from our ongoing breeding program. These new plants would be arranged in clusters that will allow for easier maintenance. I know Scott Aker has been misquoted but I can assure you that he proposed what he felt was best for the viewing public. In any event, I have asked the acting director of the USNA to re-evaluate this decision and to see if there are other opportunities for funding.

    I enjoy the azalea collection at the Arboretum as much as anyone and you have my assurance that the collection will continue to exist and be enjoyed by all. Perhaps one day we will run into each other on the trails of Mt. Hamilton.

    Thanks again for your support.

    Joseph T. Spence, Ph.D.
    Director
    Beltsville Area
    Agricultural Research Service
    10300 Baltimore Avenue, Room 223
    Beltsville, MD 20705
    301-504-6078”

  • I’d just point out that 20% of 1,000 azaleas = 200 plants.(various places say the azaleas number in the “thousands.” )

    That’s quite a few to be digging up. I’m still suspicious….

  • I talked to Scott Aker directly and have direct quotes from him: In his rsponse he admits that
    1) Tha area slated for destruction comprises at least 50% of the azalea collection.
    2) There is no active azalea breeding program so I have no idea where this new plant material he speaks of would come from. The last significant azalea released from the National Arboretum was from the very block of azaleas being slated for removal. I talked to Dr. Joe Spence by phone today and when I presented Scott’s direct quotes to him he admitted that he was mistaken and perhaps even misled by Dr. Jordan and Scott. I can not speak for Dr. Spence, but I belive he would retract his original statement as posted above.

    • Anonymous, if you’re going to make these kind of statements, it seems like you shouldn’t be posting anonymously. This isn’t my blog, so I can’t demand or even request that you fess up, but you’re making some pretty bold statements and quoting some folks – hiding behind anonymity seems wrong in this circumstance.

  • Fair Enough Nichole,

    I am Aaron Cook the President of the Azalea Society of America and I have been on the phone with Scott twice for 45 min the first time and over an hour the second time. I also have spoken directly to Dr. Spence and have e-mail messages from Scott, Dr. Jordan, and Dr. Spence to back up my statements.

  • I have attached Scott’s e-mail here

    Thank you for your inquiry. We have indeed been forced to plan the removal of most of the azaleas on the Glenn Dale Hillside. While we have only had slight reductions in financial resources for the past ten years, our costs have gone up steadily, and our staff numbers have steadily eroded to the point where we cannot sustain all of our collections. Recently, we learned that a donor that has supported two gardener positions on our staff will no longer be providing that support, and the loss of this staff has resulted in the need to deaccession collections. We will be deaccessioning our National Boxwood Collection and the co-located Perennial Collections as well as the Glenn Dale Hillside portion of the Azalea Collection.

    We do not have documentation for any of the plants on the Glenn Dale Hillside. Although Morrison’s breeding records do exist, no labels have been found attached to any plant so that we can know its provenance beyond conjecture. This does not fit the rigorous standard we require for plant records. In 2008, we instituted a program to gradually replace these azaleas with masses of known Glenn Dale cultivars of certain provenance. To date, we have propagated plants for this effort, and we will proceed to plant them to replace masses of unknown azaleas.

    Although volunteers have been active in restoring the Glenn Dale Hillside after a period of abandonment in the 1980s, it is inaccurate to state that the Hillside has been restored and maintained with volunteer labor alone. The staff hours spent in maintaining this area are greater than the volunteer hours spent there and have been consistently.

    I cannot dispute the beauty of the display and its value as an attraction for our visitors. Currently, again in part to diminishing resources, we are now unable to accommodate the crowds of visitors in April and May when the azaleas are in bloom. We have inadequate parking and restroom facilities. It is becoming progressively more difficult to ensure a positive and safe visitor experience during this time frame, and some shifting of priorities in the Azalea Collection are needed to address this. We plan to incorporate a greater diversity of azaleas, most notably late blooming native species and cultivars derived from them, as well as Kurume and Satsuki azaleas that bloom later. We will still have a very significant display of azaleas that bloom in the late April / early May time frame.

    This is not being driven by the need to use the land for other purposes; it is rather driven by the need to reduce the total labor needed to maintain our collections in an acceptable manner.

    There are many very significant new introductions aside from the Syringa you mention. We have introduced two new Hydrangea quercifolia cultivars, ‘Ruby Slippers’ and ‘Munchkin’; Callicarpa ‘Duet’, Camellia ‘Anacostia’, Prunus ‘First Lady’, and Viburnum ‘Adirondack’ in recent years. There are very active breeding efforts with Catalpa, Prunus, and Hydrangea underway, though I do not know all the details related to these efforts.

    Thank you for your interest in developments here at the U.S. National Arboretum.

    Scott Aker
    Gardens Unit Leader
    U.S. National Arboretum
    3501 New York Avenue, NE
    Washington, DC 20002-1958
    202-245-4533

  • Here is Dr. Spence’s e-mail

    Thank you for your support of the USNA. I have been impressed at the outpouring of support for this scientifically important and beautiful facility. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation that has been put forward.

    The facts are that the azalea collection will not be removed. What was proposed was removal of the undocumented plants that have no germplasm value, which amount to less than 20% of the collection. They would be replaced with new well-documented plants from our ongoing breeding program. These new plants would be arranged in clusters that will allow for easier maintenance. I know Scott Aker has been misquoted but I can assure you that he proposed what he felt was best for the viewing public. In any event, I have asked the acting director of the USNA to re-evaluate this decision and to see if there are other opportunities for funding.

    I enjoy the azalea collection at the Arboretum as much as anyone and you have my assurance that the collection will continue to exist and be enjoyed by all. Perhaps one day we will run into each other on the trails of Mt. Hamilton.

    Thanks again for your support.

    Joseph T. Spence, Ph.D.
    Director
    Beltsville Area
    Agricultural Research Service
    10300 Baltimore Avenue, Room 223
    Beltsville, MD 20705
    301-504-6078

  • The fact is that most of the Azaleas on the Mt Hamilton hillside amounts to over 5000 mature 60 year old plants and the National Arboretum has no azalea breeding program. Either of these facts can be easily verified.

  • IzelPlants.com just posted a video satire of this situation.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAMNSBPmmFg#

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