It’s Azalea season again at Powell Gardens and they are currently in peak bloom. Azaleas are America’s favorite shrub (because most consider roses “flowers”). This scene is from the Rock & Waterfall Garden with the native wildflower Golden Ragwort (Senecio aureus) in the foreground, a sprinkle of budding blue Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) then masses of pink and white Glenn Dale Azaleas.
Our masses of azaleas in the Rock & Waterfall Garden owe their existence to the generosity of Andy Klapis. Andy was a long-time Kansas City nurseryman and educator who now resides in Valparaiso, Indiana, to live near his son. He donated the original plants to the garden; many of the varieties are no longer commercially available but in many cases are far superior to what’s on the market today. I called him on Tuesday to tell him how beautiful and inspiring his azaleas were in the garden. They are like a symphony of flowers to the eyes and nose. In his late eighties, Andy still knows more about azaleas than anyone in our region.
White Lights Azalea is one of those in bloom with exquisitely fragrant flowers that open soft pink and age to pure white. The “Lights” azaleas are Minnesota hybridized and are some of our toughest azaleas as most are at least half native azaleas. They are deciduous and have bloomed reliably every spring except last spring’s Easter Freeze at Powell Gardens. They bloom the first week of May most years, a bit later like everything this year.
Rosy Lights Azalea is a deep rose pink and also has a very rich, sweet aroma. Missouri’s only native azalea (which defies captivity) the Roseshell Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) is half the parent of this hybrid.
Mandarin Lights Azalea has vivacious orange flowers without a scent. Most red azaleas are hummingbird pollinated so they attract pollinators by sight not smell. The American native Flame Azalea (R. calendulaceum) is part of this parent. Mandarin Lights is a good nectar plant for butterflies like the Giant Swallowtail.
Lemon Lights Azalea on the north edge of the Rock & Waterfall Garden is a blaze in lemon yellow.
Candy Lights Azalea is one of the newer cultivars and is more compact and floriferous.
My Mary Azalea is a purely American hybrid azalea and found on the south edge of the Rock & Waterfall Garden. This variety is a Plant of Merit and a star performer in our heat and humidity. It has very fragrant flowers it gets from the Florida Flame Azalea (R. austrinum).
Nacoochee Princess Azalea is our most fragrant azalea at Powell Gardens. This American hybrid from Georgia has heat and humidity tolerance. I lured some grateful visitors over to smell it! It is next to My Mary south of the Rock & Waterfall Garden.