Glenn Dale residents help save azalea display at National Arboretum
Civic leaders credit letter-writing campaign, anonymous $1M donation
The Glenn Dale azalea will remain at the National Arboretum after plans to remove the azaleas were quashed by officials there.
Glenn Dale civic leaders credit a public outcry, including a letter-writing campaign, and an anonymous donation of $1 million for saving the azaleas.
An outcry from local residents led to the formation of Save The Azaleas after an announcement last fall that the arboretum a Washington, D.C., botanical garden would destroy about 15,000 Glenn Dale azalea shrubs.
Save The Azaleas is a loose coalition of Glenn Dale residents and others, including many garden clubs across the United States. They also received support from the Royal Horticultural Society in the United Kingdom, according to member Don Hyatt. He did not have an estimate on how many members it has.
The azaleas were first brought to the arboretum in 1946, according to its website, and were put at risk when the garden lost a grant that would have paid the salaries for two gardeners.
The anonymous donation of $1 million is intended to establish an endowment so the arboretum can keep and maintain its Glenn Dale azaleas and its National Boxwood Collection, according to the Friends of the National Arboretum, a nonprofit organization that supports the 446-acre garden. The endowment pays $50,000 annually for the salaries of two gardeners to care for the collections.
The Glenn Dale azalea was created at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Introduction Station in Glenn Dale starting in the late 1920s in a program that lasted 25 years.
The flower is among the most popular azaleas in the Mid-Atlantic region, said Courtland Lee, a longtime Glenn Dale resident who runs the Boxlee Azalea Farm in Glenn Dale.
"This community has a sense of history about the azaleas which is a big part of the history of Glenn Dale," said Henry Wixon, president of the Glenn Dale Citizens Association. "The community's reaction didn't surprise me a bit. [The azaleas] mean a lot here. The widespread outcry was wonderful to see."
Colien Hefferan, director of the National Arboretum, said in a Feb. 14 announcement the Glenn Dale azaleas would be spared and the garden would "reassess our ... opportunities to expand private support before we reduce or eliminate collections the public so values."
The Save The Azaleas campaign dubbed Hefferan's reversal "The Valentine's Day Un-massacre."
Mary Vondrak, who served as president of the Glenn Dale Citizens Association in the mid-2000s, said having the floral pride of Glenn Dale extracted from the National Arboretum would have been a blow to many residents who look forward to a springtime arboretum visit. The arboretum estimates that it has about 100,000 visitors a year.
"To have lost them would have been a real shame for our whole community because so many people know the azalea's history here," said Vondrak, a Glenn Dale resident for 15 years. "Anyone who has seen them bloom knows how beautiful they can be."
Lee, who has managed the Boxlee Azalea Farm for 20 years and has about 300 varieties of Glenn Dale azaleas on the property, said he didn't join the public outcry in part because the azaleas that were going to be removed may not have originated in Glenn Dale.
"I couldn't get too fired up about the whole thing," he said, adding that he has examined the arboretum's Glenn Dale azalea display.
Glenn Dale residents weren't the only azalea enthusiasts lobbying for the arboretum to change its original decision. Mike White, owner of White's Nursery in Germantown, said he tracked arboretum officials' comments on the Glenn Dale azalea collection as objections mounted from across the region.
"I just thought removing them would be a crazy idea," White said. "Once you go there once and see it in bloom, you'll want to go back there every year."