Glenn Dale Azaleas

We’ve had another full spring season of garden tours. Every group brings enthusiastic gardeners and plant nuts like us. A bonus for us is learning something new each time.

Recently, with the Roslyn Garden Club came the esteemed Alan Summers. Summers is the former owner of the still-missed Carroll Gardens in Westminster, MD and longtime host of the weekly radio program, “The Garden Club” (WCBM-680AM, Saturdays, 7a.m to 8 a.m.).

The morning Summers joined us, he rounded the path by the pool then stopped. He looked straight up the hill to one of our azaleas and said, “Glenn Dale. I’ll have to think which one.” By the time he walked up the steps to the terrace to sit down, he’d come up with the name: ‘Martha Hitchcock.’ We’d never known the name of hybrid or the cultivar of this azalea that came to us when A.C. went digging 40 years ago at the old Towson Nurseries.

Summers explained that in the late 1920’s,  the USDA had an azalea hybridizing program in Glenn Dale, Maryland. The goal of the program was to develop large-flowered azaleas, similar to those grown in the South, that would be winter-hardy in the Mid-Atlantic region, USDA zone 7.

We have two: one near the pool and one up by the terrace. They only do well with good drainage, so each of ours is planted on a hill. They prefer a north or east-facing slope, and ours have that. They also like organically rich, acidic soil, which ours enjoy here, thanks to the compost we spread each spring.

Our two ‘Martha Hitchcocks’ bloom from April to June, longer than any other azaleas in our garden. Another good feature is that the showy, flowers when spent, drop to the ground. They don’t dry out on the bush and look messy. Another bonus is their attraction to hummingbirds and butterflies. Their leaves are evergreen, except in the harshest winters, adding texture to the nearby conifers and a fourth season of interest.

Thank you, Alan Summers, for teaching us more about our garden.