I Found My Thrill on Azalea Hill
I am not a big fan of Azaleas. Part of the reason is that they don’t grow well where I now live in Chicago. Even growing up outside New York City, where Azaleas are fairly common, they did not appeal to me. Perhaps it was because they generally appeared as little green meatballs that, for a couple of weeks every year, turned into little pink meatballs.
And yet, a few days ago I found myself at the National Arboretum in Washington, DC, strolling towards the Azalea Collection along with Judy and our friend Carol.
The Azalea Collection is located in a woodland garden on the slopes of a large hill called, somewhat pretentiously, Mt. Hamilton. We did not know that most of Mt. Hamilton had been declared off limits in order to avoid disturbing a pair of bald eagle eaglets born March 18th and 20th.
The parent bald eagles built their nest near the top of a tulip tree on Mt. Hamilton. The parents are known as Mr. President and The First Lady. They are the first bald eagles to nest in the National Arboretum since 1947. There is a bald eagle cam through which you can watch the eaglets 24 hours per day, if you have nothing better to do. You can find the eagle cam by clicking here.
Anyhow, back to the Azaleas. Fortunately, there were still thousands of Azaleas to be found on the parts of Mt. Hamilton which are not off limits.
I enjoyed visiting the Azalea Collection. As you know, I am a sucker for brightly colored flowers. More than that, though, I liked how the Azaleas were allowed to assume their natural habits instead of being tightly pruned. Also, I appreciated how the Azaleas were woven into a peaceful woodland garden with many other plants that provided a counterpoint to all the intense color – for instance, the Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) carpeting the ground in the picture above.
The Mayapples were blooming too, but very discretely.
Azaleas in bloom are anything but subtle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this golden shade of yellow. I like it, though.
And I love the apricot color of the flowers in this picture.
Nestled into the woodes slopes of Mount Hamilton is the more formal Morrison Garden, named after noted Azalea breeder and past National Arboretum Director Benjamin Morrison. Thousands of the Azaleas on Mt. Hamilton are products of Benjamin Morrison’s work.
This brick path and boxwoods nicely frame the tree in the photo above. Wish I knew its name.
A carpet of blue Phlox stolonifera provide contrast for blood red Azalea flowers.
Supporting players of the Azalea Collection include woodland natives – and exotics, like the Arisaema above. Same genus as the native Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum).
Here are some native Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) growing at the base of a large shade tree.
This may horrify some of my English friends, but here a low-growing white Azalea is partnered with a patch of Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica).
Small flowering trees also make up part of the tapestry of the Azalea Collection. There were plenty of Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus florida), as in the first photo, but I was also taken by the Common Silverbell (Halesia tetraptera) above.
When the Azaleas are in bloom, the collection at the National Arboretum is certainly worth a visit. The brilliant patches blooming around an otherwise tranquil woodland garden is a little like fireworks being set off in a monastery.