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Arboretum reverses decision to destroy azalea display after public backlash By Adrian Higgins Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, February 15, 2011 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/15/AR2011021503794_pf.html Officials at the National Arboretum have halted a plan to destroy its most popular floral attraction - a display of 10,000 mature azalea shrubs - as its new director seeks to improve the long-term picture of the financially strapped federal institution. The decision to rip out the 65-year-old Glenn Dale azalea display in the botanical garden in Northeast Washington spurred a public outcry and a campaign to save the azaleas. It also prompted an anonymous donor to pledge a $1 million endowment to be used toward preserving the azaleas and the arboretum's world-class boxwood collection, which was also targeted for removal. "This generous donation, offered in the Arboretum's hour of greatest need, reflects not only the donor's passion for this national treasure, but also confidence that the Arboretum leadership will make sound decisions in relation to the collections in the future," said Kathy Horan, executive director of the Friends of the National Arboretum, according to a news release. The arboretum's director, Colien Hefferan, acknowledged "that the intensity and breadth of the concern did surprise everyone here." She said she wants to get horticultural experts together in the spring to devise long-term plans for the arboretum's 15 major plant collections and gardens and to work with the friends group to find more private funding. The 446-acre arboretum is a public botanical garden and a research facility for the U.S. Agriculture Department's Agricultural Research Service. In November, Hefferan's predecessor approved a plan to reduce the collections after the unexpected loss of a $110,000 grant, which helped pay for two gardeners. This spring would have been the last flowering of the azaleas on a hillside called Mount Hamilton. The spectacle helps to draw as many as 100,000 visitors over a peak six-week period in April and May. The azaleas were targeted because the lineage of many has not been identified, diminishing their scientific value. Under the plan, collections of daffodils and perennials would also have been removed. Jeanne Connelly, chairman of the friends group's board, said the plant collections have won a reprieve but their future still depends on finding maintenance funds. The anonymous donation will generate about $50,000 a year, she said. The group has started a fundraising campaign to match the donation and replace the lost grant. The new $1 million gift is the largest single donation in the group's history. The anonymous donor has made the gift in honor of friends: prominent Washington lawyer Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. and his wife, Lila Sullivan. The decision to suspend the removal of the displays "was linked to the outcry" rather than the donation, Connelly said. "There was this incredible backlash," she said. Organizers created a Web site, savetheazaleas.org, and lobbied members of Congress and the administration to come to the defense of the Glenn Dale azaleas. "I think what this has shown is that the people in the Washington area really strongly support the National Arboretum," said one of the protesters, Don Hyatt, a retired teacher in McLean. "We are very thankful for the wide support this issue has brought forth." Successive arboretum directors have struggled with chronic underfunding that has led to deferred maintenance of gardens and infrastructure. Its administration building is closed for a $9 million restoration funded by federal stimulus money. >>From shrubs to towering controversy: Plan to remove azaleas draws >> objections > By Adrian Higgins > Washington Post Staff Writer > Sunday, November 28, 2010; 7:12 PM > > http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/28/AR2010112803230_pf.html > > Washingtonians can be a compliant lot. You can move our football team to > the suburbs, soak it to downtown parking meter users and turn Capitol Hill > into an ultra-secure, Baghdad-style green zone. Just don't mess with our > azaleas. > > A plan to cut down thousands of mature shrubs at the National Arboretum > has ignited a blogosphere firestorm of dismay and rage from azalea lovers > who flock to the federally owned botanical garden each spring. > > The reaction has given Ramon Jordan, the arboretum's interim director, > pause, though plans are still in the works to take out as many as 10,000 > mature azaleas if Jordan cannot replace the loss of an annual grant. > > "I have 97 e-mails I just replied to personally," Jordan said. "The > outpouring is awesome." > > He said he will reevaluate his decision and try to find temporary funding > to delay the uprooting. "The bottom line is, we need sustained funding," > he said. > > The 65-year-old azaleas transform a wooded hill at the arboretum in > Northeast Washington in April and May, helping draw more than 100,000 > visitors during six peak weekends. Managers have proposed removing about > 20 percent of the collection, clustered in the popular hillside display on > Mount Hamilton. Elsewhere in the 446-acre arboretum, displays of boxwoods, > perennials and daffodils are to be removed or broken up. > > Administrators say they had to come up with the plans after they learned > they will be losing an annual $110,000 private grant that funds two of the > 20 gardeners who tend 15 plant collections and gardens. > > Although the azaleas aren't scheduled to be chopped down until late next > year, rumors of the culling went viral just before Thanksgiving. > Protesters created a Web site, savetheazaleas.org, and encouraged > supporters to lobby members of Congress and the secretary of agriculture. > > The arboretum is a public botanical garden and a scientific research > facility of the Agricultural Research Service. > > "People are up in arms," said Judy Tiger, a longtime activist for green > spaces in the District. > > "They're making a terrible decision, and an irrevocable one," said Don > Hyatt, an azalea grower and breeder in McLean. > > Jordan said that without replacement funding, the mature azaleas will be > removed next fall and the 500 boxwood plants the following winter. The > grant, which comes from a private trust, is set to end in February 2012, > officials said. > > The hillside to be cleared was developed decades ago by an Agriculture > Department hybridizer named Ben Morrison. He planted seven acres of Mount > Hamilton with several thousand of his selections, grouping them by color. > > Morrison had worked methodically to create large-flowered azaleas that > were hardy and suitable for the mid-Atlantic states. His Glenn Dale > hybrids now define the Washington azalea, the large evergreen shrubs that > are smothered in blooms in the spring. > > Arboretum scientists continue to develop new garden plants and over the > years have assembled important collections of crape myrtles, cherry trees, > lilacs, hollies and magnolias. Before deciding which collections to > reduce, Jordan said, the arboretum considered such factors as their > scientific and educational value. As beautiful as the targeted azaleas > are, they require a lot of maintenance. Many also lack the records on > parentage that are key to their scientific value for breeders. > > The Glenn Dale azaleas "are low on this scale of scientific merit but high > for aesthetic and visitor experience," Jordan said, "and that's part of > our chagrin, but we have to manage resources well." > > The arboretum has been struggling financially for years. In 2008, its > then-director was preparing plans to lay off a quarter of its 76-member > staff and close the institution on weekends. Congress restored a planned > $2 million cut. The architecturally significant but dilapidated > administration building is undergoing a 14-month, $9 million restoration > funded by federal stimulus money, but a $60 million master plan of capital > improvements is on hold. > > Jordan said that after the Glenn Dale azaleas are removed, "if you have > never been to the arboretum, you would not know what you've missed." > > Hyatt has been to Mount Hamilton, and he is among those who think the > Glenn Dale azaleas will be missed a great deal. "It's on a par with the > cherry blossoms, and to me it's more phenomenal because it lasts longer." > > Hyatt said that some of the plants' lineage can be identified and that > technology might eventually permit the genetic tagging of all of them. > Even if their exact parentage cannot be determined, they are time-tested > plants of great value to future breeders, he said: "They have proven to be > very adaptable plants, the kind you want to build on for the next > generation. That repository is unlike anything anywhere else in the world > that I'm aware of." > > Jeanne Connelly, chairman of the Friends of the National Arboretum, said > the group "understands that these are difficult economic times and public > entities have to tighten their belts. However, destroying these two > national collections" - the azaleas and the boxwoods - "would be a > terrible loss for the public." Connelly has asked Jordan to suspend the > decision, to allow parties to try to find other sources of money. > > The boxwood collection features about 500 plants representing about 170 > species and varieties. It is the most complete collection in the United > States, said Edward Goode, president of the American Boxwood Society. > > "The mission of the arboretum doesn't say anything about the elimination > of the collections - it's diametrically opposed to that," Goode said. He > said he was told that the mature boxwoods "basically are going to be > destroyed, they're going to take cuttings, and the area will be turned > back into a meadow. It's absurd." > > ____ > You read it on H-DC! > > > To reply to a message, or post a question, email: > email@example.com > > --as a moderated list nothing goes out automatically, any private messages > will not be distributed. > > > Matthew Gilmore > H-DC > list co-editor, web editor > firstname.lastname@example.org > http://www.h-net.org/~dclist/ [list > website] > http://www.h-net.org/lists/subscribe.cgi?list=H-DC [subscribe to > H-DC] > > Remember to check > http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=lm&list=H-DC > for past list messages. > ____ You read it on H-DC! To reply to a message, or post a question, email: email@example.com --as a moderated list nothing goes out automatically, any private messages will not be distributed. 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