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    Savaging the Azaleas at the National Arboretum

    by | 3 | Nov 24, 2010

    Don Hyatt reports in the Washington Gardener that the Director of the National Arboretum is planning to have the azaleas on a hillside cut to the ground and poisoned with herbicide. There are bureaucrats to contact. My own missive follows:

    Dear suddenly notorious bureaucrats:

    It’s a common tactic among bureaucrats, who consider themselves ignored or under-valued, to target particularly popular programs for termination and/or removal. This is not nice and generally not appreciated by the public who, after all, pay for maintenance and service, not wanton destruction.

    Poisoning plants, as Mr. Aker is reported to be planning at the National Arboretum, is always bad, regardless of the rationalizations humans come up with. That someone charged with preserving plant life is proposing to kill azaleas on purpose reminds us that Cain slew Abel because the latter had found favor with the Creator. Envy makes humans do really stupid stuff. Mr. Aker’s scheme needs to be nipped in the bud.

    Please see to it.

    It’s probably worth noting that, while the District of Columbia is barely in the South and the northeast quadrant of the city has historically not been the most prominent and people tasked with promoting agriculture (the Department of Agriculture is in charge) are perhaps not well suited to caring for trees and shrubs, azaleas not only happen to be indigenous to the North American continent, but find much favor in our Southlands. Indeed, the Wikipedia entry tells us:

    Many cities in the United States have festivals in the spring celebrating the blooms of the azalea, including Wilmington, North Carolina (North Carolina Azalea Festival); Norfolk, Virginia; Valdosta, Georgia; Palatka, Florida; Charleston, Missouri also features an annual festival which incorporates both azaleas and dogwood trees. The small town recently celebrated its 40th festival. Pickens, South Carolina; Muskogee, Oklahoma; South Gate, California; Mobile, Alabama; and Dothan, Alabama. Tyler, Texas features an eight mile azalea trail in the spring that has been featured in several magazines.; Nacogdoches, Texas boasts the largest Azalea Garden in Texas as well as over 20 miles of trails through manicured residential districts, during its two week long festival in March and early April.

    ###

    Monica Smith

    Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."

     

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    • Dr. Ramon Jordan responded. I just love that the pedigree of shrubs is of such importance!

      Hello Ms. Monica Smith,

      Thank you for writing to Drs. St. John, Spence, and/or myself to express your concerns about the U.S. National Arboretum’s plans to remove portions of one or more of our collections. There are a few inaccuracies circulating that I’d like to resolve. First, what you may have not heard is that the National Arboretum’s Gardens Unit will need to cut two gardener positions in 2012 due to the loss of long-standing support from a private donor. The lack of sufficient personnel to maintain all of the gardens and collections at the arboretum’s D.C. campus has forced us to evaluate the best use of the unit’s financial resources. Without permanent sustained funding to support the minimum number of staff needed to develop and maintain all of our collections, we have determined that we have little choice but to de-accession certain collections.

      Second, Gardens Unit staff conducted a careful analysis of the collections and gardens to determine which should be proposed for de-accessioning. The analysis included the scientific value (germplasm) of each collection; its educational and interpretive value; its aesthetic value and appeal to visitors; and the current level of stakeholder involvement/support for the collection. One of the collections identified for de-accessioning includes a portion of the Azalea Collection (only the unpedigreed azaleas, for which we cannot justify long-term maintenance). The other area is the National Boxwood and Perennials Collection.

      Third, this action would NOT mean removal of all azaleas at the Arboretum. It would simply mean that we’d take out the plants in the collection for which we don’t really have documentation of pedigree; native trees or meadow plants will be planted to restore the area. As funding becomes available, we’d use that space for pedigreed Glenn Dale azaleas, organized in a way that it will look great and make the most use of the (future) limited gardening staff availability.

      Most importantly, we do appreciate your passion and support for one of our major seasonal attractions at the National Arboretum. In the short term, we will look at other alternatives to de-accessioning that might exist. In the long term, we will take an aggressive look at other funding mechanisms to ensure that we can continue to provide the public with the opportunity to enjoy the U.S. National Arboretum. I would be happy to speak with you to discuss ways in which you could help support this or any one of our 15 gardens and collections at the U.S. National Arboretum.

      Thanks again for your support,
      Ramon

    • Hope Clark

      Sounds sort of like the healthcare bill, doesn’t it? Less funds, saving money , reapportioning assets. Who gets care and who doesn’t?

    • Don Hyatt said the story had gone viral.
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/28/AR2010112803230.html

      Somehow, 97 emails that get a canned response don’t strike me as significant. But, I guess lots of D.C. bureaucrats still consider the internets a novelty.

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