Purple SplendorAzalea 'Purple Splendor'

"In the spring rain
all things
grow beautiful."

-Kaga no Chiyo,
buddhist nun


This evergreen azalea is a hybrid of R. yedoense var. poukhanense pollinated by R. hexe with perhaps a little of something else mixed in. It is a shrub I purchased one day when I had to rush out & get something in a hurry. This was Spring 2001 when I had been in the midst of planting sundry things when I realized the shrub I had just dug a hole for really should have bright sunlight, but I'd already disrupted the ground in an afternoon-sun location & needed something for right there. Quick I was off to get I knew not what, but whatever it was to be, it had to be smallish but not too small, evergreen if possible, happy to settle for if not preferring half shade, & fitting in the hole I already dug.

What I found, 'Purple Splendor,' is distinct from the British developed & differently spelled 'Purple Splendour' (R. ponticum crossed with an unknown pollinator) which gets larger & has tightly clustered dark purple blooms with a black blotch. The two cultivar names are far too similar & not everyone makes the spelling distinctions correctly. Not that it would be a catastrophe if you wanted Purple Splendor & got Purple Splendour by accident; they're both quite nice, though the American variety is a flourescent pink-magenta, not the deep dark purple of the British one.

Purple SplendorHardy to zero degrees & wanting semi-shade (though not adverse to more sun) & acidic loamy soil, this azalea grows a mite faster than most, & can reach four feet by four feet. Ours was put in at only two feet tall & three feet wide with a few twiggy bits reaching taller & wider, & in two years had broadened its spread considerably. The limb structure is twiggy overall with a "wild" appearance, some of the limbs very upright, others sprawling, some hanging down to the ground.

It has long-lasting blooms in April & the entirety of May. The close-up is of a mid-April bloom, & the second photo is from mid-May. During May whenever I was driving to anyplace, I would spot specimens in the damnedest locations. They really stuck out as bright pink sprawling little shrubs. They were sometimes in full sun, sometimes nearly hidden under evergreens that permitted hardly any sun to reach them, were sometimes along a roadside without being cared for by anyone. It's apparently pretty popular, so I guess I'm not the only one that likes "unkempt" twiggy types of azaleas.

It's an old variety, developed by Joseph B. Gable of Stewartstown, Pennsylvania. For fifty years beginning in 1920, Joe Gable enriched the world through azalea hybridization. He was not initially a professional nurseryman, but a farmer whose devotion to avocational gardening put him on par with the best horticulturalists. Though scarcely looking for customers, over time he acquired such important clientelle for his creations as the DuPont family, & the presidential White House. Some of his hybrids he simply put out in the woods around the edge of the farmland — talk about a woodland garden! — & if they weren't as hardy as he was selecting them to be, that was the end of them, a neat way to weed out those which might have been delicate.

Even after the plants he developed came to be greatly in demand, he continued his regular farmlife, & was only a part-time nurseryman, remaining to the end primarily a hobbyist of the highest order of greatness. In 1954 when The Saturday Evening Post ran a feature article on his flowerful farm, his halfway secretive personal devotion suddenly became known around the world. For the rest of his life his farm & the surrounding woodlands were by default a public park to which many people made annual pilgramages to saunter among fabulous blooms.

So, a little bit of Joe Gable lives with Granny Artemis & Paghat the Ratgirl. I hope the wonderful old coot is happy about that, gazing down from his present chores in the Garden of Paradise.

For more photographs of this shrub, go to the:
'Purple Splendor' Page of the Rhododendron Gallery


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