Whitethroat Azalea

Azalea 'Whitethroat'

"The fair azalea bows
Beneath its snowy crest."

- Sarah Helen Power Whitman


When we bought our house in 1999, the gardens were not yet extensive. The back yard had been a fenced in play area for children & a big dog. There was a mere lawn with bramble patches at each end & a homely chunk of pampas grass breaking up the monotony, & none of that we kept.

The first large shrub I bought for the back yard was the deciduous Whitethroat Azalea which stands nearly six feet tall & wide. I bought it in winter when it had only a hint of buds & no leaves at all. I thought it was a stunning plant just for its twigs, & I reasoned that if it looked that great naked, it would have to look spectacular indeed with flowers & leaves.

I didn't even know as yet that it was a recipient of the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society of England, given only to the finest plants that have proven themselves over a period of time for hardiness, beauty, & which require no extraordinary talent to grow successfully.

Whitethroat Azalea Through the winter it developed its buds, & come April, before leafing, the buds became quite huge, & half-formed leaves began to appear as well. April's puffy buds were themselves large colorful delights. By May it produced scads of large white double-flowers with a lovely scent.

That first year the Whitethroat bloomed, I just stood in awe of it. It was like a bright white cloud in the yard, just jaw-droppingly beautiful. So the Whitethroat immediately rewarded my fascination for woody shrubs. Positive reinforcement!

Though it initially stood practically alone where the awful pompas grass had been removed, it soon had companions in the same yard, & is today fairly densely planted with trees & shrubs & vines & groundcovers. I still can't take the Whitethroat for granted, either. It continues to strike me as awesome.

When the flowers are finished in late May or early June, I "de-spider" or deadhead selectively to try to shape the shrub more upward & limit its spread, without ever resorting to pruning. I avoid pruning because deciduous azaleas generally do not like it & their natural shape is really their best shape. But for each flower that is dead-headed, a callous forms over the end of that branch, & it grows two or three new branches from that point.

Whitethroat Azalea I call it "de-spidering" because when the blooms fall, the drying insides remain, & these have a spidery appearance. I leave the spiders on the sides of the shrub so it won't bush out too much sideways, & so it will produce a few of its interesting star-shaped seed pods. On the top & center, the despidering encourages a more compact & upright growth. Even so, it does spread sideways quite a lot, & some of the lower branches hang right down to the ground.

It's an elegant shrub through the rest of the summer with its brightly pale green foliage almost luminous. Then for autumn the leaves turn a most dramatic red-purple, as you can see on the 'Whitethroat' page of the Autumn Azalea Garden Walk. After leaf-fall, it again reveals the shapely naked limbs of winter.

Whitethroat has been around a long while, it has had further varieties developed out of it. It is a Knaphill-Exbury deciduous Azalea. It was hybridized by the great Victorian azalea breeder Anthony Waterer of Knaphill. The wonderfully-named Waterer family constituted a veritable dynasty of world-famed developers of rhododendrons & azaleas, & one of our evergreen Ironclads was also an early creation of Anthony Waterer, 'Catawba Album.'

For more photographs of this shrub, go to the:
White Throat Azalea Page of the Rhododendron Gallery


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