My early interest in broad-leaved evergreens came as we lived in Virginia and enjoyed the Azalea Gardens, magnolias and especially the camellias. After moving to Pennsylvania, it became apparent we could not grow those camellias. But on doing some research, we discovered the genus Rhododendron and an outstanding name in this area – David Leach.
We telephoned him and he immediately invited us to come for a visit. This was an eye-opener.
His garden in then, Brookville, PA was astounding and his research in propagation and hybridizing was stimulating. He insisted we join in this effort and work on line-breeding, giving us a quite large plant of County of York – Catalode. And so began the journey.
Early work began with collection of “parent plants” and a trip East to visit Nearing and then Gable. Each man was intellectually exciting and encouraging about getting into hybridization. I remember questioning Gable about waiting so long for a plant to bloom with his remark that “after the first seven years – each year brings a present – like Christmas”.
First efforts were at a wooded site some miles from our home, but offering good soils, available water, and overstory plants of help and inter-est. For a number of years all my plants were at that site – seedlings as well as parent plants. Hunters occasionally came through and caused some small problems – but no deer or “critter” damages. One interesting story was the theft of some ½ dozen plants we had brought back from the East. We offered a reward In the papers – because they were very special plants – to no avail. In the Spring a staff member mentioned to me that her neighbor had noticed a very large bud on one of his plants and wondered about it. She then told him that Mark could recognize the bloom and was missing some plants. So – soon we received a phone call that our plants were on the sidewalk below the house! All were returned!
Since moving to Sewickley, the perfect place for a garden made it more possible to increase my time and interest in hybridizing – from early attempts at propagation to later happy results in developing exciting crosses.
Experimentation with soils, cuttings, seeds and transplanting held my attention. And developing interest and work with the Great Lakes Chapter ensued including serving as Treasurer/Membership for two years early on, attendance at meetings, assembling more plants, and developing a rhododendron garden complete with species rhododendron and azaleas and hybrids. For a number of years I held monthly summer “study group” meetings where more local hybridizers could get together and exchanges ideas and their work. We also hosted a number of garden tours and social “brunches” for all members who could attend. I worked to increased membership in a variety of ways – so important for the Chapter and helped in several Regional Shows here in the Pittsburgh area. And after retiring and with more time, offered to serve as President.
An early cross was attempting to effect an “Azaleadendron” as earlier breeders had. I accomplished developing a healthy plant, “Futuristic”, (Gibralter x R.) but no blooms for 20 years. Finally there were some blossoms that proved prettier each year and became a part of some of my crosses. The garden had always known deer – strolling through and even sleeping there – yet little damage. They seemed to like the tomatoes better (and Jane’s house and yard plants and blooms). Yet one year they discovered this special plant and munched over half of it. It has recovered since, but suffered a lot.
While I have preferred the larger trusses (as George Tomaich mentioned) I did work toward better plant growth, leaf shape and color and even differences in trusses/florets as well as looking for color, aroma, bloom time, and other characteristics.
I felt that other beginning enthusiasts might like to know about some of my early efforts and basic procedures. So I started writing articles for the American Rhododendron Journal – which they seemed to appreciate as a balance to more scientific research articles.
Through the years I have tried and grown many different species and hybrids. Some “good-doers” that bloom through a range of winter temperatures and bloom long include: Yak hybrids, Catalode, Boule de Neige, Gigi, Henry Yates, Delp’s Tetra, Janet Blair, Bob Bovee, Martha Hitchcock, Helen Curtis, and my crosses: of Maximum and Yak – the “angels”, the azalea “Garden Jewel” that won second best of show in 2011, and some others: Happy Times, Moonlight Seranade, Sweetheart, Show Time, Pink Halo, and Spring Ecstasy.
It was with great pleasure that I received the Great Lakes Chapter Bronze Medal, the Chapter’s highest award on May 23rd, 2009.
Deer still come through, but with little damage. Always there is scat to let you know they are there. This year they have bedded down in one of Jane’s Iris beds ---squashed flat. However, W.W. Nurseries are growing on cuttings of most of my crosses.
One good friend, Bill Fetterhof, had terrible damage from deer. Yet he was able to produce some lovely crosses. His Straw-berry Supreme has done well here, as have his Lois Jean and Adele’s Yellow. All survive cold and drought. I have a few times had to water the small seedlings. But the larger plants are all survivors of mixed weather conditions. Some of Delp’s plants have also done well, as have Pride’s hollies – great companion plants. And for additional assets, the blueberries are relished – what we can save from the birds.
Dr. Mark Konrad
Mark Konrad's Story