Lost a contributor? National Arboretum says it’s time to destroy some gardens!


This story just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser.  I was first alerted that the National Arboretum has plans to literally destroy part of its historic Azalea Collection next season by a horticulturist friend in Baltimore, of all places.  I passed the word along and almost immediately Kathy Jentz had posted an angry rant about it from the Azalea Society (oh, you don't want to see an angry azalea-hugger in action!) That link includes responses from the poor Arb official tasked with answering questions about the decision (Scott Aker, a friend whose job I don't envy right now).

Next, I inquired of some insiders at the Arb and learned that a long-time contributor was ending his or her support, so yes indeedy, the decision had been made to "de-accession" (kill) not just some magnificant old azaleas but the Perennials Collection and the Boxwood Collection, too.  As I then ranted for a local garden center, why is this the first any of us have heard about the funding crisis, and only through inside-gardening gossip?  Ya think they could have first tried to, um, rally for more funds, from private or government sources? 

Of course, before you can say "Save the Azaleas", there's a Facebook cause to that effect, which you're all invited to join.  Or just click on either of blog links above for email addresses of the higher-ups in charge of the Arboretum – higher-ups within the U.S. Department of Ag.  (Yes, this is DC and the feds are everywhere!)

The news has already gone viral in the DC region; let's see if it can go national.


  1. So, why do they need to kill the grove? If they don’t have the funding to take care of it, why don’t they just let it go? If they are going to chainsaw the place, I’m sure they would block it off to visitors anyway. Why just not block it off and not kill everything? It makes no sense. If they kill everything with the intention of replacing it with something else, wouldn’t that cost more?

  2. Susan, we’re hearing suspiciously true-ringing conjecture that there’s internal budget- and turf-wrangling going on here. In the government it’s pretty damn common.

  3. O.M.G. Please, y’all, keep in mind that the Arbo people, even the one(s) with the big targets on their backs, are probably as upset about this as anyone else, but carrying out their duties and taking a lot of heat for it. Wow.

    Susan is right, this rings of some kind of internal budget politics. Lots of care, thought, and heart goes into maintaining those collections, and none of this must be easy for anybody.

    Interesting about the “privately funded positions” in the asian valley… Wasn’t that funded by Brooke Astor, whose estate probate must still be in a shambles…

    Sad for all involved.

  4. I agree, something isn’t quite kosher here. It does smack of a turf war, or politics of some sort. Whatever else it is, it’s ridiculous. With the hundreds of garden clubs in this country, if they’re in need of contributions the garden clubs are nearly always ready, willing and able to help out. If they need volunteer gardeners/free labor, the garden clubs in the DC metro area alone could probably supply all the bodies they need. Mature plantings don’t need anywhere near the care and feeding that new plantings do, so how much ongoing work really needs to be done? Surely they could get interns from local hort programs to work for the experience. The reasons given are definitely on the lame side. They just aren’t trying hard enough to explore all options, IMHO.

  5. I would click on the Facebook link, but I don’t want to give up my privacy via the “Causes” widget they are using.

    I would prefer if it was something I could link to as a “Fan.” That way the group doesn’t automatically have the addresses and info of all my Facebook friends.

  6. Leaking a story like this is also a way of getting support for the cause. Maybe you were saying that.

    I have no problem with this way of doing business. It is often the only way of getting around secrecy.

    Let’s hope someone will be very embarrassed soon and we’ll see some fast back-peddling.

    Thanks for bringing this story to our attention.

  7. When government does begin to reel in expenses the places they chop are insinificant in the broader picture. It cannot cost that much to rake and prune existing garden beds.

    Could it possible end up with naming rights?
    The Barrack Obama 2012 National Arboretum?

    the TROLL

  8. Good points Susan. I’m glad you reported it. It is kind of like all news, people make decisions, and we’re left with the aftermath. When, if only, they would have asked for help first, we could get the word out.

    Angry Azalea Hugger (LOL!)~~Dee

  9. I know it all seems so simple…and I don’t know if this is a factor but when the Royal Botanical Gardens in Ontario had money problems, volunteers were not allowed to help with the maintenance etc. because of the union. Basically you aren’t allowed to get a volunteer to come in and do a job for free and take away a paid union job. So the solution is to rip out a garden, insane really isn’t it? I don’t know what solutions they finally came up with.

  10. This is such a sad waste – will do the Facebook thing but why would anyone allow destruction? Put out the word and have it transferred to a local park at least! Have an auction to raise money! Save $ by firing the rear of the person who suggested it.

  11. So… This gets me thinking about germplasm. A plant is a life form, shaped, textured, and colored in a certain way… Is the function of an Arboretum to be a repository for germplasm? Is it simply a quaint idea that there is also some element of design, i.e., the beauty of the azalea collection? Is it simply another manipulation by the plant world (a la Pollan) that the plants trick us into creating beautiful frames within which they floridly display their genes?

    Like a zoo, an arboretum is a collection or a certain sort of DNA, which is tracked, catalogued, and developed (bred) for various purposes. Sometimes that purpose is preservation, and sometimes it’s for expansion/exploitation of beneficial characteristics. Hmm…

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