Anonymous $1M Donor Rescues Embattled Azaleas


Remember the kerfuffle (the GardenRant word of the month) over the National Arboretum's plans -  leaked, not announced – to kill 10,000 mature azaleas?  Well, the Arb announced this week that an anonymous donor has pledged a $1 million endowment to preserve them and the Arboretum's boxwood collection, also slated for removal.  According to the Washington Post, that'll generate about $50,000 a year, only about half the amount needed to make up for the loss of the $110,00/year grant that paid for two gardener positions.  So fund-raising will continue.

No doubt there's speculation over who might care about azaleas to the tune of a million bucks, and one possible clue is that the donation was made in honor of two friends of the donor:  prominent D.C. lawyer SullivanBrendan Sullivan and his wife.  That naturally brings to mind the quote that Sullivan is best known for, which happens to be plant-related.  When defending Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair back in the late '80s, he famously told the judge, "I am not a potted plant.  I'm here as the lawyer."

There's more on the azalea story at Save The Azaleas. 


  1. Well, glory be – sanity prevails. And in Washington, no less! I’m delighted to hear that the destruction has been halted, but I still think that there was some nefarious hidden agenda there, and I’d love to know what it was. Still, the plants have been given a reprieve, and that’s the important thing.

  2. Hate to be the grinch here…. but I can think of a lot more important causes that could use a 1 million dollar endowment. I love plants, they are my joy and my livelihood, but this just make no sense to me in a country, and world that are in crisis.

  3. Shira,
    It is not our place to tell people where and how they should practice philanthropy. Not everyone believes that money alone will solve world and local crises or that it is one’s responsibility to do so.
    This generosity to save the Azaleas reflects the fact that such issues are best resolved in the private sector and not by the taxpayer.
    Besides, how do we know that the donor hasn’t already made significant contributions to help solve serious crises elsewhere?

  4. hmm.. I guess someone needs to explain it to me was it really a money issue about not being able to pay the gardeners or is it about the azaleas lineage not being able to be identified so there scientific value was questionable?

  5. Right on on the comments against Shira.
    The same should be said for people who have lawns, hot tubs etc. How do you know these folks have not reduced their footprit in other ways to off set their lawn hot tub.

    The TROLL

  6. First of all – Oliver North an azalea? That’s a gross insult to azaleas!

    Secondly, I went to the “Save the Azaleas” link and did some further reading. I was first surprised to see the announcement of the new Chinese Garden, and it got me thinking: could the intent on this destruction have actually been that the land was wanted (and possibly promised prematurely) for the Chinese garden? I hate to be paranoid, but that scenario makes sense, given some of the lame responses and rationales that came from Scott Aker and others at the NA.

    Lastly, I also disagree with Shira. Botanical gardens serve many important purposes, not the least of which is providing an oasis of beauty and sanity in an increasingly ugly and insane world. Also, the point about not assuming that the donors haven’t been very socially responsible in other ways is well-taken. We’re always too quick to make judgements in spite of a lack of knowledge and/or facts. It’s an area we all need to improve in.

  7. HALF? That is a hell of a lot of $$$$$ to “tend” mature plants. Sounds like ungrateful mismanagement there to me.

    The azaleas can live off the interest generated by that amount. I COULD!!!

    AND – thanks to the donor! He/she must love the idea of not destroying the beautiful and mature!

  8. I’ll halfway agree with Shira, not because I think the money shouldn’t be spent on plants, but because I am not personally interested in Azaleas and don’t think preserving them (especially given the origins and backstory of these particular plants) really adds a lot of value to the future of horticulture/gardening in general. A smart person or two with $1 million could do something like recreate (with variations, of course) the original Heronswood Gardens over a span of time, a cause much more interesting and valuable to hort. than Azaleas.

Comments are closed.