USNA Azalea and Boxwood Collections Get Reprieve

This press release just arrived and I think many of us will agree this is indeed a Happy Valentine's Day gift to the people of the Washington, DC region as well as to plant lovers everwhere. Here is the complete text:


WASHINGTON, DC (February 14, 2011)—A $1 million donation to Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) will establish an endowment to help preserve the Azalea and Boxwood Collections at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., the nonprofit organization announced today. FONA will launch a major fundraising campaign this spring to raise the additional $1 million needed to maintain the treasured collections into the future.

The Azalea Collection has long been a landmark in Washington. The lesser known but nationally recognized Boxwood Collection is the most complete collection in the world.

FONA’s announcement coincides with the Arboretum’s public statement that it is suspending an earlier decision to eliminate the collections, due to the loss of proceeds from a private trust. A final decision about the future of the collections will be made later this year.

In her announcement, the Arboretum’s new director, Colien Hefferan, said: “FONA’s efforts in support of the Arboretum pave the way for us to work toward a new, vibrant future for this treasured place.” Dr. Hefferan said she is planning to meet with key stakeholders later this spring to discuss the future of the collections. The Arboretum is also soliciting feedback from the public through its Web site.

FONA Board of Directors Chairman Jeanne Connelly applauded the Arboretum’s announcement saying: “We are delighted that Dr. Hefferan has listened to the Arboretum’s constituents and are heartened by the willingness of the Arboretum’s new leadership to engage the public in an open discussion about decisions relating to its collections.”

“At the same time,” she added, “we are hopeful that funding from this major donation, along with additional support raised in the coming months, will ensure these popular and important collections will be enjoyed by future generations.”

Writing Dec. 5 in the Washington Post, Connelly and National Bonsai Foundation (NBF) President Felix Laughlin said the Arboretum’s decision “to destroy the most frequently visited section of the historic Azalea Collection and dismantle the entire National Boxwood Collection hit a horticultural nerve throughout the region. Countless fans, including members of FONA and NBF, have expressed opposition to the decision to eliminate one of nature’s most magnificent and scientifically important spring displays.”

Horticultural experts and groups including the Azalea Society of America, the American Boxwood Society, the American Daffodil, Hemerocallis and Rhododendron societies, along with Garden Club of America and National Garden Clubs Inc. galvanized community response and led strong opposition to the Arboretum’s earlier decision by creating a “Save the Azaleas” Web site and letter-writing campaign.

Major Donation

The $1 million donation—the largest single donation in FONA’s history—was made anonymously by friends in honor of prominent attorney Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. and Lila Sullivan, longtime residents of the Washington area. “This generous donation, offered in the Arboretum’s hour of greatest need, reflects not only the donor’s passion for this national treasure, but also confidence that the Arboretum leadership will make sound decisions relating to the collections in the future,” said Kathy Horan, executive director of FONA.

“FONA recognizes that these are difficult economic times and all government agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, will face significant budget cuts in the coming years,” added Connelly. “That is why it is important for private partners to step in to protect one of the nation’s most valuable treasures and one of Washington, D.C.’s most important green spaces.”

“In the short term, we hope to save the Azalea and Boxwood Collections. Over time, our broader goal is to work with the Arboretum and Department of Agriculture leadership to develop a plan for the long-term sustainability of the Arboretum,” Connelly said. In addition to the azaleas and boxwoods, the Arboretum houses other world-class gardens and collections including the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum and the Asian Collections which form a beautiful garden swath leading to the Anacostia River, as well as the Gotelli conifer collection, Fern Valley native plant collection with shaded paths and wooden walkways that seem a world away from the urban metropolis that surrounds the Arboretum, the two-and-a-half acre National Herb Garden and the Washington Youth Garden.

Located 10 minutes from the U.S. Capitol, the National Arboretum is a U.S. Department of Agriculture research and education facility and a living museum. Admission is free. Founded in 1982, FONA supports research and educational projects at the Arboretum, as well as the gardens and collections. Over the years, FONA, NBF and their members, along with corporate partners, foundations and other stakeholders, have contributed millions of dollars in support of this 446-acre green space.

Further information is available from FONA, or (202) 544-8733

Even more good news was posted this afternoon on the front page of the USNA web site:

Arboretum Announcement Regarding  the Azalea and Boxwood Collections

The U. S. National Arboretum is suspending actions to remove the Glenn Dale azaleas from our extensive collection of azaleas, as well as the National Boxwood Collection and Perennials Collection, subject to further discussions with stakeholders about the process and criteria for decisions about our collections. Although the resource challenges facing the Arboretum which initially led to these decisions are still very real and in need of solution, we want to reassess our current resource use and opportunities to expand private support before we reduce or eliminate collections the public so values.

We have heard and appreciate the public outpouring of comments and concerns about deaccessioning the Glenn Dale azaleas and the boxwood and perennials collections. Managing resources through difficult times is challenging, but with the advice and guidance of our many stakeholders and colleagues we hope to develop an effective and well-understood policy for implementing decisions about our collections, as well as innovative approaches to developing new resources to sustain and support the Arboretum.

Please share your ideas and recommendations regarding these issues by responding to the questions we have posted in a new comment box on this website here ( We are eager to add your ideas to our decision-making processes.

Colien Hefferan, Director
U.S. National Arboretum

I took the photo at top last spring during the annual FONA Garden Fair, which always coincides with azalea bloom time, and is FONA's big fundraiser of the year. I propose we all celebrate this great news by pledging to attend the FONA Garden Fair this year (April 29-30) and making some serious purchases to show our support. Then, I propose everyone hike over to the azaleas, take photos, and share them on your own blog, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, etc. to help spread the word on this national treasure.

Two other great ways to show your support, join FONA (even if you are not in the DC area) and whenever you visit the Arboretum, stop by the USNA Arbor House gift shop and make a few purchases.


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