by John and Sally Perkins, Salem, NH
Abbott's 'Jane Abbott' given to Dr. Norman Pellett as such by Frank Abbott
'Jane Abbott?' next to graves of Frank and Jane Abbott
Spring 2009 Cemetery in Saxtons River, VT
S and J Perkins
Frank Abbott was a pioneer in the creation of hybrids using Rhododendron prinophyllum, molle, calendulaceum, and arborescens.
In the early 2000's the Species Study Group of the American Rhododendron Society Massachusetts Chapter had scheduled a visit to Jane Abbott's garden. The visit was cancelled due to the failing health of Jane Abbott. The organizer Betty Carlihan had been enthusiastic that on her previous visits to this garden there were some wonderful plants to see. At that time, we knew little or nothing about the breeding program of Frank Abbott except for what was on page 109 of Galle.
In Galle's book on Azaleas, there is a reference to Frank Abbott of Bellows Fall, Vermont listing 2 plants
'Jane Abbott' (prinophyllum X 'Miss Lousia Hunnewell') and
'Margaret Abbott' (prinophyllum X calendulcaem)
In the summer of 2008 we received out of the blue an email from John Abbott, a grandson of Frank Abbott who lives in Denver, inviting us to visit a former Frank Abbott's property near Grafton, VT including the ability to roam the property freely any time to look at and photograph the large collection of Frank Abbott hybrids that were planted there. In the summer of 2008 we visited this property twice. On our second trip Fred Knippel took cuttings of some of the better azaleas, of which there were many, we had marked on our first visit. Many outstanding late blooming Rhododendron arborescens were in flower on this second visit.
From an old Rosebay Journal, based on an article written by Marge Runnion about Frank Abbott that had appeared in 1973 in Vermont Life which we had placed on the Massachusetts Chapter web site a few years earlier, we learned that Frank and Margaret Abbott had a daughter Jane and sons Frank and Richard. Frank considered 'Margaret Abbott' a very interesting plant because a fragrant pink (prinophyllum) crossed with a non-fragrant salmon orange (calendulaceum) produced a fragrant white. In the 30,000 seedlings he grew this is the only time this occurred.
Clarence Towe in an email informed us that he was almost certain the Vermont Life article contained an image of 'Margaret Abbott'. The Vermont Life web site offered back issues to the magazine containing this article for sale so we purchased 2 and sure enough pictures of both plants listed in Galle were included. Clarence believes that 'Margaret Abbott' is one of the finest azalea hybrids he has ever seen and encouraged us to attempt to locate it.
Yet, Frank Abbott is best known for 'Jane Abbott'. This is the azalea that Weston Nursery sold as a grex starting in the 1940's from seed supplied by Frank. Moreover, 'Jane Abbott' is the azalea that Frank Abbott gave freely to all who lived in the greater Saxtons River, VT area.
In fact, 2 plants of what appear to be 'Jane Abbott' like azaleas are planted in the Saxtons River Cemetery next to the grave stones of Frank Abbott and Jane Abbott. Now we found this out by stopping by the cemetery twice on returning from the Grafton Abbott property in Spring 2009. To get to Grafton, location of the best aged cheddar cheese in Vermont despite Cabot's presents in the state, you have to pass Saxtons River. To get to Saxtons River you have to pass Bellow Falls which is across the Connecticut River from Walpole, New Hampshire. Now Walpole Creamery produces the best ice cream in New England so our trips from Salem, New Hampshire to middle Vermont often take a path through there. These 3 Vermont locations are often associated with Frank Abbott and all are located in river valleys that contain native Rhododendron prinophyllum.
To explore Saxtons River for Abbott azaleas, we formulated "a simple plan" over ice cream consisting of visiting the Saxtons River cemetery since cemeteries in New England often contain plantings. Driving on Main Street in Saxtons River we spotted a deep pink 'Jane Abbott' like plant in flower. From this home we could see the cemetery was across the river. For whatever reason on the first visit we decided to walk the cemetery from back to front. We found a half dozen or so deciduous azaleas, a few rhododendrons, and one evergreen azalea. The 2 deciduous azaleas next to some grave stones were among the best. From the cemetery we noticed a home that had several deciduous azaleas in the back that appeared to be Rhododendron vaseyi.
We left the cemetery to inquire and upon approaching the home noticed a orange-pink colored 'Jane Abbott' like azalea in the front yard. The owner showed us around her property containing several Frank Abbott hybrids and offered to introduce us to Dennis Abbott. Dennis was unavailable but later made us aware he would welcome a visit. The owner also showed us other Frank Abbott hybrids that were on other streets near her home including a few double flowered azaleas.
On our second visit to the Saxtons River cemetery we walked from front to back. Upon approaching the 2 'Jane Abbott' like deciduous azaleas we noticed only then that the 2 grave stones associated with the azaleas were one for Frank and Margaret Abbott and another for Jane Abbott Bussey and her husband.
On this second visit we also stopped in to visit Dennis Abbott. Dennis showed us his property and then offered to introduce us to the current owners of the former Jane Abbott homestead. The one owner grew up only a few blocks away from Frank Abbott's home and he, like most others who lived in the area, knew that Frank grew azaleas. The couple knew that Jane Abbott had collected what Frank and Jane thought were Frank's best azaleas. When we inquired about a fragrant white with a yellow blotch, the husband stated it is bloom right now in the back. Sure enough there it was in full bloom, we had found 'Margaret Abbott' which of course had never really been missing at all! Frank had raised and selected the seedling naming it for his wife and giving it a place of honor in his daughter's home.
The couple then showed us the azaleas they liked best consisting of the yellows, pinks, oranges, reds, and whites. The husband mentioned that Frank Abbott once owned a hunting lodge in Athens, Vermont and there were some azaleas planted over the hill behind the main house but this day was devoted to enjoying our visit to the former Jane Abbott homestead.
Which 'Miss Louisa Hunnewell' Frank Abbott used to produce 'Jane Abbott' is an interesting question.
First there is the Hatfield 1920 created 'Miss Louisa Hunnewell' which is described by Galle on page 88 as a vivid orange yellow 21A, 3". This is often described in the literature as an very impression Mollis hybrid superior to others involving the 2 different subspecies (Chinese and Japanese) of R. molle. Azaleas created crossing these two subspecies are referred to as Xkosterianum.
However, Galle also states the true clone may no longer exist and seedlings were frequently substituted.
Now, Winterthur used to grow this plant and Linda Eirhart Assistant Director, Horticulture sent us digital images produced from slides taken in 1978. The digital images are good enough to see this plant of 'Miss Louisa Hunnewell' that was growing at Winterthur was not vivid orange yellow.
However, this 'Miss Louisa Hunnewell' grown by Winterthur is close enough in color to possibly be the one growing next to 'Margaret Abbott' at Jane Abbott's old homestead. Next to this Mollis hybrid in Jane Abbott's old homestead is a pink prinophyllum cross that could pass for a Abbott's 'Jane Abbott'.
Now according to Dennis Abbott, son of Frank Abbott Jr., he used to move azaleas all the time at the direction of his grandfather. Frank would direct Dennis on what azaleas to move among the 3 properties Frank owned and between the three homes for Frank, Frank Jr., and Jane that were side by side in Saxtons River, VT.
One could easily jump to the conclusion that these three plants represent 'Margaret Abbott', 'Miss Louisa Hunnewell', and 'Jane Abbott'. We know for certain (or at least as certain as one can about these sorts of things) that the 'Margaret Abbott' is indeed 'Margaret Abbott'. Our image of 'Margaret Abbott' from the spring 2009 at Jane Abbott's old homestead is an exact match of the one taken for a article on Frank Abbott for an Vermont Life article in 1973. Moreover, Clarence Towe who never forgets a deciduous azalea stated our image is indeed the same 'Margaret Abbott' Frank Abbott showed Clarence when Clarence visited Saxtons River, Vermont in the 1970's.
Yet unlike 'Margaret Abbott' which is a cultivar representing a single plant, the 'Jane Abbott' and 'Miss Louisa Hunnewell' being referenced by Frank are most likely each a grex much the way 'PJM' was in this same timeframe.
Dr. Norman Pellett of the University of Vermont sent us by email an image of 'Jane Abbott' that was given directly to him by Frank Abbott. Dr. Pellett also informed us that a friend of his also is growing a 'Jane Abbott' received directly from Frank Abbott but the 2 plants have never been compared to see if they are identical.
Planted next to these three plants but on the side of the former Jane Abbott homestead rather than the back is an elepidote that Dennis Abbott stated is 'The Virgin'. This is the only elepidote that Frank Abbott ever registered and according to Frank Abbott is the hardiest rhododendron or azalea he ever raised from seed.
Planted in Frank Abbott Jr.'s homestead which is located next to Jane Abbott's old homestead is a plant Dennis stated was 'Claudine Abbott'. Claudine was the wife of Frank Jr.
Upon sending our image of 'Margaret Abbott' to John Abbott, we received an email from Susan Abbott, granddaughter of Frank Abbott, of an image of Susan Abbott standing in the Arnold Arboretum next to 'Susan Abbott', the evergreen azalea. Now 'Susan Abbott' was listed as a plant in the living collection until 2005 but is no longer. However, several evergreen azaleas crosses donated by Frank Abbott still exist in the exact same location Susan is standing in the image she sent. There are also evergreen azaleas of the same cross donated by Weston Nursery. The Arnold used to place big white wooden tags on plants as well as small medal labels. Susan is holding one of those white tags in the image above. In fact, Susan did not know a plant had been named for her until she saw the tag on a visit to the Arnold.
Within 15 feet of where Susan Abbott is standing at the Arnold are 2 deciduous azaleas that we have visited numerous times. The first is (cumberlandense X viscosum) X 'Consul Pecher' which is a cross by Bob Stuart who hybridized rhododendrons and azaleas in Stratham, NH. We collect Stuart crosses. The second is Xgladwynensis which was hybridized by Mary G. Henry and is documented to be a cross of prunifolium X serrulatum.
Now the plant at the Arnold tagged as Rhododendron Xgladwynensis gives no appearances of having this parentage, appears to be sterile, and blooms in late May. Nothing indicates this plant is as labeled; however, it is one of our favorite big flowered azaleas. In the Grafton Abbott field there is a azalea that could pass for a sister seedling of the Arnold's Rhododendron Xgladwynensis that we nick named "Graftonensis". The Rhododendron Xgladwynensis growing at Chanticleer Garden in Philadelphia, PA has more the appearance and the bloom time one associates with a parentage of prunifolium X serrulatum.
In the 1960's Ed Mezitt reproduced Frank Abbott's cross using prinophyllum and Xkosterianum and named 2 plants; Weston's 'Jane Abbott Pink', often referred to as simply 'Jane Abbott', and Weston's 'Frank Abbott'. These 2 plants look very much like the 2 next to the graves of Frank and Jane but they are not identical. Weston Nursery also named a plant from this same cross Weston's 'Jane Abbott Peach' often referred to as 'Peach Abbott'.
Now in the late 1980's both Weston's 'Jane Abbott Pink' and Weston's 'Frank Abbott' were placed in tissue culture. However, due to a mix up, all the initial plants sold were Weston's 'Frank Abbott'. Therefore if you are growing both and they are both dark shocking pink rather than one being a baby pink. You have 2 'Frank Abbott's.
Worth mentioning is Dr. Harold Pellett of the University of Minnesota, who was involved in the breeding of the Northern Lights series of azaleas, is the brother of Dr. Norman Pellett of the University of Vermont. 'Rosy Lights' and 'Pink Lights' were among the first crosses named in this series. Both of these azaleas were crosses involving prinophyllum and Xkosterianum. 'Northern Lights' was a controlled grex of prinophyllum X Mollis. Norman and Harold are grandsons of Frank C. Pellett who authored several books on beekeeping including "Practical Queen Rearing."
Another side note is 'Margaret Abbott', although a cross of prinophyllum, a diploid, with caledulaceum, a tetraploid, is seed fertile. Clarence Towe was sent seed of 'Margaret Abbott' by Frank Abbott. Clarence grew 2 seedlings to blooming size and both were similar to 'Margaret Abbott'. Both plants have since died. On a late summer trip to see the Abbott azaleas we noticed that 'Margaret Abbott' did indeed have seed pods. To date there is no other documented F1 cross of 2 native deciduous azalea species of differing ploidy known to be seed fertile. Most such crosses result in sterile triploids.
Moreover, since Joe Gable wrote Frank Abbott a letter reminding Frank to always put the seed parent first and the pollen parent second when documenting a cross, the direction of cross in the parentage of 'Margaret Abbott' is prinophyllum (seed) X calendulaceum (pollen) and 'Jane Abbott' is prinophyllum (seed) X 'Miss Louisa Hunnewell' (pollen) as documented in Galle.
Without knowing so, we may well have found 'Margaret Abbott' in Grafton, Vermont on our first summer visit in 2008. In fact, if we are correct, 'Margaret Abbott' is planted within 5 feet of the azalea we nick named "Graftonensis". We did not order the Vermont Life article containing the image of 'Margaret Abbott' until the fall of 2008. If you compare the images of 'Margaret Abbott' from Saxtons River and Grafton and examine them closely, you will see that the anthers of the flowers in both images contain small segments of flower petals which is a very abnormal characteristic.
We would be remiss if we did not mention four other people who have spent much time with the Abbott azaleas. Bob and Jan Carlson named 13 Frank Abbott crosses which are listed on page 111 of Galle. Carlson Gardens offers the evergreen azalea 'Yankee Doodle' hybridized by Frank Abbott. David Heleba and Hal Bill, both of whom we have never met, are reported to be very knowledgeable on the azalea work of Frank Abbott. There is ever reason to believe these individuals' knowledge of Frank Abbott's azaleas dwarfs the information or potential misinformation contained here.
Now, lovers of our native deciduous azaleas may wonder why did Frank Abbott, Ed Mezzit, and Harold Pellett prefer prinophyllum crossed with molle over the native prinophyllum? First contrary to popular belief prinophyllum is not always rose pink. Very light pinks and whites are not uncommon in prinophyllum. Second, molle causes the flowers to not only be pinker it also causes them to be bigger and adds a blotch. Third, when one grows prinophyllum from seed, one quickly learns prinophyllum grows slower from seed that most of our native deciduous azaleas. Adding molle causes them to grow faster. Deeper pinks, bigger flowers, and faster to blooming size without sacrificing the look, fragrance, or hardiness of prinophyllum makes for a more desirable plant especially if you are growing them to sell.
By the way, if you are ever at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts or the Cox Arboretum in Canton, Georgia you may want to visit some fine specimens of the native American hemlock, Tsuga canadensis, such as 'Abbott Pygmy' and 'Abbott Weeping'. Consider visiting Saxtons River, Vermont to view the unusual Tsuga canadensis lining the streets leading to the former Abbott homesteads.
Even the Biltmore Estate contains azaleas donated by Frank Abbott to Chauncey Delos Beadle which seems fitting since an azalea donated to the Arnold Arboretum by Beadle is a stones throw away from where Susan Abbott was standing when she learned her grandfather named a plant for her.
So what is the rest of the story? Who knows, but we plan a few more trips to Saxtons River, Vermont and the surrounding area hoping to learn more. Whether we do, please remember whenever one of those pink prinophyllum X molle crosses is blooming in your garden by whatever name, you are living for at least that moment in Frank Abbott's Village of Azaleas where Norman Rockwell paintings still reflect real life and your opportunity to live free or die and sample some great ice cream is just a mile or so to the east on the other side of the river.
Footnotes and References:
Abbott Azaleas by S & J Perkins
A Love Affair With A Flower by Marge Runnion
Species in Our Mist: Rhododendron prinophyllum by Betty Carlihan
We have located Rhododendron prinophyllum in or near bogs on several occasions. On one occasion we saw Rhododendron prinophyllum and Rhododendron canadense blooming side by side in a small bog in southwestern New Hampshire.
The diploid clade of azaleas includes Rhododendron alabamense, arborsecens, cansecensm, cumberlandense, eastmanii, flammeum, occidentale, periclymenoides, prinophyllum, prunifolium, viscosum.
Species in Our Mist: Rhododendron calendulaceum by Joe Bruso
The tetraploid clade of azaleas includes Rhododendron austrinum, atlanticum, calendulaceum, colemanii, luteum, and possibly a pink form similar to austrinum.
Species in Our Mist: Rhododendron arborescens by Susan Clark
Species in Our Mist: Rhododendron vaseyi by Ed Bensley
Both vaseyi and arborsecens have naturalized on the Abbott property in Gafton, VT where both are doing better than even prinophyllum or calendulaceum or the hybrids in the 35 plus years since Frank Abbott's death. Plants looking like Rhododendron molle still survive but are clearly struggling in comparison.
According to Dr. Ben Hall although similar in appearance to species in the diploid clade and the tetraploid clade, Rhododendron vaseyi, a diploid, is not closely related to either.
Species in Our Mist: Rhododendron canadense by Bill Sweeney
Rhododendron canadense, contrary to previous documentation, is most likely a diploid.
According to Dr. Ben Hall, Rhododendron canadense is more closely aligned with the tetraploid clade that the diploid clade of azaleas.
Ploidy Research of Rhododendron canadense by John and Sally Perkins
Status of Ploidy Research for Rhododendron canadense by John and Sally Perkins
Dr. Tom Ranney is now testing the ploidy of living samples of Rhododendron canadense.
Rhododendron colemanii by Ben Hall, Tom Ranney, and Ron Miller
Clade Ploidy of Deciduous Azaleas by John and Sally Perkins
A Little Chat About Eastern Breeders by Edmond Amateis
Azaleas and Rhododendrons for Minnesota by Michael Zins
Native Azaleas - The Beadle Collection At Biltmore Forest by John C. Wister
Frank C Pellett
Vermont: The Friends of the Horticulture Farm
Azaleas by Fred Galle
American Azaleas by Clarence Towe
Upon reviewing a draft of our document, Clarence Towe wrote "finally gives Frank Abbott the credit he deserves."
University of Minnesota Field Station
Arnold Arboretum Living Collection
In 1964 Frank Abbott stated the following when donating 'Susan Abbott' cuttings to the Arnold Arboretum:
"These cuttings are from obtusum kaempferi hybrid which is one of the best hybrids I have ever seen and is worthy of naming. We will call it 'Susan Abbott' after my granddaughter. It is double flowered."
In 1956 Frank Abbott stated the fllowing when donating 'Margaret Abbott' and 'Virgin' cuttings to the Arnold Arboretum:
"'Margaret Abbott' is a hybrid of R. roseum X calendulaceum. The petals are crinkly on the edges showing a tendency towards double flowers. Sets very little seed. It is white with a pure lemon spot in the corolla. Shows hybrid vigor, F-1 cross. A superb plant."
"'Virgin' is a hybrid of R. catawbiense album sp. (Kelsey) X fargesii hybrid. It has withstood temperatures to -40F. Have never known it to lose a flower bud. One of the hardiest hybrids I have ever raised.
Chauncey Delos Beadle donated to the Arnold Arboretum Rhododendron viscosum forma rhodanthum which appears to be a hybrid of cumberlandense and viscosum.
The Arnold Arboretum lost Rhododendron 'Miss Lousia Hunnewell' from their living collection in the 1960's/
San Francisco Botanical Garden
Mona Bourell, Plant Collections Registrar for the San Francisco Botanical Garden informed us that 'Miss Lousia Hunnewell' had been removed from the their plant inventory in the early 1980's.
Henry Botanic Garden of the Henry Foundation for Botanical Research
Ben Morrison named one of the Glenn Dale Azaleas 'Abbott'. We have no information on why he selected this name.
Stuart Dairy Farm
American Rhododendron Society Massachusetts Chapter
Vermont Life Magazine
Saxtons River Cemetery
Stark, New Hampshire
Stark is named in honor of General John Stark, hero of Bunker Hill and the Battle of Bennington. New Hampshire owes its motto, "Live Free or Die," to General Stark, who was the first to carry the new thirteen-star American flag into battle. He wrote those words in July 1809, in commemoration of the Battle of Bennington.
Somehow it seems fitting that President John Calvin Coolidge, Jr., who was born in Plymouth Notch, Windsor County, Vermont, on July 4, 1872 and who was President when a commemorative stamp of the Battle of Bennington was issued, was the last President to take General John Stark's words to heart.
One of our favorite stories about New England is a group of lifetime Vermont and New Hampshire residents were asked "What is the different between Vermont and New Hampshire?" An elderly gentleman from Dixville Notch, New Hampshire responded "New Hampshire has Stonyfield Yogurt and Vermont has Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, we don't make a big deal about having Stonyfield Yogurt."
Grafton Village Cheese
Purchasing a pound of aged 'black packaged' Grafton Village Cheese is a yearly must event at one of the many fall New Hampshire Fairs.
Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream
One of us refuses to eat Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. It is a long story.
Norman Rockwell Museum
A Simple Plan
New Hampshire Fairs
President Calvin Coolidge
Area Map of Bellows Falls, Vermont