Initially designed by noted landscape architect Beatrix Farrand [pdf] and installed in 1946, this collection of Rhododendron and other members of the heath family (Ericaceae) featured masses of shrubs grown mainly for their ornamental merit. Over time, however, some plants thrived while others perished due to a high water table, prompting a curatorial review and renovation in 2007. The collection continues to feature striking ornamentals, but also offers a destination for accessions of wild provenance—particularly plants that prefer “wet feet” like Rhododendron viscosum and R. atlanticum, the swamp and coastal azaleas, respectively.
Each bed within Azalea Border tends to have a prominent backbone species or genus (e.g., Rhododendron arborescens, Enkianthus), with ancillary species and cultivars mixed in. The midsized serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.) are understory species grown in many of the beds; they serve as a thread tying the beds together, particularly when they are all in bloom. The overstory comprises mostly maples, including the Arboretum’s tallest deciduous tree, a silver maple (Acer saccharinum) standing at a height of 104 feet. Notable specimens of katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) and cork trees (Phellodendron amurense) can also be found here.
- Korean rhododendron (Rhododendron mucronulatum) is an early-blooming species and is usually the first rhododendron in Azalea Border to bloom each spring. It bears bright lavender-pink flowers that open before the foliage emerges.
- The Ghent azalea hybrids (R. × gandavense) bloom in May, displaying a patchwork of flower color among its cultivars and unnamed hybrids. This hybrid group has multiple Rhododendron species in its parentage and originated from plant breeders in Belgium in the early nineteenth century.
- Coast azalea (R. atlanticum) has especially fragrant white to light pink flowers and bluish green foliage. Coast azalea is native in the mid-Atlantic and southeastern coastal states where it grows as a twiggy, low-growing shrub in forest understories.
- Other genera in the rhododendron family (Ericaceae) that are found in the Azalea Border include:
- Vaccinium: This genus includes blueberries and related fruiting shrubs. Look for several cultivars of highbush blueberry (V. corymbosum), noted for their tasty midsummer fruit and outstanding fall foliage color.
- Enkianthus: These handsome large shrubs or small trees bear dangling clusters of small bell-shaped flowers in spring. They are also showy in autumn when their foliage turns bright shades of red, orange, and yellow.
- Lyonia: This genus of understory shrubs is native to the eastern and south central states. In the Azalea Border the genus is represented by maleberry (L. ligustrina), a large shrub that is often found in damp sites but also tolerates drier soil conditions.
- Autumn along Azalea Border is also a treat once the katsura trees (Cercidiphyllum spp.) begin to senesce and their leaves change color to yellow and light orange—at this stage the leaves have a pleasant fragrance often compared to the aroma of baking bread and caramelized sugar.
From the Arborway Gate, Azalea Border is about a five minute walk; it is about 10 minutes from the Forest Hills Gate and about twenty-five minutes from the Bussey Street Gate. Azalea Border is on the eastern side of Meadow Road. Its northern edge is opposite the intersection of Linden Path and Meadow Road; the southern edge of the Border is near the Maple Collection. If driving, park along the Arborway.
Azalea Border is adjacent to Meadow Road, which is paved and fully accessible.
Download a tour brochure for azaleas [pdf].
Link to a tour of this collection on Arboretum Explorer. Our new mobile web application allows you to take self-guided tours of featured plants in our landscape. Follow this link and you will see colored leaf icons. Click/tap on an icon to get a plant name and image; click/tap the “i” button on the right to get more detailed information. For more information on how to use the mobile application click/tap on “Help” in the menu.
How long should I explore?
Spend five to ten minutes walking by Azalea Border, or longer in spring when the varied collections are in bloom.
Plan your visit to the Arboretum.
- Ellery, B. C. 1943. Ghent hybrid azaleas are hardy in New England. Arnoldia 3(7): 37-40. [pdf]
- Wyman, D. 1966. The hardiest azaleas. Arnoldia 26(4-5): 17-32. [pdf]
- Wyman, D. 1942. The highbush blueberry. Arnoldia 2(5): 29-32. [pdf]
- Farrand, Beatrix. 1949. The Azalea Border. Arnoldia 9(2): 6-7. [pdf]
- Anonymous. Fall, 2007. News: Renovation creates a brighter Azalea Border. Silva. [pdf]