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Admiral Semmes sails again. April 27, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Several years ago, our friend Ben was startled to discover the existence of the deciduous, yellow-flowered azalea ‘Admiral Semmes’. I first heard of it on the wonderful Fairegarden blog, and you can check it out for yourself by heading over to Frances’s post “Gardening for the Senses – Scent” at http://fairegarden.wordpress.com/, where she features photos of the Admiral in all his current fragrant, floriferous glory.

Now, I like deciduous azaleas, and here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home Silence Dogood and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, we have an area of light deciduous shade where our woodland wildflowers flourish and I’m sure deciduous azaleas would, too. But what motivated our friend Ben’s dogged search for a specimen of ‘Admiral Semmes’ was not just his impressive size, gorgeous flowers, or even fragrance. It was his name.

You see, Admiral Raphael Semmes was related to our friend Ben, descended from our common ancestor, the progenitor Marmaduke Semmes, who arrived on these shores (in Maryland, to be precise) before 1662. (You can read more about him in an earlier post, “Who’s looking for Marmaduke?,” by typing the title into our search bar at upper right.) Unless you’re related to a plant breeder, or were a French notable from the 1800s, it’s not every day that you find a plant named after one of your relations. The Admiral instantly went on my must-get list.

Today, the lightbulb finally went on: Mother’s Day is coming, and each year, our black German shepherd, Shiloh, gets Silence a Mother’s Day plant, with a little help from yours truly. Rushing to Google, I searched for a source for ‘Admiral Semmes’, and there he was at RareFind Nursery in neighboring New Jersey (www.rarefindnursery.com). I was even more thrilled when I saw that one of the Admiral’s parents was ‘Hotspur Yellow’, since Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy has always been one of my favorite Shakespeare characters. (He was of course an actual historical character as well.)

Here’s what RareFind has to say about the Admiral:

“The Confederate Series of deciduous azaleas was introduced by Dodd & Dodd Nurseries, Semmes, Alabama. [Semmes, Alabama?! Who knew?] An excellent large-flowered Exbury Azalea was crossed with the heat-tolerant, native Florida Azalea, R. austrinum, and the results are large-flowered, fragrant, heat tolerant cultivars. R. ‘Admiral Semmes’ was named after the famous Confederate Admiral Raphael Semmes whose record of 87 ships sunk or captured remains unbroken to this day.* The plant bears beautiful medium-yellow flowers with deeper dorsal flares and pleasing fragrance in May. Very lustrous dark green leaves turn orange-bronze in fall. The handsome leaves are exceptionally mildew free.”  

Our friend Ben hit “add to cart” before you could say “Admiral Semmes,” and a specimen of the Admiral will be heading our way the week of May 9. I must say, Shiloh (and Frances, for that matter) has excellent taste in plants. Now, if I could just interest Dodd & Dodd in naming an azalea ‘Our Friend Ben’…

* Delightful as it would be to believe this of a relative of mine, sadly, I believe the actual record is held by the pirate Batholomew Roberts, the most successful pirate of all times, aka Black Bart, the Great Pirate Roberts, from whom the Dread Pirate Roberts in “The Princess Bride” took his name.

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Comments»

1. fairegarden - April 27, 2011

Wonderful, OFB! I am so glad you were able to find your very own Admiral Semmes. He is the largest, most floriferous, sweetest smelling deciduous azalea growing here, and we have 35 at last count! I would love to get the whole Confederate Series of them, someday. :-)
Frances

Yes, huge excitement here, Frances! And thanks again for introducing us to the Admiral!

2. Beverly - June 4, 2011

Hello from Sevierville,Tn. I discovered growing in the woodland here, the Admiral Semmes azaleas.I had to contact the Unversity of Tn. to see what these beautiful trees were. How they got here and how long they have been here, no one knows. I put ribbons on them and have had both yellow and orange. Didn’t know if they start yellow and then turn because this year they have been all orange. I feel like I have found a small miracle of beauty that no one knows anything about but all do agree that these are beautiful, and they want one. I am about 20 miles from the Smokey Mountains.

Wow, Beverly! Hi to a fellow Tennessean and what a fantastic find! We just got our first plant of ‘Admiral Semmes’ here a month ago, and the blooms were golden then and remained so. We’ll keep an eye on him and see if he changes through the years. Enjoy your secret stash!!!


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