Mill Pond Garden in Lewes shares virtual tours and azalea tips

May 2, 2020

Like most public venues, Mill Pond Garden honors the governor’s mandates for closure. Until reopening is permitted, the garden is creating virtual tours of the beauties of spring as they unfold, and sharing those tours and gardening tips with subscribers.

Anyone who wishes to receive these video and slide show tours may subscribe free by submitting name and email address at The virtual tours, each about two minutes long, are sent out twice a week to show the garden’s wildlife and flowering changes. Viewers can hear the fountains splashing, the birds calling and the wind blowing.

Mill Pond Garden emails subscribers a link to the current show and some information on the garden along with horticultural information that might be useful and appropriate to the time of year.

Response from subscribers to the first four tours has been gratifying. Lucy Mares said, “Thank you for the slide show. It is breathtaking. I especially like the videos!” Cindy Winkler said, “Thank you so much for the pictures and gardening tips! I have been enjoying your emails!”

The last virtual tour was accompanied by tips on the best-performing azaleas for the region and the history of some early-blooming, disease-free azaleas, shown in the photos. Mill Pond Garden highly recommends rhododendron (azalea) yedoense poukhanense, favorites of great garden founders including the du Ponts at Longwood Gardens, and the related Copelands at Mount Cuba and Bidermanns at Winterthur. 

The Mill Pond Garden collection of these azaleas is one of the most diverse around. All the species cultivars have been named, and distinguished by differences such as time of bloom, color, and variations of habit. The propagator, John Feliciani, formerly of Black Hog Farmstead in Lewes and before that, horticultural director of Winterthur, registered the six cultivars with the Rhododendron Society in 2012. For years, Mill Pond Garden shared these plants for the Rare Plant Auction at Longwood Gardens to raise funds for the Delaware Horticultural Society.

The other azalea Mill Pond Garden recommends, because it blooms long and well, and without petal blight disease, is Karen, a rich purple with small but prolific flowers. Karen is a Gable hybrid, an unusually hardy and highly reliable evergreen shrub with rich lavender-purple flowers on a vigorous, upright plant. Foliage turns a brilliant burgundy in the fall. It blooms well even with considerable shade, but does best if it gets at least a few hours of direct sun. Karen is trouble-free and the single best choice  of all azaleas for this region for performance. 

Many of the repeat-blooming modern evergreen azaleas like the Encore series have been produced from crosses with the poukhanense azaleas. The only advantage of repeat-blooming azaleas is that they are evergreen. The disadvantage is that they bloom only lightly. Any azalea only produces a set number of flower buds each year. The repeat bloomers don’t open all their buds in spring but save many to open later through the season with a second flush in fall. They must have full sun all day to perform well, and they are not fully resistant to petal blight. The azalea Karen, the best local choice, extends the season by starting earlier. The six poukhanense cultivars, White Swan, Late Lady, Early Bird, Delaware, Buffy’s Choice and Lollypop, together make a trouble-free azalea planting for the mid-Atlantic states, especially for coastal Delaware.

Mill Pond Garden Director Mike Zajic highly recommends these azaleas to local gardeners. He said, “They bloom early when color is scarce and avoid the dreaded petal blight. These azaleas are extraordinarily tough and beautiful, tolerant even of a dry slope in full sun, which is why Jacques Antoine and Evelina du Pont Bidermann planted them at Winterthur. The poukhanense are long-blooming as azaleas go, with large, loose flowers of great individual beauty. Finally, they are the perfect colors – pink, violet, white – to go with all other spring flower colors.” These azaleas are native to northern Japan and northeast Asia, China, Russia and Korea.

“We cut our azaleas back hard after they bloom to maintain size that fits our landscape,” said Zajic. “If left uncut, they could reach 12 feet high and wide in 10 years or so.”

For planting any azaleas, give them sun to partial shade, good drainage and a loose soil enriched with compost and peat moss for the needed acidic pH, and fertilize in late winter with Holly-tone (best choice) or equivalent. 

For the link to the early azalea show, go to

Enjoy the beauties of a public garden spring bonanza by signing up for the virtual tours and enjoying the visits. Zajic said, “Until Mill Pond Garden can reopen, stay safe by staying scarce. Stay happy by enjoying your garden.”


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