by Amanda Wilkins, June 2015

With the collection of Aromi azaleas coming in in the fall, we have a moment at the Gardens to reflect on our purpose and role as a botanical garden.

The role of botanical gardens is a multifaceted one. Gardens serve as islands of beauty for the soul, natural pharmacies for humans and other animals, havens for local and rare plants, and teachers of children and adults alike. They help give us a sense of time and passing of seasons.

At a time like this, we are reminded of how lucky Mobile is to have the Mobile Botanical Gardens right in its backyard to provide these resources to the community.

We are very excited to be able to conserve and display the life’s work of the late Dr. Eugene Aromi, a native Mobilian who worked on breeding evergreen and deciduous azaleas for more than 40 years. The Garden features many of Aromi’s hybrids in the collection already, but about 90 percent of his hybrids have only been seen by a handful of people. Of the about 108 cultivars of deciduous azaleas Aromi named, 25 have already been lost to the world of horticulture. So, the importance of housing this collection is critical.

Maarten van der Giessen, of van der Giessen Nursery in Semmes, AL, inherited most of Dr. Eugene Aromi’s plants when he passed away and has been looking after them for more than 10 years. He has generously agreed to donate them in the Mobile Botanical Gardens so that they could be shared with Mobile and the world in perpetuity. So, when we started our lecture series, what better way to show off this beautiful collection to the public than to have Maarten make the introductions.

When Maarten sent me the title of his Aromi lecture I laughed out loud: Pretty, Pretty Pictures. His humor wasn’t surprising, or necessarily inaccurate.

I was invited at the beginning of April by Maarten to come out to Aromi World, what he calls the section of the nursery’s property where he’s outplanted Aromi’s hybrids that were rescued from Aromi’s own backyard or Dr. Giordano’s property. It was just to get a taste of what the Mobile Botanical Gardens will be getting later in the year.

Now, I’d seen native deciduous azaleas (taxonomically in the genus Rhododendron) in bloom in the wild before and they are stunning in their own right; however, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see. The morning sun slanting through the live oaks made the flowers of Aromi’s azaleas shimmer so brightly I could see them through the woods. I was out of my seatbelt before the car even stopped. Every plant I looked at made me fall in love with plants again.

On May 28, Maarten gave an Aromi azaleas primer at the Mobile Botanical Gardens, complete with pretty pictures, for members, visitors and Aromi’s daughters and grandchildren. We are so proud to present the video of this lecture on our YouTube channel, which also serves as the inaugural video of our new monthly lecture series. I hope you enjoy the presentation and I look forward to seeing you around the garden!

– Amanda Wilkins. Collections Curator (June 2015)