The Millie McConnell Rhododendron Garden

Named after a long-time supporter of the Gardens in its early years, the lovely Millie McConnell Rhododendron garden underwent an extensive redesign in 2005. Visitors can now stroll among azalea collections that have not been showcased anywhere in the region. It contains a collection of approximately 1,000 evergreen azaleas, specially developed for this area’s intense southern growing conditions. With the inclusion of native azalea hybrids, this has become the most comprehensive rhododendron collection anywhere along the Gulf Coast.

Azaleas Irish Creme and Red Raspberry
A bold pink Satsuki hybrid
Rhododendron bibiana
Red azalea
Delicate pink and white Satsuki hybrid azalea.
Architectural columns flank an entrance to the Rhododendron Garden

Azaleas 'Irish Creme' and 'Red Raspberry'

Satsuki hybrid azalea

The central Gulf Coast is famous for its azaleas, especially the Mobile area. Azaleas and rhododendrons are classified botanically in the same group, and the variations in size, bloom, leaf shape, and color are exciting to compare. Think of this garden as an art gallery in which each collection contains samples of the artist’s work.

The central plaza in the Rhododendron Garden, flanked by pillars.

The center gathering area is flanked by ancient cast-iron columns which once graced demolished buildings in downtown Mobile, and the pavers once lined downtown streets. Other entrances to this garden are also flanked by more cast-iron columns.

Collections include:

Encore Hybrids

Robert Buddy Lee of Franklinton, Louisiana, developed this popular group of azaleas in the 1980s. He crossed a Taiwan rhododendron, Rhododendron oldhami, with a wide range of evergreen azaleas to produce a beautiful group that bloom predominantly in the fall. These azaleas also bloom sporadically throughout the summer. The national marketing of these plants by Jim Berry of PDSI in Loxley, Alabama, has brought these plants into the national gardening spotlight. Flowerwood Nursery of Mobile donated this collection.

Harris Hybrids

The Harris azaleas are American satsukis hybridized by James Harris of Lawrenceville, Georgia, in the 1970s and 1980s. His azaleas are characterized as bright colors on medium to low-growing plants. Bloom times occur mid-spring. He has a soft spot in his heart for azaleas with rings of color on the outside of the petals, and you will see many fine examples of this form in his work.

Holly Springs Hybrids

Colonel Pete Vines named his hybrid group after the lovely town in Mississippi near the University of Mississippi where he attended college. Colonel Vines’ azaleas are classical examples of the American satsuki, bringing the intense colors and variations of the Japanese azaleas – stripes, flecks and rings – into the Mobile bloom season.

Mobile Hybrids

This group represents the work of Dr. Eugene Aromi, Tom Dodd, Jr., and Kosaku Sawada. Their work furthered the development of azalea hybridization in the United States, and helped establish Mobile as a center for azalea culture. With variable sizes and bloom times in mid-spring, these remain standards in Gulf Coast Gardens. Mobile Botanical Gardens is proud to display the achievements of these distinguished and world-renowned hybridizers.

National Arboretum Kurume Hybrids

Dr. John Creech of the National Arboretum brought these azaleas from Kurume, Japan in 1976 and 1978. This group is typical of the Kurume hybrids, and takes a graceful, open form in the Southern garden. The flowers are small, vibrant and profusely produced. They are among the first azaleas to flower in the spring.

Nuccio Hybrids

Messrs. Julius and Joe Nuccio began collecting and hybridizing azaleas in the 1930s at their nursery near Altadena, California, a business still in operation today. Many of the satsukis in Mobile’s collection originated at Nuccio’s. The Nuccio hybrids are often Belgian florist hybrids crossed with satsuki, resulting in low-growing azaleas with rich, saturated colors.

Robin Hill Hybrids

Hybridized by Robert Gartrell in the 1970s, the Robin Hills were the first successful American satsukis to reach the American market. The Robin Hill azaleas are large flowers in pastel shades of orange, pink and white. The form is usually low and mounding, although some of his azaleas become quite large with age. In Mobile these wonderful varieties bloom in mid-April.

Southern Indica Hybrids

This hybrid group contains many of the azaleas familiar to Mobile. Typically these are very large shrubs, growing eight to ten feet at maturity and blooming in early spring. There are many rare varieties here that were available at the time Bellingrath Gardens was developed, but they are difficult to find today.