The late Fred Galle has left us a great legacy. Through publications including his monumental work Azaleas , various lectures, and preservation efforts at Callaway Gardens, he has done so much to educate us about our native azalea heritage. Although Fred had wide horticultural interests and renowned expertise in many areas, I suspect that the native azaleas were his first love. After many years of hybridizing and collecting azaleas of all sorts, I have turned to the natives as my primary interest too. Professionally, I have been a public school teacher for the past 32 years spending much of my time educating the next generation in mathematics and computer science topics. However, I think we all need to become teachers. It is not enough for us to grow native azaleas in our gardens or enjoy these lovely species in the wild. We have an obligation to educate the public about these wonderful plants. The native azaleas and the habitats in which they grow must be preserved for generations to come, and it is our responsibility to help champion that cause.
For the past seven years I have been on a quest to identify some of the finest forms of our native azaleas. It is my search for the "Best of the Best". There are many spectacular forms still out there in the wild, and many of them are growing in spectacular settings too. Unfortunately, real estate development has been encroaching on many of these habitats, and even in preserved sites there are other threats on the native azaleas. There is an urgent need to protect the genetic diversity that still exists, and I hope we can all join together in this endeavor.