National Arboretum exhibits may fall to budget cuts

Spring has sprung around the area but for the azaleas at the National Arboretum, this could be the final bloom. Along with other exhibits, the flowers might be cut down along with the Arboretum’s budget.

Despite being one of the most popular spots here, much of the azalea exhibit is slated to be removed because of its diminishing scientific value and because the flowers only bloom for a short time.

Since last year's announcement, several groups have started to raise money and public awareness to save the azaleas. Dana Faulkner of “Friends of the National Arboretum” said arboretum officials told the group it would take $100,000 a year to maintain the azalea collection.

In order to get to that goal the group is asking for donations. They already got an anonymous gift of $1 million but it came with some strings attached: They can only spend the interest. So they'll have to raise $2 million more to save the azaleas.

The flowers have been growing here since Benjamin Morrison planted thousands back in 1947.

"He was the first to develop hearty azaleas that have very colorful flowers which became a mainstay of the Washington landscape," said Scott Akers, the head of horticulture at the arboretum.

George Gantt says he enjoys the azaleas and wants them saved. "My job had some cuts so I had to retire. I come out here and I feel good. They've got to find the money somewhere," he said.

Officials say they are waiting to cut down the azaleas for now, hoping that private funds can be raised to save them. The flowers are just one of many exhibits threatened by budget cuts.

The arboretum is open everyday from 8 until 5 p.m. If you plan on visiting, your best bet is to come during the week, or early on the weekend. The parking lots reach capacity by mid day.