Robert “Buddy” Lee has been a grower of wholesale plants and a registered nurse over the years, but his one abiding preoccupation has been his need to find a spring-flowering azalea that blooms through summer and fall.
More than 40 years ago, from his fields in southern Louisiana, this was a lonely quest, but not a quixotic one. As the inventor of the Encore Azalea brand, he has given gardeners more than 30 azaleas in various sizes and bloom color, with more in the works.
“You have waves of color in summer,” he says, “and as it cools down to return to more of the spring temperature range, you’ll get a lot more bloom.”
Lee may have been a pioneer in the desire for a deja vu moment in the garden, but he is no longer alone. The ornamental plant industry is defined by a race to develop and trademark plants that keep on blooming beyond their natural moment in the growing year.