Royal Gick, 1885-1955
by Rudolph Henny
Fig. 2. Royal Gick
I first met Dr. Gick in the year 1940 or 1941. Fittingly enough our meeting, though brief, took place at the Barto Rhododendron Garden west of Junction City, Oregon. It was a rainy, dull day, and since neither Mrs. Barto or her sons were at the nursery, (James Barto having died the preceding year), I recall passing Dr. Gick on the slippery steep paths of the nursery. I do not recall any of our conversation, but this impression has remained with me. Our discussion was mainly about the several camellias lately imported from Japan and in bloom at that time in the greenhouse. I learned from a later visit that Dr. Gick at that time was very much interested in camellias, and his increased interest in rhododendrons was only to follow several years later.
During the three years following, Dr. Gick had erected on his grounds three large greenhouses that housed all the new camellias he could obtain. These buildings were maintained as coolhouses, but some heat was maintained during freezing conditions. At that date he had all the finest and newest novelties he could obtain from camellia gardens throughout the world. Once he heard of a new variety he spared neither expense or effort to obtain it. This intense collector's drive carried over into his rhododendron work that was to follow, and will be discussed later in this article.
The acquisition of hundreds of camellias soon filled the glasshouses to capacity, and the rapid growth of the plants sent the leaders up to the very rafters. During this time I regretfully did not see the mass of colorful bloom produced when it was at its best, and it was only some years later that I saw the large plants, but by this time Flower Spot (Camelliae Sclerotinia) had been established and the original effect of thousands of perfect blooms was never again attained.
At about this time a growth of interest was being evinced in rhododendrons, and with the formation of the American Rhododendron Society, and an almost exclusive group of rhododendron and camellia fanciers in Dr. Gick's home town of Eugene, Oregon it seemed to follow that he would be one of the first to join both groups.
The camellias in the coolhouses were gradually removed, and in their place were planted myriads of rhododendron species and hybrids. As was mentioned earlier the collector drive for possession again came to the fore. Hardly a plant, species or hybrid that was new or rare was absent from his collection. On a very pleasant visit to his garden along with his very close friend Dr. Corbin he mentioned that only several days before he had sent a sizable sum of money to a famous garden in England with instructions to send any of the newer hybrids developed there that had received awards. The check was returned, and no plants were sent. This garden has now been placed in National Trust since the death of its owner. I think the return of the money perplexed the Doctor no end for he mentioned the incident to me several times in later years.
As his plants grew in number his knowledge of where certain rare or new hybrids or select species could be obtained also extended. He imported many plants from abroad and was in touch with hybridizers and importers in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. The plants were arranged in rows and beds under lath and in the greenhouses, no effort being made to create a garden or landscape effect. The entire collection had the appearance of a well kept nursery though he never sold a plant. When he received a new plant he immediately propagated a plant or two, and these were given to his close friends in exchange.1 In visiting his garden he knew where all his plants were and would name many without looking at the labels, also he would relate where he had obtained the plant, and other data. He was most conservative about making hurried judgments as to the merit of some, and it was most rare that he ever stated that a plant was worthless, though I am sure that he knew that he had some poor forms that had been sent him from abroad.2
A few years before his death he became enthusiastic about hybridizing and made many crosses of rhododendrons and a few azaleas. One of the parents of his hybrids was a fine form of R. elliottii (K. W. 7725) that he had obtained from Del James who had raised it from seed. Dr. Gick exhibited trusses of this fine form at several of the Society shows, and won several blue ribbons. His own plants of R. elliottii that had been sent him from a nursery abroad were the type species, and had bloom of a purplish red much the color of R. ponticum. Three years ago I saw many of the small late flowering seedling hybrids that had been set outdoors, and a few were in bloom, these were crosses of "R. Fabia" and R. didymum. His crosses of R. elliottii will bear watching in the years to come, and it is only hoped that they will not be lost. The few crosses of azaleas were mostly intercrosses of the Exbury hybrids, and Knaphill varieties. I never saw the plant of 'R. Gickville Red' and I recall the Doctor laughingly tell me how his friends in the Society had named the plant. This plant was exhibited at a Society Show at Eugene several years ago.
During the last two years before his death Dr. Gick did very little gardening. After spending the winter in Hawaii where he was stricken with a severe heart attack he never again engaged in the rigorous duties attendant to growing a mass of plants.
All who knew Dr. Gick will remember him for his mild mannered sincerity and gentlemanly ways. He was elected to the Board of Directors of the American Rhododendron Society in 1946 and served until 1952 when he was elected Vice President. He served in this capacity until 1954, and were it not for his health would have assumed this office again. During the period he served as a Director and later as Vice-President he scarcely missed a meeting and many times flew to Portland to attend.
Since preparing this sketch I have received a letter from Virginia Gick stating that many of the rhododendrons from the collection of her late husband have been given to the Society Garden at Hendricks Park where a memorial planting will be made in honor of Dr. Gick.
1 Handling Newly Grafted Rhododendrons, Royal Gick, Vol. 4, No. 1, A. R. S. Bulletin 1950
2 A Report of Some of My Newer Rhododendrons, Royal Gick, A.R.S. Bulletin Vol. 6, p. 36