Early Spring and Summer in the Society Test Garden Crystal Springs Island
By Ruth M. Hansen
The Test Garden began awakening from its Winter's sleep about the middle of February. We had had a wonderful normal mild, rainy winter until January, then one night the temperature suddenly dropped to 10 degrees above zero. Thus, in one night, plants wich had struggled to recover from the 1955 freeze took their last breaths and expired. Fortunately this extreme temperature lasted a relatively short time and by the middle of February we all felt that Spring was definitely here to stay. R. mucronulatum (Fig. 26), the lovely deciduous harbinger of Spring, made its debut on the 26th of February. It is always a welcomed sight to see the rosy-lavender flowers after a cold, wet winter.
Fig. 26. R. mucronulatum
R. Henny photo
Fig. 27. R. 'Naomi' Group at Crystal
Springs Test Garden.
R. Henny photo
Following in quick succession through the month of March were R. 'Praecox', sutchuenense, calophytum, lutescens, leucaspis, 'Cilpinense' and 'Conemaugh'. R. 'Praecox' never fails to attract visitors to the South-end of the Island but the really big show for March is put on by R. sutchuenense var. geraldii from the 15th to the end of the month. This rhododendron stands about 8 feet high and has a spread of about 10 feet. It is literally covered with rose-colored flowers which have a deep purple blotch in their corollas. This magnificent plant puts on a one-man show which is well worth anyone's time to make a special visit to see, but unfortunately it blooms so early that few people ever have the opportunity to enjoy it. R. calophytum follows in about a week or ten days and is a plant almost as large as R. sutchuenense. In the smaller varieties one may find R. 'Cilpinense', 'Conemaugh' and leucaspis blooming in the rockery. Noticeably absent from this year's blooms were R. haemaleum, floccigerum, 'Bric-a-brac' and moupinense. These were a few varieties badly damaged by the 1955 freeze, but we hope by next year their flowers can be once more enjoyed.
During the months of February and March the volunteer workers of the Portland Chapter were busy putting in a foundation planting around the Coolhouse. As the Test Garden is now seven years old, many of the original plantings were becoming overgrown and needed thinning; so here was an opportunity to utilize some of these plants without having to move them across the lake to the peninsula, which serves as our expansion area. The rhododendrons selected for transplanting were all large, specimen plants and it took not only the five or six man crew but the help of a jeep in a few instances to do this job.
Another improvement to the Coolhouse was the painting of the Exhibition area, or porch, as it might be called. This was done in a soft gray green color which blends well with the natural outside surroundings and the corrugated plastic of the Coolhouse.
This spring, for the first time, ground Fir Bark (Pseudotsuga taxifolia), was spread over most of the hybrid beds, as a mulch, in preference to sawdust. This was done primarily because of the eye-appeal to the visitor. The ground bark being of a dark brown color and of finer quality than sawdust gives a beautiful well groomed appearance to the ground. This was applied to the beds about two inches thick and will serve as the year's mulch for the plants.
The tender varieties of rhododendrons housed in the Coolhouse have done very well this spring. They were in bloom from the latter part of February through early May and the fragrance from their flowers was almost over-powering. It is difficult for visitors to realize that these leggy looking plants, for the most part, grown in pots or tubs are true rhododendrons and the fact that they are delightfully spicy in fragrance is another hard to believe fact. R. taggianum, nuttallii, lindleyi, victorianum and rhabdotum, to name a few, were especially noteworthy due to their large tubular flowers and heavenly fragrance.
The Portland Chapter Show was held in the Exhibition part of the Coolhouse, May 19th & 20th and for those who served at the Information table, during this time, they were more than grateful to have their table set up inside the Coolhouse away from the chilling breeze which is usually prevalent this time of the year. Benches were also provided in the Coolhouse for visitors to sit and rest out of the wind.
Our blooming season this year was almost a full two weeks early and by Show time the Test Garden was really between the mid-season bloom and the late bloom. Whether our severe winters of the past five years have had any effect on the blooming periods of the rhododendrons is not for me to say; however we have all noticed that after a severe winter the blooming time is sometimes advanced about two weeks, which is in contrast to the normal assumption. This un-seasonal flowering of the rhododendrons makes it extremely difficult to send out accurate information as to when the Garden will be at its best.
This year R. 'Naomi' and its varieties which are located on the main curved path at the South end of the Island were magnificent. (Fig. 27). These are all plants over five feet in height, well rounded and beautifully shaped, their color ranging through the pastel shades of pink and pink suffused with yellow. They were at their peak of bloom on Mothers Day and delighted thousands of visitors. They were indeed the pin-up girls for the Test Garden this season and, we believe, the most photographed plants on the Island.
One of the main highlights of the season was to have been a tour of the Test Garden by the delegates to the National Convention of the Men's Garden Club of America which was held in Portland, June 10th to 13th. The Island had been groomed to a point of being immaculate. The week before members of the Portland Chapter had spent almost all day Saturday and most of Sunday picking off dead blooms from the rhododendrons so the garden would look its best to the visitors. Unfortunately this convention took place during the week of the Portland Rose Festival and we always have rain during Festival week. It never fails; so we had rain, not the gentle, soft kind but that which comes down hard with a determination to soak every molecule of soil clear down to China. On Thursday June 13th. seven members of the ARS waited for the delegates of the MEGA to show up for their scheduled tour of the Island. After a very heavy shower three bus loads of not too expectant delegates arrived. The shower was over, but everything was dripping. Needless to say it was a hurried tour and doubtless a rather disappointing one as very few plants were left in bloom and these widely scattered. Possibly the outstanding ones were 'R. Ladybird' and 'R. Bonito' both of which were over on the peninsula and therefore unnoticed by the visitors. Normally such varieties as 'Albatross', 'Lodauric', 'Azor', 'Mrs. Donald Graham', 'Margaret Dunn', 'Arthur Osborn' would all be in full bloom at this time, but not so this year. They were either all through blooming or so far gone that one could just get an idea of their color and past glory.
The main activities in the Test Garden are now over for another year. The rhododendrons have all been dead-headed and the new growth is lush and green. All in all the Test Garden had a very successful year regardless of the fact that everything was about two weeks early. The rhododendrons bloomed beautifully and performed admirably and the Garden was more lovely at its peak than ever before.