The Society Rhododendron Garden, Tacoma
Charles L. Edmunds, Puyallup, Wash.
Carl Fawcett had just been elected President of the Tacoma Rhododendron Society in the fall of 1953. The Society was in need of an activity to stimulate further interest and it seemed the new President was destined to be saddled with that problem.
The 'Dream' indicated either a test garden or a park-like area, to be planted with all the available azaleas and rhododendrons possible for us to collect. This was it! The Society was briefed on the plan-but where could this 'dream garden' be located? At the College, on private grounds, buy our own land or in some existing park area? Time passed, some months in fact. Finally at the regular meeting September 13 the committee reported two possibilities. We could use a spot at the College of Puget Sound or a large area at Point Defiance Park.
Point Defiance Park is situated west of the city center of Tacoma, about seven miles distant. This most beautiful Park is lush with trees, all native of the area. The firs, maples, cedars, alders, carcara, pines, madronas and many under-shrubs complemented by the natural ground covers we are all familiar with. This may best be appreciated by taking the five mile drive encompassing the park. As the name suggests, the park is located on a point that juts out into Puget Sound and varies in its height above sea level just enough to allow a most inspiring view of the Narrows of Puget Sound. In the distance and to the south looms the Narrows Bridge. Then looking west over the city of Gig Harbor you can see the Olympic Mountains. Northward, you can see the passages of the Sound as they outline the shores of Vashon Island. On a clear day Mt. Baker is to be seen in the distance. From a good vantage point Mt. Rainier is the setting to the east. On entering the park and to the left is the outdoor bandstand for summer concerts. A little farther on is the formal Rose Garden. This entire inner area is bordered by many different varieties of trees and shrubs. Follow the road around bearing to the left until you come into the Zoo area, then up the hill and beyond the new animal house is situated a tract of land with lots of room on either side for future expansion. The five mile drive ends about here and the view of the Sound and Mountains is magnificent. Could this spot be available?
It just so happened on this particular day that Mr. Floyd Owen, Superintendent of the Metropolitan Park and Mr. Howard Harmon, his head gardener, stood on this site with the committee. They inhaled deeply of the salt air and gazed down upon the peaceful lagoon within the park and gave assent to the idea. The committee headed by Carl Fawcett gained further agreement for the idea from the Metropolitan Park Board. With this in mind, the committee again reported to the Tacoma Chapter at the regular meeting in October outlining the possibilities of this project. The idea was wholeheartedly endorsed. The legal side of the bargain was ably taken care of by member Ted Van Fossen. Now we were ready to start working en masse.
A plan of landscaping was evolved and bulldozers bullied their way through the dense thickets. Dead snags were removed and trees properly pruned. Going was very tough as the rains came to make muck and mire out of the slopes. Drainage had to be provided for, and many other details were ably taken care of by Mr. Owen and Mr. Harmon, of the Park.
Eventually better weather came and so did the Sunday work parties. The faithful few formed a nucleus and were assisted by many of the members. Hours of hard work were spent getting ready for the plants that had been promised. The entire area was loaded with soil amendments, fertilized with animal manures and then rototilled.
On Sunday October 28, 1956 our National President C. I. Sersanous was presented a 14 k. gold plated shovel. Mr. Sersanous used this shovel to plant a 7-foot R. 'Loderi' donated by Mrs. Clifford James of Tacoma. This was our first planting of a rhododendron. This simple ceremony along with befitting words dedicated the area. His honor John Anderson, Mayor of Tacoma congratulated us upon our achievement. The Metropolitan Park Board Commissioners wished us every success, pledging their continued support. The day was a natural one with one inch of rain coming down during the ceremonies. The monkeys performed well for us as we were allowed to move inside for the speeches. One of the finest displays of colored umbrellas were in hand, but all attending knew the hillside would burst into color with the advent of spring.
All through the winter and early spring the work parties performed. A total of 138 hybrid and 72 species rhododendrons were planted. 173 Glendale azaleas, along with 26 miscellaneous plants. These plants were gifts from the generous donors now listed:
The Bovees, Oswego, Ore. Dr. C. S. Berry, Tacoma, Wash. Rudolph Henny, Brooks, Ore. E. R. Peterson, Portland, Ore. Henny & Wennekamp, Brooks, Ore. C. T. Hansen, Portland, Ore. Millard Henny, Brooks, Ore. John Bacher, Portland, Ore. U. of W. Arboretum, Seattle, Wash. Endre Ostbo, Bellevue, Wash. Mrs. Clifford James, Tacoma, Wash. Grover Richards, Tacoma, Wash. Savage Gardens, Tacoma, Wash. Carl Fawcett, Tacoma, Wash. I. S. Broxson, Tacoma, Wash. Ted Van Fossen, Tacoma, Wash. Coen Nursery, Tacoma, Wash. Mrs. Edw. Johnson, Tacoma, Wash. Elwood Budil, Tacoma, Wash. Mark Heidner, Tacoma, Wash. A. R. Heineman, Tacoma, Wash. Mrs. W. G. Heller, Tacoma, Wash. Fred Robbins, Tacoma, Wash. John Eichelser, Tacoma, Wash.
In the collection is a large group of dwarfs, both species and hybrid. Two beautiful plants, R. 'Angelo', and R. 'Albatross', both white. A good large plant of R. 'King of Shrubs' P.A. A nice group of R. 'Elizabeth'. R. 'Adelaide' is a new plant, parentage 'Aurora' x thomsonii. Mr. John Henny's R. 'Adelaide' will bloom for the first time this spring, will it be red? Also in the planting is R. fortunei that originated from Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Mr. Rudolph Henny presented this plant to us.
We of the Tacoma Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society are most appreciative of these fine donations. Some of the growers in our Chapter are propagating many species, some big leaf varieties included. Some of these will be planted along the five mile drive in the natural settings along the roadside. The Park Department will complete the 300 car parking area located adjacent to the planting.
And finally, credit must be given to each member of our own Tacoma Chapter, for the individual effort in making this 'pipe dream' come true. The names of all those belonging to our unit are included in this thought. Many of the newer members are anxious to dig in.