Report on the Test Garden, January to June 1960
By Ruth M. Hansen
During the past winter and spring the volunteer crew of workers have concentrated their efforts cutting, grading, and graveling nine foot wide paths around half the Peninsula which serves as our expansion area, though in the future it will be a real Display Garden in its own right. As we are not permitted truck access to this planting area it was necessary for the men to haul all the gravel, required for these paths, down the hill from the parking area in one small tractor and three wheelbarrows. It was a back-breaking job but the only way they could get the material onto the Peninsula.
With the completion of the paths, for this year at least, the next big project was to thin the planting beds in the Test Garden of duplicate varieties and move them to this new section. There were over fifty rhododendrons all over six feet tall moved by the aid of a small tractor loaned to us by the City Park Department. Without this bit of machinery it would have been impossible for the men to do this job; however this project isn't finished and won't be until the entire path system is completed around the Peninsula, but for the moment an awfully good start has been made.
After a bit of judicious clearing of native brush and seedling holly trees an added attraction has been made for all who admire beautiful trees. Looking to the East, across the lake from the foot bridge, is a tall, stately specimen of Betula pendula pyramidalis at least fifty to sixty years old, growing on a prominent point of land jutting out into the water. We who have spent so much time working in the Test Garden at all seasons of the year have been conscious of this fine specimen Birch tree but it was only during the winter months that its intricate branching habit could be appreciated; so a concerted effort was made early this spring to clear the tangled brush from its base and expose its full beauty. In order to re-establish sanctuary for the wild ducks that inhabit these shores and also to add a bit of color we moved a number of orange colored Mollis Azaleas onto this tiny bit of land where their brilliant color could be reflected in the water. Another grouping of these same azaleas was made at the bridge approach to the Test Garden. Here again the wild ducks have used this ground for years as their private resting area, now they can continue their life long habit but under the filtered shade of the azalea plants.
The Rockery has come in for its share of additional planting. In fact almost every Saturday something was added to this delightful spot. It is gradually being planted but there are still a number of large bare spots left for lack of material. Really, the Rockery is like some huge monster with an insatiable appetite for plants of the dwarf rhododendron varieties. It seems never filled no matter how many plants are added. In truth, its size actually dwarfs most of the little rhododendrons and will do so until the plants grow larger.
Another project completed has been the planting of the bank along the west side of the Island with evergreen azaleas. We were fortunate in obtaining a number of very large and old specimens, mainly of the Gable and Glen Dale varieties, which were planted along the path just above the water's edge where they will be reflected in the Lake.
Aside from the planting projects, gutters and down-spouts were added to the Coolhouse, drainage ditches with tile were laid and the steel framework inside the Coolhouse was painted with a rust-proof paint.
During the latter part of March and the first couple of weeks of April it seemed as though everything burst into bloom. The Rockery showed a great deal of color not only from the little rhododendron plants but the dwarf buds were most interesting and colorful. As for the species blooming in the Rockery of course the highlight was the grouping of the R. degronianum. Their deep pink color was positively exquisite this spring and both forms, the spreading type and the compact Award form were outstanding. Directly up the slope from these plants is a large plant of 'Snow Lady', a R. leucaspis hybrid well named for its beautiful white flowers, and the combination of the pink R. degronianum and the pure white R. 'Snow Lady' made a striking picture. As one walked up the hill toward the Coolhouse all shades of pink and lavender met the eye with R. racemosum, R. hemitrichotum, R. hippophaeoides, R. spiciferum, 'Conemaugh, 'Rose Elf,' 'Cilpinense' all blending harmoniously together.
Among the larger growing early blooming hybrids were; R. 'Sir Charles Lemon', 'Carex Blush' a most delicate pink flowered variety, the lighter pink 'Rose Mundi' and 'Christmas Cheer', Nobleanum Venustum' and the deep, deep pink of 'Nobleanum Coccineum'. R. 'Queen Wilhelmina,' though a small plant was most outstanding with its tall, perfectly formed trusses of deep pink.
As the season progressed our Saturday work went on with a feverish pitch in an attempt to finish the regular scheduled work and to get ready for the coming show. The little tractor loaned to us by the Parks Department was constantly breaking down but we couldn't afford to purchase one of our own from the meager funds in the Test Garden Fund. Then one day a most gracious lady sent us a check for one hundred dollars to be used as the Test Garden Committee saw fit. Shortly after, another check for the same amount was received with the same stipulation. With these two contribution; we were able to purchase our own little Cushman Truckster.
Fig. 31. R. 'CIS' growing in the Test
Garden at Crystal Springs Island.
C. Smith photo
On the 24th. of April we held a dedication ceremony of a bronze plaque in memory of our late President, Mr. C. I. Sersanous. Though the day was rainy a sizeable group assembled with raincoats, and umbrellas to hear Mr. Ormand Bean, Commissioner of Parks make the dedication speech. Surrounding the stone on which the plaque is set are five beautiful plants of the New American hybrid, R. 'CIS,' (Fig. 31) which was named in honor of Mr. Sersanous and two plants of Ella named for Mrs. Sersanous. When these plants are in bloom, about the middle of May, they are a breath-taking sight, shading from a crimson to creamy yellow on the inside of the flower and fading to a deep cream with the outside remaining crimson, thus giving a two-toned effect.
As it is now the middle of June there are still quite a number of varieties in bloom in the Test Garden. Red-colored hybrids include such varieties as Rh. 'Mosers Maroon', 'Tally-Ho', 'Beacon', and the red form of 'Goblin'. Pink hybrids include 'Lady Clementine Mitford', Midsummer', 'Mrs. Donald Graham' and 'Azor', though the latter two are more of a salmon color, also the lovely pastel colored 'Vanessa'. R. 'Gomer Waterer' represented the white group, 'Purple Splendour' the purple group and the beautiful R. 'Phyllis Ballard' is the most outstanding of the copper-shaded varieties. The azaleodendrons 'Odoratum' and 'Azaleadoides Fragrans' are now in full bloom also three eastern native azaleas, arborescens, calendulaceum and viscosum. There are still blooms in the Coolhouse. One large plant of R. polyandrum is in full bloom and with the several small plants including R. scottianum the Coolhouse is still deliciously fragrant.
Species in bloom are; R. heliolepis, R. oporinum, R. brachyanthum a delightful thing with its little nodding yellow flowers, R. ferrugineum, R. discolor and R. hemsleyanum. Early in 1951 the garden received, through Mr. Brian Mulligan, Director of the University of Washington Arboretum a number of species rhododendrons among which were two plants of R. hemsleyanum. Of all the various species we have watched these two plants more intently than any of the others because of their large and unusually shaped leaves, like none other we have seen in the fortunei subseries due to the deeply auricled-cordate base of the leaf. However after nine long years of anxious waiting we are rewarded with four fine trusses of delicately fragrant, white flowers. This is the crowning glory of the 1960 blooming season for those of us who have waited so long, yet to the uninitiated in the species world this plant with its four lovely trusses would be overlooked for the more spectacular and colorful hybrids.
Due to our long cool and wet spring all the rhododendrons have put on a tremendous growth and it is almost impossible to detect the beds which were thinned earlier this spring, to allow ample growth for the remaining plants. When one realizes that this Test Garden contains 390 varieties of hybrids, 287 varieties of species, a sizeable number of azaleas and unnamed rhododendron seedlings, it is easy to see why we will be constantly thinning and moving the duplicate plants to the Peninsula area for some time to come. This Test Garden provides the opportunity for visitors to see rhododendrons at their mature growth so that they in turn should be better prepared to make selections for their own home plantings.