Some Reminiscences of the First Secretary of
the American Rhododendron Society
George D. Grace, Portland, Oregon
Fig. 16. R. 'Carolyn Grace'
These interesting records by George Grace, after the passage of nearly twenty years recall the earliest days of the Society. His factual, sometimes humorous, paper will appear in several parts in succeeding editions of the Bulletin. - Editor
At the February 1961 meeting of the Portland chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, an informal flower show was held. A very interesting array of trusses were shown, much to the delight of the members. It seems that the very first blooms are something special and create a lot of excitement to those of us who are interested in these beautiful plants.
Fig. 17. R. ririei
Cecil Smith photo
In the early part of February, the first bloom in my collection was the dull purple R. ririei (Fig. 17) with its grey green attractive foliage. Later in the blooming season one would not think too much of it. This year, the blooming season for Rhododendrons has started early in the Pacific Northwest. Along side of the R. ririei, blooming a couple of weeks later, is a species I have not as yet identified. It has nice, compact trusses of about fifteen florets, very pale pink with red spots on the back of the throat, the leaves are real long and very narrow. I suspect that it may be in the R. arboreum group. It is one species I would recommend for its nice foliage. R. mucronulatum, with its rosy lavender pink blooms, are especially good this year, perhaps helped by the unusually mild winter. R. strigillosum, with its blood red flowers appeared on the scene about the middle of February. It is still in good bloom a month later.
R. oleifolium, in the Virgatum series, started to bloom in late February. It is taller than R. racemosum and a much heavier bloomer. I have always thought it was better, although the color is much paler pink. R. leucaspis is pale yellow-tinted white which came into bloom the middle of February.
R. calophytum, with its giant buds, have shown color for several weeks and is now in full bloom. The blooms are pink with a red to purple throat, and are of great substance and last a long time. I took a truss to a downtown office, and four days later, I stopped in and it still was in remarkable condition. R. calophytum is perhaps the best large leaf rhododendron in the Pacific Northwest.
A very fine truss of R. sutchuenense, var. geraldii, with its dark chocolate blotch, was shown at the informal flower show and drew a lot of admiration. Among the hybrids shown were R. 'Nobleanum Coccineum', a nice, small pale red, and R. 'Nobleanum Venustum', a pale pink. R. 'Christmas Cheer', while not a spectacular flower, is nice for its early blooms and compact foliage.
Thirty years ago there were a good number of rhododendron plants in the gardens of older residences, parks and cemeteries in the Pacific Northwest. These were confined to the older varieties such as R. 'Alice', 'Blandyanum', 'Gomer Waterer', 'Kate Waterer', 'John Walter', 'Madam Masson', 'Fastuosum Flore Pleno', ponticum seedlings and a number of the old hardy types. R. 'Cynthia' and 'Pink Pearl' were just beginning to come into the gardens. It was my privilege to bring one of the first R. 'Pink Pearl' that came into the area. I still think it is one of the great rhododendron hybrids, and it will be many years before as many fine large plants of another variety will surpass it.
Twenty years ago, modern hybrids were unknown to all but a few gardens. Yellow and orange shaded hybrids were unheard of by the public. About that time, a number of enthusiasts became interested in the Genus Rhododendron. In the next few years, the interest increased many fold and a flood tide of new modern hybrids and species made their appearance.
Contrast twenty years ago in the landscape picture of homes in the Northwest with the present time. You will find hundreds of thousands of rhododendrons planted around the residences of Pacific Northwest homeowners. Check the landscaping of any modern home and try and find one in which there are no rhododendrons.
It is almost twenty years since the American Rhododendron Society was organized. Now one can evaluate the accomplishments performed and the objectives that have been undertaken. Its successes, or lack of it, should be apparent by this time.
This is in part the story of the early history of the American Rhododendron Society, with some of the details, some of the personalities, some of the problems, purposes and incidents that happened during the early days of the organization. I want to give you excerpts from some notes, letters and minutes taken at some of the early board and regular meetings, partly because it should be in permanent record form, and partly I trust it may be interesting reading for those newer members. Also it will refresh the memories of the charter members of those very interesting days and experiences.
First, let me fill you in on the background of the rhododendron picture in Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, Eugene and Salem. This is only a partial picture, but it will give you some idea of the gardens and rhododendron growers. Interest in gardening was very great in the late thirties and early forties. I am sure it was pretty much the same in the different cities of Western Washington and Oregon.
It was about this time there was a tremendous interest in growing camellias, which resulted in the formation of the Oregon Camellia Society. A goodly number of those members were also interested in rhododendrons. A number of enthusiasts along with some of the Washington group, were members of the Rhododendron group of the Royal Horticultural Society of England. Some of us had their handbook, year book, and book on species along with Dr. Clement G. Bower's book, "Rhododendrons and Azaleas," as the only authority on the subject. Of course, there were nursery catalogues of Layritz Nurseries Ltd., Victoria, B.C., G. Reuthe, Hillier & Son, W. C. Slocock, Knapp Hill, Sunningdale, John Waterer Sons & Crisp of England and Koster and Van Ness of Boskoop, Holland.
We had heard and read of the work of Guy Nearing on growing rhododendrons from cuttings, in New Jersey, of Joseph Gable's work in hybridizing and growing hardy plants. We had read of B. Y. Morrison's breeding program of Azaleas at Beltsville, Maryland, for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In Seattle, Washington, the late Endre Ostbo was an early nurseryman who furnished many plants for collectors in Oregon and Washington. Mr. Halfdan Lem, also of Seattle, grew many seedlings and hybrids which found their way into many gardens. The gardens of Mr. Donald Graham, Mr. James Brennen were early gardens where the rhododendron lovers went to see fine hybrids and species. There were many fine rhododendrons in the augustinii group and in the Cinnabarinum Series at the University arboretum. A visit to the Arboretum was a treat to those of us visiting Seattle. The collection of species of Mr. Herbert Ihrig on Bainbridge Island was perhaps the most complete in the Seattle area in the early forties. Another garden in the Puget Sound area was the garden of Mr. H. Larsen in Tacoma.
In the Portland area outside of the many fine specimens in private gardens and cemeteries, there were a large number of R. triflorum, especially many fine large R. augustinii. These may still be seen in many parks over the city. Unfortunately, in the collection at Coolige Park, S.W. Sixth Avenue and Carruthers Street, the City Park department has cut the large plants back every year or so, destroying much of their great beauty. They are sheared like a hedge. A garden in north Portland owned by Mrs. Casson featured many fine large R. augustinii.
Several other gardens in the Portland area I should like to briefly mention. One of the oldest gardens featuring the later collection of Rhododendrons was that of the late William Tucker on Fairview Boulevard. It was a remarkable collection of hybrids. The garden of H. H. Harms on Johnson Creek was always a treat to Rhododendron lovers. The gardens and nursery of Theodore Van Veen featured many of the Dutch hybrids. Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Esch featured many R. cinnabarinum, thomsonii, campylocarpum species. These are to be found all over the Northwest.
The late John G. Bacher, one of the founders of the American Rhododendron Society, and many years a friend and director, grew at his nursery many of the Rhododendron seedlings sent back by Dr. Rock's expeditions in Western China from 1923-1932. These plants from Mr. Bacher's garden helped increase the number of plants in the collector's gardens. Another famous collection of species rhododendrons is that of Mrs. A. C. U. Berry, a subscriber of Dr. Rock's and Kingdon Ward's earlier expeditions, grew a great many species rhododendrons. No doubt many of the visitors to the International Conference in Portland thus may well have the opportunity to see her garden.
Other gardens in the local area where sizable collections were being accumulated were those of Mr. John Henny, Rudolph Henny of Brooks. Oregon, Bill Whitney and B. F. Lancaster of Camas, Washington, Mr. E. R. Peterson of West Slope and my own.
Probably the man who did the most to promote rhododendron culture and interest was the late J. E. Barto of Junction City, Oregon. His fine plants are to be found all over the Northwest. I was much impressed with the very excellent report on the life and work of J. E. Barto by Dr. Carl Phetteplace of Eugene, Oregon.* As far as I know, I am one of the few members of the American Rhododendron Society who knew Mr. Barto personally. I spent many hours asking him questions about rhododendrons, being an eager novice at the time. Among my notes I have before me a card from Mr. Barto dated October 4, 1939: "Dear Mr. Grace: I have all the species you mention except 'Damaris' and repens. The only English R. 'Hugh Koster,' is a red glorified 'Doncaster.' The R. griersonianum hybrids only reasonably stay with me, the parent is too tender. Till many species flower, I cannot be sure of them. I expect to be home each weekend for the next month. I believe my R. californicum and thomsonii will find a place among the top early reds and equal to the late ones. Respectfully yours, J. E. Barto. P.S. Pardon my delay in answering."
This briefly is the story and background of the rhododendron situation in the northwest in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Omitted are some of the names, no doubt, of growers and collectors who also played an important part, but this has been unintentional.
The Organization of a Rhododendron Society
It was my privilege in 1943 and 1944 to be the secretary of the Oregon Camellia Society. A number of the Camellia Society members were also much interested in rhododendrons. For sometime there was a desire of those interested to combine the two groups into a single society. The Camellia group decided against the combination. After a discussion with Mr. Rudolph and John Henny and several others, I asked the president of the Oregon Camellia Society if I might make an announcement..."There will be a meeting of those interested in the formation of a Rhododendron Society at the home of Mr. E. R. Peterson, S.W. Canyon Lane, Portland, at the coming May 29, 1944, at six o'clock, p.m."
The idea of forming a Rhododendron Society was not by any means a spur of the moment decision. For several years, some of the enthusiasts talked of (and hoped there would be) the need of a society. It was discussed with a number of nurserymen, hobbyists, and collectors in the Puget Sound area. The late Endre Ostbo had encouraged the formation of the organization in the Portland area for a long time.
Why a Society in Portland, Oregon?
Because no one in any other part of the country started one. It was as simple as that. We waited for someone to do something about it for several years, but no one did. After seventeen years, I have sometimes wondered if it wouldn't have been easier to let someone else in some other place carry the work. However, I am sure there have been no regrets for those who worked long hours and days to promote the welfare of the new society. I have never been associated with a group of dedicated unselfish men who joined in the efforts to organize the American Rhododendron Society.
Minutes of the first meeting of the Organization, May 29th, 1944: "The following people met at the home of Mr. E. R. Peterson: Mr. H. H. Harms, Mr. Rudolph Henny, Mr. John Henny, Mr. John Bacher, Mr. William Tucker, George D. Grace. Mr. Rudolph Henny was chosen temporary chairman and Mr. George Grace as secretary.
The first business was a discussion regarding the name of the society. A motion by John Henny, seconded by Mr. Harms, that the name should be called "The Rhododendron Society." Mr. John Henny made a motion, seconded by Mr. John Bacher, that the temporary secretary write out the policy and the cause of needing a society, also a statement regarding the Rhododendron Association of England. The following points were discussed:
I. Registration, naming and control of new hybrids. II. Judges to be experts and permanently appointed. Eventually to make awards for exceptional plants. III. To have a test garden and to promote an annual show. IV. The Constitution. V. Election of Officers. VI. Membership fees. VII. Dates of Meetings. VIII. That the president appoint an editorial committee to publish a monthly bulletin and a yearly outline.
The Election of Officers
Mr. John Henny was elected President, Mr. George Grace as Secretary, and Earl Peterson was Treasurer. These were unanimous. It was decided to elect a Vice President at another meeting. The President, Secretary, and Treasurer, and Mr. William Tucker are to meet at the home of Mr. Tucker next Tuesday evening. George D. Grace. Secretary.
The following reprint was prepared by your Secretary as to the need of a society:
Cause, Need and Policy of The Rhododendron Society, 1944
"The forming of the Rhododendron Society is in no way offered as a substitute or as a competing Society to the British Rhododendron Association, which we recognize as an authority with its many years of efficient expert experience and knowledge. We also recognize those famous English plant explorers and collectors, and those outstanding hybridizers with their hundreds of crosses of the newer Himalayan and Chinese species. To these explorers, collectors, growers, nurseries and botanists, we are indeed grateful and indebted. Our purpose is that we may perpetuate the same objectives to the best of our ability here in this country where there is so much interest manifested in the rhododendron.
Portland is in the very center of the rhododendron section of the United States. Of course the old hardy varieties grow on the Atlantic Seaboard, but the magnificent Chinese and Himalayan varieties only thrive on the Pacific Slope between California and British Columbia.
A Rhododendron Society is long overdue. The object of the Society is to encourage and assist in the study and cultivation of rhododendrons by means of publications, exhibitions and otherwise.
There are many collections of species rhododendron which at the present time are becoming quite mature. Also, there are many collectors of the finest choice hybrids who are already producing many crosses both of species with hybrids, and species with species.
There is a tremendous field in the hybridizing of the newer Himalayan species. It is just a matter of time until thousands of these crosses are on the market.
In order to prevent a chaotic condition and to protect the public, the policy of the Society is to cooperate with these hybridizers and to form some system of control and registration and naming of the many new crosses. This program therefore will require the Society to promote and establish a "Test Garden" as soon as possible and to promote an annual rhododendron show to secure expert judges to pass on the merits of new hybrids.
It also shall be the policy of the Society to cooperate with other cities of the Northwest in the operation of the Society's activities. It is highly important that the Society publish appropriate bulletins to be mailed to members, containing information on care, growth, propagation, names, descriptions of hybrids and species, and other interesting and vital information on the Rhododendron Family."
I shall not impose on you the many notes pertaining to the minutes of the board meetings as well as of the general meetings, but may refer to some quotations in the following paragraphs.
During the next two months, many important decisions were made such as programs for general meetings, the election of a board of directors, and many details too numerous to mention. Mr. Herbert Ihrig of Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Washington, was chosen for Vice President. However, Mr. Ihrig declined the honor. At John Bacher's suggestion, Mr. P. H. Brydon, who had been the Curator of the University of California Botanical Gardens at Berkeley was suggested to be the new vice president. Mr. Brydon had a vast knowledge of rhododendrons both at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Edinburgh, Scotland and at Berkeley, California. Mr. Brydon was found to be in the Yakima valley at the time. He accepted the Vice Presidency with enthusiasm. Mr. Brydon was the featured speaker at the first general meeting. Mr. Brydon is currently connected with the Strybing Foundation at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.
Certainly one of the most important parts of any Society is finances. After a careful look at dues, it was decided to charge five dollars per year. Now that is easy to say, but people will ask, "What do I get for the five dollars?" The Directors planned that monthly and yearly publications a well as all shows and activities should be free. There is an old saying that you only take out what you put in an organization.
Only one complaint as to the five dollars dues was ever received as I remember, and that was from a man from a distant city who came to see my plants. I gave him a number of cuttings of rare Rhododendrons. I received his letter with a check for membership. He blistered me good for the excessive cost and insisted one dollar per year would be ample. This man happened to be very wealthy, and could have paid for many years dues for the value of cuttings given free to him. I quote a letter to him, dated July 16, 1944:
"Your letter of July 3rd received with check for membership in the Rhododendron Society. Thanks very kindly. I also thank you for your candid criticism. We probably have made mistakes and will continue to do so, however not intentionally. The only way we know what the members think is by what they tell us.
"However, there are a few things I would like to point out. First, we went over the matter very carefully as to fees, figuring out that we possibly would get fifty or sixty members, which would be about two hundred fifty to three hundred dollars per year to take care of stationery, stamps, printing of bulletins, etc. Also, it is necessary to hire a secretary to take care of some of the correspondence. records, etc. Where would we be on a dollar a year membership?"
"We are planning on trying to give everybody their money's worth, and it will all go back to the members."
The first general meeting of the new Society was held at the auditorium of the Public Service building, Portland, Oregon, July 7, 1944. A large crowd was present with great interest shown. Mr. John Bacher showed some very fine slides of many rhododendrons. A board of directors was chosen. The late honorable W. C. Tucker, the late John G. Bacher, Joe M. Johnson, H. H. Harms, all of Portland, Oregon; Donald Hardgrove of Baldwin, New York, and the late Ralph C. DeClements of Bremerton, Washington.
The directors at a previous board meeting instructed the Secretary to send notices to different flower and horticultural magazines announcing the new society. We wondered what the response would be. The response was most gratifying, far beyond our expectations. We hoped there would be a national interest, but hardly expected it to be such. I quote from the Secretary's Introduction to the 1945 year book:
"Our appreciation for the fine letters and suggestions from Dr. Clement G. Bowers of Maine, New York, from Mr. G. G. Nearing of Ridgewood, New Jersey, Mr. O. E. Hoffer of Oakland, California, Mr. and Mrs. R. D. DeClements of Bremerton, Washington, Mr. B. F. Lancaster of Camas, Washington, Mr. Endre Ostbo of Bellevue, Washington and many other encouraging letters too numerous to mention."
The letters were presented to the Board of Directors regarding the name of the society along with other suggestions. Dr. Clem Bowers' letter especially helped to make them reach a decision.
Mr. Dean Collins, Garden Editor of the Oregon Journal, of whom I shall write more about in my next paper, also suggested that we should incorporate under the name of the American Rhododendron Society. At the second general meeting, October 5, 1944, a resolution that the "Rhododendron Society" name be changed to be the "American Rhododendron Society."
(END OF PART ONE)
* "The Life and Work of James Barto," July 1960 American Rhododendron Society Bulletin.