Crystal Springs Island - The National Test Garden - 1962
Ruth M. Hansen
Fig. 23. R. rex
C. Smith photo
As this article is being written it is now the first week of June and the lush woodland growth of ferns, horsetail and skunk cabbage have completely covered the floor of the Entrance Garden till it is almost impossible to see the stream below. Strolling down into the ravine one can see that the ten foot specimen of R. rex (Fig. 23) has bloomed profusely and is now ready to be dead-headed. Another big-leaved species, R. fictolacteum growing at the very end of the ravine and just above a spring had also bloomed a few weeks earlier. This plant had been dreadfully hurt in the November freeze of 1955 but finally survived and now seems quite happy in its new location, almost hidden from view by the tall growing Lady Fern, Athyrium filixtemina which abound in this damp and shady ravine. The large R. auriculatum growing beside the path is still in tight bud and will not bloom for at least another six weeks.
Early this spring a planting of R. ponticum was made at the top of the hill, above these plants for the prime purpose of forming a wind break against the cold East winds of winter and now these very common nondescript lavender flowered rhododendrons are in full bloom. Looking up from the bottom of the ravine they make a very pretty picture.
Several large species had been moved from the Test Garden into this area during the early spring and are now in tender new growth. And the new planting of pachysandra and Pieris japonica around the Jane R. Martin marker which dedicates this Entrance Garden is slowly beginning to take hold. By next year it should be well established.
Now that we are approaching the peninsula and Display Garden we hasten towards the grouping of the lovely salmon colored R. 'Azor' varieties growing along the edge of the path leading toward the Test Garden. These R. 'Azor' are all six to seven feet in height and their salmon pink flowers are most attractive.
Beginning with April our spring has been cold, damp and just plain wet. In fact the month of May was the second wettest and coldest since 1902. The actual rainfall though hasn't been large but the fact that it was spread out over practically every day of the month has made it seem like a great over abundance. Though the human element has been quite miserable because of the weather, the rhododendrons have loved it. Blooms on nearly all varieties have lasted much longer than usual some up to four, five and even six weeks. Needless to say the new growth is phenomenal. The luxuriant foliage is almost that of a rain forest and well it should be with showers almost every day.
The last society affair held in the Test Garden this season was the final meeting of the Portland Chapter on June 2nd. Unlike last year when the weather was hot, this year was cold and rainy, a continuation from April. But showery or not the members who braved the weather brought in a wonderful display of cut trusses for their last informal cut truss show.
The Coolhouse being the warmest place was slightly crowded at times, not from people who wanted to see the plants but by members who just wanted to get warm. Of course all the rhododendrons in the Coolhouse were long past blooming and are now putting on a good growth for next year.
An additional attraction was placed in the Coolhouse earlier this spring when the Society acquired an eight foot specimen of Araucaria excelsa var. elegans, Norfolk Island Pine. This tree had been used as a table Christmas tree in its earlier years by the late Mrs. Peter Kerr and was now given to the Test Garden by her daughter, Mrs. James McDonald. The unusual character and beauty of the tree drew many admirers during the Chapter show in May and continues to be an interest in the Coolhouse at a time when the Maddenii varieties are out of bloom.
One of the most beautiful plants in the Test Garden in early June is found growing across the path from the Coolhouse entrance. It stands ten feet high with an equal spread and has beautiful light pink trusses, the individual flowers of which are five to six inches across. This plant was donated many years ago as R. 'Albatross' but it is definitely not that variety and what it is no one seems to know, but it remains one of the most beautiful plants in the Garden.
At this time of the year there is almost as much in bloom throughout the Test Garden as there was during early May, but the dominant colors now are red, salmon pink, orange to apricot and lavender to purple. Pink shades and white are in the minority.
Fig. 26. R. 'Blue Peter'
C. Smith photo
Along side the Coolhouse is the lavender and blue hybrid planting, which starts blooming in April with R. 'Susan' and continues throughout the season with R. 'Blue Peter'. 'A. Bedford' and now in June the ponticum hybrids predominate. Growing up through them are two small trees of Laburnum vossi whose long racemes of clear yellow pea-like flowers hang down over the lavender and purple flowers of the rhododendrons. The large plant of R. 'Anna Kruschke' is unusually fine at this time. Its deep purple flowers with their protruding stamens give an airy look to the large, well formed trusses.
The grouping of orange and apricot shaded varieties is found primarily at the south end of the Test Garden. Among these are the Margaret Dunn varieties, the R. 'King of Shrubs' and the neriiflorum x dichroanthum x discolor hybrids with the two which have been named, R. 'Edward Dunn' and R. 'Phyllis Ballard'. Also in this planting are some plants of the R. 'Fabia' x R. 'Mrs. W. C. Slocock' which produce rich copper-red flowers.
Fig. 25. R. 'Mrs. Furnival'
C. Smith photo
Possibly the finest light pink new hybrid blooming this late in the season is a R. souliei x discolor cross named R. 'Endre Ostbo' in memory of its progenator. There are five plants of this beautiful hybrid growing along the main path at the extreme south end of the Island. Their flowers are a delicate pink, flat, almost saucer-like and ruffled on their outer edges. It is a favorite by all who see it.
One of the big surprises this season has been the blooming of two of the Rock seedlings in the R. falconeri series. The one which bloomed earlier was not identified; however the last which was in bloom on June 2nd. is possibly R. eximium as its foliage seems true to type and though only three bells developed in the truss they were characteristic of R. eximium, being yellow with a deep blotch at their center. These species were grown from seed collected in 1949 by Dr. Joseph Rock on his last expedition into the rugged regions of the Salween-Mekong divide of central China.
Going back a hit into the history of these seedlings, we are indebted to Dr. Carl G. Heller who devised a plan in March 1953 whereby the Society could build up its collection of Rock seedlings and others could profit by the same method. This plan became known as the "Rhododendron Bank" and was established in the Test Garden on a spot now occupied by the Coolhouse. Members were urged to contribute as many Rock seedlings as they wanted so as to build up the "Bank". The Society in return reserved the right to keep one plant of each number for the Test Garden collection as its "fee for service". Each person who contributed plants would have the privilege of selecting plants from the donations of others in an amount equal to his contribution. Though many plants were received very few were ever exchanged, consequently the Test Garden benefited and now almost ten years later everyone can enjoy the fruits of these early efforts.
By late October and early November of 1955 our plans for the Coolhouse were approved so it became necessary to move our "Bank" and just two weeks before the devastating November 11 freeze of 1955 the final moving was accomplished, these plants being all the big-leaved varieties, those in the falconeri, sinogrande and fulvum series. Later it proved to be a most fortunate move for apparently by transplanting these plants we arrested their growth and caused them to go into early dormancy; thus saving them from bark split which killed all our large plants of these varieties with the exception of one now planted in the ravine area. Thus, we were left with mere babies none of which were over ten inches in height.
Now after nine years some of the plants are three feet high and in another year or two will be large enough to be moved into the Entrance Garden. But the fact that two of these plants have bloomed at the early age of thirteen years is quite remarkable. If these plants never bloomed they would still be worth growing just for their exotic foliage.
Many of the low-growing Rock seedlings are now planted in the Rockery, moved there for the prime purpose of filling it up when we were short of hybrids. Others are to be found bordering the main path along the west side of the Island. Blooming at this time are R. brachyanthum var. hypolepidotum, an attractive bushy little plant not over 12 to 15 inches high with small chartreuse green flowers which soon turn to a light yellow. Along with it are planted some R. calostrotum which has dainty rose colored bell-like flowers.
One of the most spectacular displays of Rock seedlings is to be seen about the middle of April. As one crosses the high bridge approaching the peninsula and Display Garden his attention is immediately arrested by a profusion of lavender and rosy pink bloom over which honey bees work feverishly through the myriad of pollen laden anthers. This proves to be a sizeable planting of Rock seedlings all of which are in the heliolepis series and probably all are R. desquamatum. There is a wide range of color, almost every shade of lavender from light to dark but among the lot are two outstanding plants of almost a deep rose color. The bushes are all alike being stiffly upright, and well clothed with rich dark green foliage the underside of which looks like thousands of tiny pin pricks upon a buff surface. This of course makes it a lepidote, meaning that the leaves are covered with minute scales.
Further along the path are a number of R. augustinii seedlings. Here again is a wide diversity of color, some excellent blues, some just average, others almost purplish in color but all very floriferous and making an outstanding display for mid-April.
Fig. 24. R. davidsonianum
C. Smith photo
Large plantings of other members in the triflorum series are found around the entire south end of the Test Garden and during late March and early April the deep yellow flowers of R. keiskei and R. lutescens make a welcomed bright splash among the surrounding plantings. But one of the most showy of all triflorums is found growing in the Rockery. This is a R. pseudoyanthinum var. 'Chief Paulina', grown and named by Del James of Eugene. It is of the deepest purple and being of such a deep color it was named for 'Chief Paulina', a renegade Indian chief of the Paulina Lakes region in Central Oregon. The flowers of this clone are large, open and royal purple in color. Our one plant of R. 'Chief Paulina' is now about four feet tall and in front it is a drift of the native Dodocatheon jeffreyi, Shooting Star whose purplish-pink petals and maroon "bill" reflect the color of the R. pseudoyanthinum above. Up the hill from this plant is another outstanding triflorum, a Barto R. davidsonianum now named R. 'Ruth Lyons'. This is a clear, deep pink color whose flowers are formed in large balls at the ends of the branches.
This past winter was hard on a number of plants in the Rockery. Though the winter had progressed quite normally, with just the right amount of freezing weather and low temperatures to harden all the plants, severe cold suddenly descended from January 18th to the 26th. The temperatures were in the low 20's and in some places it dropped to 15 degrees. There was no snow, just freezing East winds. Then it was all over just as abruptly as it had come and spring weather soon brought forth many of the early blooming varieties of rhododendrons.
The Rockery had considerable bloom at this time. The grouping of R. mucronulatum overhanging the lovely yellow Corylopsis pauciflora was more beautiful than ever. R. 'Bric-a-Brac', R. leucaspis and R. 'Snow Lady' grown in various places throughout the rockery area were covered with white bloom and the delicate pink flowers of R. 'Cilpinense' complimented the rosy lavender of R. 'Conemaugh' and 'Tessa'. R. 'Nobleanum Coccineum' though a small plant of only four feet in height was glorious with its deep pink trusses against the warm brown trunk of a large Douglas Fir tree. Numerous bulbs such as species crocus, chionodoxa, muscari, snow drops and cyclamen were in full bloom.
Then for the second time winter struck with a vengeance. On the morning of February 23rd the thermometer dropped from 45 degrees to 21 degrees in a few hours and for the next four nights the temperature ranged from 18 to 21 degrees. This might not seem cold to eastern and mid-western members but here on the west coast where the plants were all coming into growth and the sap was up, it was most disastrous. Not only were flowers killed but worst of all the bark was split on many plants several of which were in our Rockery. Though this cold wave lasted only about a week the damage was great.
In the Test Garden most varieties in bloom had their flowers blackened in the matter of minutes, but little R. 'Snow Lady' growing on the west-side of the Rockery under some towering fir trees was completely unscathed. It seemed impossible that any bloom could have escaped that freeze, but somehow R. 'Snow Lady' was given special dispensation and her beautiful white blooms were untouched; an amazing sight which greeted our eyes on the following Saturday morning.
Spring returned quickly within a few days and by the latter part of March everything seemed back to normal and once more the Test Garden began putting on its Spring Show, though the preview had been ruined the main feature was now coming into full swing. By the 20th of April all the species were at their best. Over the past years blooming dates have been carefully kept on certain plants until now we can safely say that from April 19th to the 28th one can see an excellent display of all types of species, dwarf, medium and tree types.
However, R. macrophyllum, the Western rhododendron, does not bloom till much later usually after the middle of May, this year during the first week of June our small grouping of this species is still in excellent bloom. When these plants were brought into the Garden several years ago, they were beautiful bushes and growing among them were our native salal, Gaultheria shallon, which made an attractive companion. But in a few years the salal became the dominate plant completely outgrowing the rhododendron and slowly killing them.
Last year it became necessary to grub out all the salal. After this was done the R. macrophyllum looked more like tall sticks with little tufts of foliage on their tops than real plants. This year strong, new growths have come up from the roots and in another year or two we will again have a good representation of our native rhododendron. Needless to say for future plants we will discourage the use of salal close to rhododendron plantings.
Winding our way back towards the bridge we can still see considerable bloom on the R. 'Lady Chamberlain' and R. 'Lady Roseberry' grouping planted above the old rockery on the west side of the Island. These varieties were originally planted up high for the sole purpose of being able to see up into the corollas when they bloomed. Having long tubular flowers the full beauty is usually lost without the opportunity of being able to see up into them. These R. cinnabarinum hybrids represent some of the most beautiful of all rhododendrons. Their dainty orange-colored flowers, blue green foliage and over-all fine texture give them a quality not found in other types. Between the path and lake is another small planting of these same varieties and for the past several years they have bloomed sporadically during the winter months. This past winter however, on December 2, 1961, they were in full bloom. One plant in particular, a R. 'Lady Chamberlain' was a shower of reddish orange-colored bells, truly a remarkable and delightful sight for a winter's day.
Leaving the Test Garden and strolling back across the long foot bridge we now go down through the peninsula Display Garden which we missed on our way to the Test Garden. As this section is developed only as the result of thinning operations in the Test Garden it has progressed rather slowly, but the new plantings made this past year have now extended the development over half the length of the peninsula. All the rhododendrons moved into this area are large specimens from six to eight feet in height. Some varieties to be seen blooming at this time are: R. 'Albatross' and R. 'Bonito' both beautiful white specimens, 'Pilgrim,' 'Ladybird,' 'Jan Dekens' and the delightful R. 'Corona' representing pink varieties, 'A. Bedford', 'Fastuosum Flore Pleno' and ponticum varieties, the blue and lavender shades, R. 'Romany Chal', 'Tally Ho', 'Lord Roberts' and several of the Sargent varieties representing various red colors and of course the 'Azor' types giving the deep salmon pink colors. Later on, in July the tree-like R. 'Polar Bear' will put on its own show of white blossoms. Strolling through this long woodsy peninsula is a fitting end to a delightful visit to the Test Garden.