Dr. H. R. Fletcher, Regius Keeper
Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, Scotland
It was my misfortune to have met this great gardener only during the brief period of the International Rhododendron Conference in Portland in 1961. But even during that short time we talked so much, not all of it about rhododendrons, that now I feel that I knew him for long. I found it wonderful to talk to him; his voice sounded to me lovely, soft and warm; he made me feel so good, made me feel that I knew so much about rhododendrons when in point of fact I knew perfectly well that Rudolph had forgotten more about these plants than I ever will know. For he had grown so many of them and it is only they who grow plants who really know plants. Any fool can learn a few names, even many names; but this is not knowing plants.
To see his nursery was a richly rewarding experience for me, as well as a tremendous surprise. 1 expected to find fine hybrids-and of course I did; but I expected to find a great many more actual plants than were there because I knew that he had been hybridizing rhododendrons for almost a quarter of a century. And when I questioned him about this he confessed that during the past twenty-four years he had flowered well over 30,000 seedlings and that he was now growing some 300 of these; the rest he had destroyed. Would that many another rhododendron breeder had Rudolph Henny's wisdom and courage. I found him tremendously humble about his great achievements although he did tell me he believed that each of these 300 seedlings had considerable virtue and that no inferior plant of his breeding was on the market.
He told me this in no boastful or proud way. In fact in one thing only I found him proud. He was proud that "Mrs. Henny has a keen sense of judgment with our new seedlings and will pick out certain of them the first time or two that they bloom, and I will mark them with a metal label 'Leona's Selection' and many of these plants have later received awards and won ribbons at the Shows."
I think he would also have been proud could he have attended the lecture I gave on May 1, 1962, to the Royal Horticultural Society at Vincent Square, London, on the opening day of the Rhododendron Show. There was a large attendance of rhododendron experts who had many fine exhibits on view, and of rhododendron lovers, all of whom had a connoisseur's appreciation of fine rhododendrons. I showed color slides which Rudolph had generously sent to me of several of these "Leona Selections"; 'Tidbit', 'CIS', 'Captain Jack' (which he regarded as the finest of his red-flowered hybrids), 'Last Chance', 'Captain Kid', 'Lake Labish', 'Red Cloud', 'Red Wax', 'Leona' (the finest of his pink flowered hybrids, he thought), 'Wink', 'Doris Caroline', 'George Grace', and others. The applause which greeted many of these hybrids of Rudolph's would have pleased him, I think.
Now that so many of the finest forms of the species, as well as so many Award of Merit and First Class Certificate hybrids raised in Britain, are available in the States; now that there is, as a result, such a vast pool of genes available to the rhododendron breeder, I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Rudolph Henny would have bred even finer rhododendrons had he been granted more years of life.
No matter. He gave abundant proof that he was a truly great horticulturist. But there are many great horticulturists and Rudolph would not have regarded this distinction as of much importance. Personally I believe that he was something much greater than this. I believe he was a very great Gentleman; and there are not so many of these.