Rhododendron Tour To English and Scottish Gardens
J. Harold Clarke
Probably every rhododendron buff on this side of the Atlantic either makes plans at some time to visit English gardens, or else would very much like to do so. This is understandable for many persons.
The Source of Our Varieties
Most of the rhododendrons we grow, whether species or hybrid varieties, are derived from Asiatic species in full or in part. The rhododendrons grown on the West Coast are almost exclusively of Asiatic ancestry. Beginning some one hundred and fifty years ago, seeds of various Asiatic species began to arrive in the British Isles. Some were sent by casual travelers or diplomatic personnel, stationed in Asiatic countries, who were interested in unusual plants.
A little later, after the potential of these Asiatic species came to be realized, expeditions were sent with the primary objective being to collect rhododendron species, although usually other ornamental plants were also collected. These expeditions were financed in some cases by horticultural organizations and in others by individual estate owners. When financed by organizations or botanic gardens, the seeds went for the most part to the sponsoring organization. Where the expeditions were privately financed, of course, the seed went to those who put up the money. In some cases the seed was shared with botanic gardens, and with other friendly gardeners. In some cases the seedlings were grown on the estate of the sponsor of the expedition and for many years perhaps there was very little if any distribution. On many of these old estates, plants grown from the original collected seed, introduced many years ago, are still to be seen. These are really mature plants some very large, of interest to any rhododendron lover.
Early Rhododendron Breeders
Several of the people who financed these expeditions not only grew on the seed they had obtained, but began to hybridize. Many of our present named varieties, particularly in the Northwest, are the result of their breeding efforts. The parent plants, or early propagations from them, are still to be seen in mature form in the gardens of the originators.
The Botanic Gardens
Seed from many of the expeditions either went directly or indirectly to the Royal Botanic Garden at Edinburgh, Scotland, and to Kew Gardens near London. In those botanic gardens mature plants of many species and varieties may be seen. As is well known to most of our members, one of the finest collections of species was made by the late J. B. Stevenson and Mrs. Stevenson at Tower Court. Many of the fine species plants from that collection have been moved to Savill Gardens, a part of the Royal Estate at Windsor, where they now constitute probably the finest collection of selected species forms in the world.
Beautifully Landscaped Estates
Many of the estates on which these rhododendron plants of distinction may be found are quite old, quite large, beautifully laid out, and well maintained. The landscape design of many of them is especially attractive. Nearly all, of course, feature many other plants besides rhododendrons and azaleas. Most of the owners, present and past, have been knowledgeable horticulturists who believed in knowing the species names of the plants in their own gardens, and who have maintained that knowledge so that visitors not only can see their beautiful collections of ornamental plants, but the plants will be labeled or at least the head gardener and the owner know the names, with very few exceptions.
Although I have visited a few of the more important gardens, there are a great many which I have not seen. I was quite thrilled, therefore, and certainly surprised when I was asked to be the conductor for a garden tour designed primarily to visit gardens where rhododendrons and azaleas are featured. So far as I know this is the first garden tour to the British Isles, or to any other European area, to feature the genus Rhododendron.
The man who organized the tour, Mr. Harold Epstein, former President of the New York Chapter of our Society and former President of the American Rock Garden Society, is well known to many A.R.S, members. He has visited British gardens a number of times and is well versed in this field and in the entire field of ornamental plants. I am sure he has laid out the tour so that the stops made will be of maximum interest to rhododendron fans, and also to anyone else who is interested in gardens and unusual plants in general.
It so happens that, in visiting these gardens, the group will go through beautiful country, many historic areas, and will have an opportunity to visit cathedrals, castles and other items of general interest.
Both Well Known and Little Known Gardens to be Visited
In laying out the tour, it was felt that it would be most interesting to visit some of the fine old gardens having unusual rhododendron material, unusual because of size, age or variety, which have not been generally visited by travelers from this country. In addition, of course, those who have not been to English gardens before will want to see some of the better known private gardens as well as horticultural points of interest such as Wisley, Kew Gardens, Royal Botanic Garden at Edinburgh, etc. The various gardens will be described in a brochure which is being prepared, but at this time it might be desirable to just list a few of the places which will be visited.
The first part of the tour will take in such well known gardens as Penjerrick, Trewithen, Caerhays Castle, Trengwainton, Exbury, Hillier's Nursery, Sunningdale Nurseries, Savill Gardens, Leonardslee, Bodnant and others. A number of less well known gardens will be included. The cathedrals at Exeter and Winchester and Oxford College and Botanic Garden will add variety. The last major item of interest will be the Royal Horticultural Society Rhododendron Show.
Section 2 will start the day Section I ends. This will provide an opportunity for those who wish "the grand tour" to include both sections as there will be very little if any duplication. Section 2, upon reaching London, will go direct to Glasgow, Scotland and start visiting a number of the famous Scottish gardens. These include Culzean Castle, Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran, Lochinch, Logan Gardens, Dawyck, Glenarn, Crarae Lodge, Inverewe and others. Of course the famous Edinburgh Botanic Garden will be included and as the group comes back to London they will have time to visit Kew Gardens, Wisley, and Savill Gardens. Other items of interest will be Durham Cathedral, Cambridge University Botanic Garden and other picturesque castles and places. The second section will end their tour with a day at the famous Chelsea Flower Show.