The Flowering Forest of Joseph B. Gable
Henry R. Yates, Frostburg, Md.
Fig. 26. Mr. Gable looking over flowers of
Photo by H. R. Yates
Fig. 31. Mr. Gable in the "Flowering Forest"
Photo by H. R. Yates
Just four miles north of the Mason and Dixon line, in Stewartstown, Pa., lives Mr. Rhododendron, Joseph B. Gable, who is recognized as dean of rhododendron hybridizers and whose plantings have become known as "The Flowering Forest of Joe Gable."
This spot has been the Mecca of rhododendron enthusiasts not only from the East but connoisseurs from the world over who come to see the originations of Mr. Gable and the species that are their parents.
Visitors have no trouble finding the garden because everyone for miles around knows the place. The Gable house is almost completely hidden from the street by many conifers of which Joe is very fond. He once jokingly gave me these directions: "Just come down the street until you come to the first house you can't see. That will be our place."
For many flower lovers, seeing the beauties of the flowering season is a sight not soon to be forgotten. To many others, the plants themselves are only a small part of the enjoyment of their visits.
Many time their trips to Stewartstown in the hope that they will be fortunate enough to find Joe not so busy with customers and able to find time to talk rhododendrons with them.
It is hard-yes, practically impossible - to get Joe to say much about himself or the things he has accomplished. But imagine the wealth of knowledge and experience Mr. Gable has amassed in his 80 years.
He once told me his interest in plants began as a young boy of 10 when his father gave him a book on botany. As he grew up his first experience with growing things was as a farmer and fruit grower in an orchard which later turned into azalea fields.
The first rhododendron came to the Flowering Forest as much as 50 years ago as a plant of R. maximum dug from a mountainside near Joe's deer and bear hunting grounds in north-central Pennsylvania. (He has been a lifelong hunter and lover of guns and has a fine collection in his basement hideaway.) The next plants were purchased from a collector in the Smoky Mountains. The first cross attempted was R. atlanticum X R. japonicum, seedlings of which were sent to the British hybridizer Magor.
Probably this was Mr. Gable's first contact with the exotic Asian species, as Mr. Magor was most generous with seed and pollen. The next was with Mr. Rehder and Dr. C. S. Sargent at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, where he obtained three six-inch plants each of R. discolor, decorum, haematodes and fortunei. Two of these original true fortunei are still growing down by the creek in the Gable woods.
The first hybrid to be named was christened 'Caroline' for Mr. Gable's mother who died when he was five.
To have known Joe Gable has been my most rewarding and enjoyable experience. He has been most generous with any information or material needed, and his advice is given in such an unassuming way that he gives us the impression that we too are pretty smart plantsmen.
We have often talked of the things that should be done. Mr. Gable has said repeatedly that more work should be done with the lepidote rhododendrons, and that he feels there are great possibilities here. His 'Conewago Improved' is an example of what can be accomplished.
Mr. Gable has talked several times about using R. thomsonii in our attempted crosses. He also thinks we should direct more effort to developing a hardier strain of deciduous azaleas by using our native species, R. arborescens, calendulaceum, nudiflorum and roseum - omitting, of course, the tender ones found in the Knaphills.
One bit of sage advice Joe gave me was that if we want hardy children we must pick out hardy grandparents.
(Speaking of children, during a very dry summer there was an overnight rain shower. Since Mr. Gable was keeping a close eye on his rain gauge and the shower didn't seem to leave many puddles, he was puzzled that the gauge should show an inch of rain. Another shower, another inch measured. After some detective work it was discovered the "rain" was the work of little granddaughter Margie who was helping nature with her little watering can by climbing up to the gauge and pouring in some water. It made granddaddy so happy to see water in his plastic funnel, she said.)
Many of the Gable hybrids are becoming readily obtainable from various sources. Among the better known ones are 'Caroline,' a mauve pink, hardy and fragrant with beautiful dark green foliage; 'Atroflo', a beautiful red with heavily indumented leaves, a cross of 'Atrosanguinium' and R. floccigerum; the outstanding 'Cadis' ('Caroline' X R. discolor), a late blooming pink that received the A.R.S. Award of Excellence; the red 'Kentucky Cardinal' and 'Red Head'; the lovely 'County of York', a large flowered hardy white from a cross of 'Loderi' X 'Catawbiense Album'.
Fig. 28. 'Annie Dalton', a
Fig.29. 'Marybelle', a Gable
hybrid involving four grand-
R. griersonianum, decorum,
Fig. 30. 'David Gable'
Photos by H. R. Yates
Until recently Mr. Gable felt sure his fine pink 'David Gable' was his best origination. But new things are coming along and sometimes I feel he is undecided about the best. There are many hybrids under test in the Flowering Forest and Mr. Joe won't be hurried into naming and introducing plants that have not stood the test of time. He says there are altogether too many things being named prematurely.
Fig. 27. 'Kathleen', an evergreen azalea
about 40 years old, from the breeding of
Photo by H. R. Yates
Among the new plants under surveillance is the spectacular 'Mary Belle', a plant you must see in action to appreciate to the fullest. The flowers on this one open coral on the outside and progress through tones of yellow to a soft buff. There are more named ones, like 'Mary Belle' not ready to be released, as well as many selected for test and growing under numbers.
I have neglected to mention the work done with azaleas but I feel certain most readers of the Bulletin are familiar with 'Rosebud', 'Rose Greeley', 'Miriam', 'Margie', 'Louise Gable', 'James Gable', 'Purple Splendour' and the very hardy 'Springtime'. These are considered to be among the hardiest evergreen azaleas.
Mr. Gable seems never to tire and I know he is giving thought to the crosses to be made next spring. He is still hybridizing each year and sets out hundreds of seedlings annually, always hoping that the new batch will yield the greatest rhododendron of all. The new beds of young plants in the woods and the older plants there are continuously being culled and replaced with young un-bloomed seedlings. With this wealth of young hybrids we can look forward to many years of surprises to greet us when spring comes to the Flowering Forest. I hope I shall see them.