Possibly New and Interesting Items From the West Coast
Carl Phetteplace, M.D., Eugene, Ore.
There is considerable doubt in my mind that I can bring anything from the West Coast that will be new to this gathering of some of the most knowledgeable and experienced rhododendron experts that I have known anyplace. Some time a -o while trying to think of what I might say here I picked up a copy of our handbook "Rhododendrons 1956" and reviewed some of its contents. There I relearned that Mr. Samuel Parsons in Long Island, I believe, was growing and breeding rhododendrons one hundred years ago, and there followed a short list of some of his hybrids which included several names of varieties that are grown and considered worth while even today. My hope is that I may possibly be able o bring you something somewhat interesting.
Recently my wife and I visited our daughter and family residing in Vancouver, B.C. for a few days, then came on down to Seattle to attend the annual Early Spring Competitive Rhododendron Show and visited some of my friends and their gardens around the Seattle-Tacoma area. All this is real rhododendron country and we talked rhododendrons for days. In making some inquiries as to what they thought might be new and interesting to present here I repeatedly got much the same impression. As one man put it "The hottest thing in this part of the country is the species." There is the keenest desire to obtain the very best forms of all available species and to learn all about their important characteristics.
In the Vancouver area I saw a large new planting of species in Stanley Park which the chapter is husbanding. This was contributed by Mrs. Mary Greig. As you know Ted and Mary Greig grew fine species-many from seed obtained originally from the major Asiatic expeditions-in their garden at Royston, Vancouver Island, for many years. This was one of the fine collections of species in our part of the country. With the much lamented passing away of Ted Greig last year this garden had to be given up, so was donated by Mary Greig to Vancouver as the Ted Greig Memorial Planting. Needless to say, this has and will continue to stimulate great interest in species in the chapter there. It is a fine monument to the great work of the Greigs.
In the Seattle-Tacoma area the University of Washington Arboretum under the able direction of Brian Mulligan has been a great stimulus to interest in rhododendron species. In the current issue of The Bulletin of the Arboretum Marjorie Baird writes "A Guide to Early Flowering Rhododendron Species in the U. of Washington Arboretum," in which she takes the reader on a short walk through the Arboretum Rhododendron Glen. She points out and makes brief comments on 68 different species that flower the last of March and through the first two weeks in April. I have walked through this Glen at different times. To me it is an exciting experience, especially during the species flowering-season.
The Seattle chapter has a study club composed of people who feel that there is much more that they would like to know about the species than can be gotten out of the ordinary chapter meetings. This group is now larger than the chapter itself and is composed of a group of highly knowledgeable and earnest people who study the species in great detail. It is in no way competitive or antagonistic to the chapter itself. It is simply a group seeking more information and willing to really work at it. One of their members, whom you have read of in The Bulletin, Mr. Frank Doleshy, has, like Dr. Frederick Serbin of Hartford, made an exploratory trip to Japan. With the assistance of Dr. Rokujo and other Japanese enthusiasts he has brought back a number of what they believe are superior forms of species growing in the wilds of Japan. Frank tells me that he thinks there is still a considerable amount of very worth while material in the genus that can be gotten from Japan and he hopes to pursue it further. Some Tacoma chapter members belong to the Seattle Study Club, but the Tacoma chapter also has a study club of its own. They also have a fine chapter garden project at Point Defiance Park. I was pleased to learn that the Great Lakes chapter now has such a club and the Portland Chapter has such a group. Perhaps there are others that I have not heard of. This seems to be a very worth while project for any chapter.
I should mention before passing on that the Seattle Spring Competition Show which is put on annually by the study club was a great success. Despite some unfavorable weather preceding it there were about 250 cut trusses mostly species-and some 50 balled plants. It was very interesting and educational as well.
In the Portland area one of the finest collections of species I know of is in the private garden of Mrs. A. C. U. Berry. Mrs. Berry many years ago was a financial contributor to many of the major Asiatic plant collecting expeditions from which she received a portion of the seed which she has grown on in her garden. She is a most knowledgeable person and is very generous about visitors. Many of her fine species are now being propagated by a commercial grower near by, so that they may be distributed. Of course the A.R.S. test garden in Portland has many fine species and there is great interest in our area in this part of the garden.
South of Portland, 120 miles, is Eugene. Interest in the species here was first sparked by the late remarkable James Barto at a time when relatively few people in our area knew that there were any other rhododendrons than our native R. macrophyllum. Mr. Barto collected seed from every conceivable source in the world and had many acres of fine species in great variety growing all over his rolling hillside farm. Unfortunately about the time he was getting into a position to do something with this remarkable collection he died. Soon thereafter his home burned to the ground, destroying all of his carefully kept records. His plants numbering countless thousands, large and small, were soon scattered to the four winds. Unfortunately very few appreciated this wealth of material and much was wasted or even used as grafting stock for imported British hybrids that were beginning to catch on with us then. Nevertheless, there is hardly a garden on the west coast that does not contain Barto plants, some of which are, at this time, actually famous specimen species plants up to 30 or 40 years old. An evidence of the interest in species tht prevails around Eugene is furnished by the great effort that our own Dr. Milton Walker has gone to in making personal contacts in England and Scotland and developing plans for securing in this country as many as possible of the authentic species of good form grown across the Atlantic. This is an enormous undertaking but is of greatest importance to everyone who has any deep interest in the genus Rhododendron.
Further south of Eugene, in Northern California, is Dr. Paul Bowman, who has a large collection of maddenii species which he can grow there with no protection from the elements.
Now all that I have said to this point does not mean that there is any lagging of interest out our way in hybrid breeding. It is true that many of the study club people are purists and have no interest in hybridizing. However, we have a long list of dedicated and knowledgeable breeders. I would like to show you a few examples of their work. It has been very difficult to select them down to a number of slides that would avoid making the program too long and tiresome. I assure you there are many good workers whose creations I cannot show you and I am not at all sure that I am including by any means the best. I think they are all good and hope none of my western friends will feel slighted if not well represented. I have tried to do all I could under the limitations of the program.
First may I say a word about a line of breeding that has been somewhat controversial generally; namely, hybrids of R. yakushimanum. Many believe that, since this species is such a perfect jewel in every way in itself, that it is a prostitution to cross it with anything. However, there are those who believe that, since it does have almost every desirable quality you can think of, that it is therefore the most desirable of all possible parents. This is especially true in this era of one story homes and small gardens since most of its progeny remain low and compact. Bob Commerford says the day of selling many tall-growing rhododendrons to the public is over. It may be true that it is difficult to find one of these hybrids that is such a perfect gem as the parent. Still, if you compare them with many other commercially acceptable hybrids in the trade they rate very well. The man in New England does not want to grow a yard full of yakushimanum species alone but wants some variety that will tolerate his climate. This is a principal reason for working with this subject. Commerford believes we should use as the other parent such things as Mr. Parsons' "America," for example, and the good old Dutch Van Nes, the English Waterer hybrids and others based on R. catawbiense. He and Cecil Smith have done the most of any I know with this subject.
First, I will show you some of their crosses and then pass on to a variety of crosses made by other breeders in the Pacific Northwest.
I. Bob Commerford
- R. yakushimanum itself, Exbury form
- R. yakushimanum x one of Ponticum series
- R. yakushimanum x 'Susan'
- R. yakushimanum x 'Harvest Moon'
II. Cecil Smith
- 'Jalisco' x R. yakushimanum
- 'Nestucca' (R. fortunei x R. yakushimanum)
- 'Lady Bligh' x R. aberconwayi
III. The late Del James
- 'Fawn' ('Jalisco' x 'Damaris')
- 'Yellow Creek'
IV. Dr. Paul Bowman
- 'Ruby Bowman' A. E. ('Lady Bligh' x R. fortunei)
V. Halfdan Lem
- 'Catawbiense Album' x 'Fabia' A. E.
- (R. lacteum x 'Mary Swathling') x 'Loderi' P. A.
- 'Lem's Goal' A. E. ('Azor' x 'Ole Olson')
- 'Anna' P. A. ('Montague' x 'Norman Gill')
VI. Wm. Whitney
- ('F. C. Puddle' x R. wardii) x ('Betty Robertson' x 'Virginia Richards')
- R. yakushimanum x R. haematodes
- 'Letty Edwards' (R. dichroanthum x R. wardii) x 'Idealist'
- 'Anna Rose Whitney' x 'Mrs. Furnival'
- 'Gay Nineties'
- 'Virginia Richards'
VII. Lester Brandt
- R. haematodes x 'Felis' P. A.
- 'Britannia' x 'Tally Ho' P. A.
- 'Mood Indigo' ('Russautini' x R. augustinii)
VIII. Ben Lancaster
- R. chlorops itself
- R. campylocarpum x R. chlorops
- 'Lackamas Gold'
IX. H. L. Larson
- R. strigillosum itself
- R. strigillosum close-up
- Etta Burroughs ('Fusilier' x R. strigillosum)
- R. strigillosum x 'Diva'
X. Carl Sifferman
- R. apodectum x 'Loderi King George'
- 'Seattle Gold'
- 'Fabia' x (R. wardii x R. souliei)
- Apricot #3, cross not known
XII. James Caperci
- R. cremastum x R. racemosum
XIII. Arboretum, University of Washington
- 'Alex Grieg' x 'Tally Ho'
XIV. Rudolph Henny
I have talked too long but since there is everywhere so much interest in breeding a better yellow I hope I may be pardoned for a few remarks on the subject of breeding yellow rhododendrons and conclude with a question for the experts on the panel, especially the horticulturist, Mr. Frank Knight and the geneticist, our own David Leach. Two remarks by responsible people on this subject have interested me. One; that it took over 100 years of rose breeding before a satisfactory yellow rose was achieved. By the same token, we may have a long while ahead of us yet before we reach our goal of a perfect yellow. Two; that we will never achieve a really good yellow rhododendron without some R. dichroanthum the make-up.
Personally, I think we have almost a perfect yellow in the flower of 'Crest' but I wish that it grew on a plant like 'Susan' or 'Boule de Neige'. I think some very striking rhododendrons in the yellow category have been developed from R. dichroanthum but to me they lack luster and color stability all too often. Many of them tend to fade out with age and are not the same yellow after a week or so. 'Crest', which is made up entirely of yellow pigments obtained from members of the Fortunei and Thomsoni series, has the same radiant color as long as the flower lasts. To me it seems that 'Crest' sort of points the way of the course we could well follow for still better results. If I may I will show a couple of slides of R. dichroanthum yellows that I believe are fair examples to illustrate this point. They are sister seedlings of 'C.I.S.' x 'Lem's Goal'.
The first slide is of a plant of which each parent is ½ R. dichroanthum. Many seeing these plants in my garden have been quite excited about them. But compare the yellow with the next slide of the 'Crest' flower. Note the radiance. I can assure you that in my garden this color does not weaken or change and I have had flowers stay on in cool weather as long as 3 weeks and still seem unchanged.
The next slide will show what might possibly be a better source of yellow pigment or genes and keep our breeding within the two series I have mentioned which have given us all our best yellows. It is orange R. caloxanthum. The plant habit is very tight and compact, too, which I believe desirable. R. dichroanthum has been crossed with almost every known rhododendron, yet the stud book shows only two crosses ever having been made with R. caloxanthum. I hope Mr. Knight and Mr. Leach, who know a great deal more about this than I do, can answer for us: Why has orange caloxanthum not been used more extensively? Or has it been used more than I realize and found unsatisfactory? I am much interested in this charming orange-yellow member of the Thomsoni series as a species. I wonder about it as a parent.