Garden Purchased By Rhododendron Species Foundation
J. Harold Clarke
One of the most important transactions involving rhododendrons ever made in this country is the recent purchase by the Rhododendron Species Foundation of the Dr. Milton Walker home, located a few miles south of Eugene, Oregon. The Walker property consists of thirty-one acres, much of it in fir woodland. Included are the Walker residence, greenhouse, lath houses and quite an assortment of farm tools and equipment. The area is already laid out in beautiful garden and lawn areas around the house with a black-top entrance driveway, walks, irrigation equipment and everything that goes to make a beautiful and well organized garden.
Judging from the appearance of the rhododendrons now growing in the garden, conditions are either quite favorable for rhododendron growth or can be made so by intelligent gardening.
The purchase price, as announced by the Foundation, is $58,000.00, being financed on fifteen and twenty-five year contracts. The Walkers had a firm offer of $100,000.00 for the property without the tools and equipment but because of their long standing interest in the Foundation they made it possible for it to purchase at the price mentioned.
The Foundation has made considerable effort in the direction of accumulating an endowment fund, however, such money is hard to come by unless one has something very definite to show in the way of progress. Now that the Foundation has a home for its species collection it is hoped that endowment money may be more easily obtained. Meanwhile the Foundation Directors feel that the current expenses amounting to some $18,000.00 a year may be obtained by donations. The $18,000.00 would take care of the payments, expenses of a caretaker, taxes, etc. Some of the Directors have made generous gifts and it is hoped that many rhododendron lovers will help carry the burden. The Foundation is fully tax exempt as a non-profit educational organization under Section 170 of the Internal Revenue Code.
Why a Foundation?
The reasons for the formation of a Rhododendron Species Foundation are set forth in considerable detail in an article by Dr. Milton V. Walker on Page 136 of the A. R. S. Bulletin for July, 1965. However, we have many new members in the American Rhododendron Society since that time and a little of the background might be given here.
As most rhododendron growers know the foundation of everything involving rhododendrons is the native wild species which have been collected from many parts of the world, and especially Central Asia. Many species are beautiful garden plants in their own right and they have provided all of our garden hybrids through the efforts of plant breeders during the last hundred and fifty years. The collection of additional species plants, in Central Asia at least, appears to be a thing of the past as long as the Communists maintain their hold on China. The original collections, of course, were sent to botanical gardens in Great Britain, especially at Edinburgh, and to the gardens of wealthy plant lovers who had financed the expeditions. Over the years many of the original plants grown from the seed sent by explorers have matured, and in many cases the plants have died or been removed by housing developments or other action. Even in the botanic gardens plants do not live forever and if replaced by seedlings collected in such gardens, hybridization is always a possibility. As various Directors of botanic gardens or arboreta come on the scene they have special interests, not necessarily rhododendrons, and so the collection may be materially changed with a change in administration.
Acknowledging the interest in rhododendron species for their own sake, and as material for hybridization, the American Rhododendron Society had a Species Project which was chaired by Dr. Walker. The object of this project was to find superior specimens, of as many species as possible, write them up for the Bulletin and make them known to the general rhododendron public. Hopefully material would be made available for propagation so that people wanting to get a plant of a certain species, true to name, could get one of those described in the Species Project. There was considerable interest in this but we knew, of course, that there was a limited amount of this kind of material in the United States.
Cooperation in the British Isles
Dr. and Mrs. Walker, traveling in England, had the opportunity of seeing the magnificent collection of species in Windsor Great Park, a collection which had been developed over the years by Mr. J. B. Stevenson and moved to Windsor Great Park after Mr. Stevenson's death. It struck Dr. Walker that here was a magnificent collection of true to name rhododendron species and that what we needed in America was a similar collection, set up in such a way that it could be maintained indefinitely, and handled in such a way that it could be continually improved and added to. Discussing this matter with Sir Eric Savill, Dr. Walker found that propagating material from all of the forms at Windsor Great Park, and probably from most other important English collections, could be secured for a species collection in this country.
As this was considered by a number of interested people, it seemed that a project as large as this called for a Foundation type of organization which could be incorporated and self-maintaining for the foreseeable future. Although all of these people were members of the American Rhododendron Society, it did not seem that the Society was the proper instrument to organize and maintain the garden. The Society's officers are elected by the membership and change from time to time, the Society has other projects requiring its interest and support, and so it seemed that a Foundation with a fairly small list of Directors, perhaps around twenty-five, could be most successful in developing such a project. It would be relatively immune to pressure and could purchase property or conduct other business operations without having to involve the Society or secure permission of its membership.
Accordingly, in 1964, the Rhododendron Species Foundation was incorporated with the general objectives of (1) Make available true forms of the species, both types and outstanding forms. (2) Preserve these superior forms so that they will not be lost. (3) Conduct research and educational activities in the field of species rhododendrons.
Dr. and Mrs. Walker made another trip to England during the blooming season and studied rhododendron species in many of the more important private gardens as well as at Wisley and Edinburgh. They received very fine cooperation and promises of propagating material from the species plants selected. These selections were made in consultation with most of the important rhododendron authorities in the British Isles.
Arrangements were made with the University of British Columbia to receive the propagating material and root the cuttings, or make grafts, and grow on the resulting plants for at least two years. This arrangement worked out very well so that in the fall of 1968 there were propagations of close to 400 selected species at the University of British Columbia. Arrangements have been made to bring these to the new Foundation garden, and as this issue appears the plants will hopefully have been brought to the new garden. Some difficult to propagate species may be left at the University temporarily for further attempts at propagation.
It is hoped to set up a propagating unit at the Foundation garden to multiply the various introductions as rapidly as possible. The propagations will eventually be distributed in some way so that American gardens can benefit from this wealth of plant material.
The present officers of the Rhododendron Species Foundation are Wales Wood, St. Helens, Oregon, President Clarence Chase, Eugene, Ore., Vice President; Fred Robbins, Puyallup, Washington, Secretary; Ed Siegmund, Eugene, Oregon, Treasurer. Any of these or the writer of this article would be glad to answer questions about the Foundation. Although this is not officially connected with the American Rhododendron Society, it is being conducted for the eventual benefit of the rhododendron lovers of America, and so should be of interest to every member of the Society. Feeling that the Society members will be interested in the activities of the Foundation, it is hoped to have frequent material in the Bulletin indicating the progress being made in bringing in species material and propagating it, in laying out and establishing the species garden, and in any other phases of the Foundation which might be of interest.