The following letter was received from Dr. David G. Leach and is self explanatory. Those of us who have grown on populations of hybrid rhododendrons and eagerly anticipated their development know the heartbreak which Dave is experiencing at this time and we extend to him our deepest regrets.
As you may have heard, a disastrous fire at my hybridizing and trial grounds was reported by Associated Press, and the account of it which appeared in many newspapers was none too accurate.
I lost about half of my azaleas and rhododendrons; as I calculate it, approximately four acres were burned. The fire started on an adjoining property where some children were playing with matches. With a strong Spring wind behind it, and several inches of dried oak leaves on the ground, it spread through a hemlock hedge surrounding my property and raced up a slope through rows of rhododendron hybrids planted out as they would be in a nursery. From there it advanced across a plateau at the top of the hill where I had placed, in landscaped groups, the select plants from many thousands which I had expected to release to my introducers for eventual commercial introduction. Most of them had been propagated so they are not lost as clones, but the most recent selections were there as the solitary specimens of their kind, and they are probably gone.
The heat was so intense that almost all of the metal labels melted, and thus were lost the parentages and other data which are essential to continuing genetic research. A few years ago I had a minor fire, and most of the plants re-sprouted from the crowns. This time the burned-over acres are a forest of charred sticks on a sea of ashes.
Probably most of the pine trees which were planted years ago as windbreaks and backgrounds are gone, but the ground beds, tables with small seedlings in flats and, in general, the eastern portion of the grounds were spared. Enough remains to start over.
For those who have visited me periodically, I must report that all of the dwarf red forrestii hybrids, the chrysanthum hybrids, the advanced generation 'Mars' hybrids, and the second generation 'Mrs. Furnival' hybrids were burned. These seemed to be particularly popular with visitors.
I am writing to you, with the request that my letter be published in the Bulletin, because I have received scores of letters from sympathetic friends, for the most part, but also from people whom I have never met, expressing their regret and concern for my loss. Many of the writers are obviously under the impression that I was wiped out completely, and that is not the case
With the clean-up and salvage work to be done, it is impossible for me to reply to several hundred letters at this season. I am sure that few expect it, but I would like every one of them to know how very much I have appreciated their letters, telephone calls and telegrams at a bleak time. I have been moved by their concern.
As a matter of fact, I was running out of land anyway. As I write, it is early May and the air vibrates with a feeling of rebirth. Perhaps I should have plowed under those hybrids long ago to make room for new and better things.
David G. Leach