Ramblings from Valley Forge
By Charles Herbert, Valley Forge Chapter
On the cold days, such as we had in January, the temperature never rose above freezing for twenty-seven days. The lowest temperature was two degrees above freezing.
It makes you wonder, thinking back, if anything has been accomplished over the years. I think that, in trying to put more beauty into our hybrids, and in making them somewhat more diminutive, we have had fair success. We had a very good bud set this past fall but from experience, in freezing weather like this, a lot of buds will be lost.
My first attempt, in making crosses, was in 1948 with very few plants with which to experiment. It was not until 1952, when Joe Gable came along with new material, that I made any progress. With his hybrids and using discolor, decorum fortunei, 'Essex Scarlet', and 'Astrosanguineum', I have approximately fifteen hybrids that are worth while. As space is limited in the Rhododendron Quarterly, I will not go into detail.
I could fill a book, with the trials and errors, on making new and better hybrids. I do have several clones that may be worth mentioning. I have named them all from rivers or creeks in this area. Some of these clones are on the West Coast.
'Schuylkill', an unknown hybrid, has a large flower truss of fragrant deep pink flowers on a tall bush that holds its deep green leaves for several years. 'Valley Creek' is an 'Essex Scarlet' x Fortunei hybrid with a deep rose pink, almost red flower.
'French Creek' is a large flowering white fragrant. This plant is a little open in growth. The flowers on this plant are better than I have seen anywhere, but no one has ever been able to root it.
In 1960, I made a cross of fortunei on 'Atrosanguineum'. This made an excellent clone that I named 'Valley Forge'. It has a well shaped, upright truss of cherry red flowers on a dark green compact plant.
In 1961 I had to move the entire collection of plants to the place where I now live.
It was not until 1965 that more hybrids were made. In using Nearing's 'Ramapo' X carolinianum it made a clone with leaves about half the size of carolinianum. These flowers range from white to pink on a very compact plant and in five years has not grown over 18" tall. The flowers are about 2" on a very full truss.
A cross of mucronulatum on chapmanii gave several nice clones. I call one 'Ethel M', a tall growing plant, that blooms about the 15th of April. It has pink flowers that flower along the stem, as well as the terminal, and the plant is evergreen.
'Pink Queen' is a compact plant with larger flowers that bloom about a week later than 'Ethel M'. These plants bloom at a time when rhododendron flowers are scarce.
A plant, grown from seed, collected in the Great Smoky Mountains has flowered a form of calendulaceum. It is lemon yellow that I call 'Lemon Rind' with stamens that are about four inches long on a funnel shaped flower. The leaves are much longer than you find in calendulaceum. This is a very fine form.
After the Valley Forge Chapter was started, it was decided to have our own "seed exchange" among the members. It has been very successful and any remaining seed is sent to the National Seed Exchange. The seed program has been under the direction of Mr. Lew Bagoley, who made most of the crosses. To make the cross, harvest and clean the seed is no small job.
The first crosses were made with the thought of improving the yellows, with pollen from the West Coast, my own and Gable's hybrids. During the last several years, we have made a lot of crosses with yakushimanum. A lot of plants look very good but it will be some time before any of these bloom. I would like to advise that the seed is as true to name as it is possible to make it. We have had letters from as far away as New Zealand. We would appreciate your comments on plants grown from the Valley Forge Chapter seed. These letters pay for the work involved.
In May we took a bus trip to the Knippenberg's Estate in Wayne, New Jersey. Mrs. Knippenberg was a most gracious hostess in taking the group through the nursery. At the conclusion of the trip she gave each of the members a rhododendron. One of the crosses that we saw there was 'Crest' X 'Boule de Neige', a nice yellow, and carolinianum X 'Roseum', a nice pink. On the way home we stopped at the Princeton Chapter test garden. This was a well-planned and cared for garden. In the spring of 1969 the Chapter planted the Reception Center and Baron von Steuben Headquarters at Valley Forge State Park with specimen plants that are all doing well.
Two of our members, Bruce Keyser and Jay Saddington made a safari to collect native calendulaceum from the Great Smoky Mountain Park with permission from National Park Service. They did come away with some nice clones. You should see the slide of those two coming down the Mountain with these plants in a downpour of rain.
In September of 1969 Mr. James Caperci of the Mt. Rainier Nursery, Seattle, paid a visit to our Chapter and spoke to us on species that are grown in his nursery. Mr. Caperci, better known as Jim, visited a number of the members' gardens.
In October Mr. Cecil C. Smith of Portland, Oregon, was in this area and again, it was a pleasure to hear him talk and show slides of hybrids from Portland.
Both of these men tried to show and tell of hybrids and species that could in all probability be grown in our area. All present enjoyed both the slides and talks of great Rhododendron growers.
Our garden, Stony Acres, will be open in May when we expect nearly 1500 plants to be in full bloom. The usual Valley Forge Chapter picnic will be held here sometime in May.