A Letter and an Appeal
from Mrs. Henry G. Clarke
Bear Swamp Gardens, Ashfield, Mass.
Fig. 14. This circular drive is at the
entrance on the north side of the
house, the most frequently used.
The tree is Malus hupehensis, of
which there are quite a few.
Photo by Elinor Clarke
Fig. 15. The new entrance to
Heritage Plantation, up the hill past
the past the original drive. There is
an ample parking lot out of sight to
the left. The two buildings are new.
Photo by Elinor Clarke
Fig. 16. Dexter's original entrance up
a winding drive to his house.
Photo by Elinor Clarke
Dear Fellow Members of the A.R.S.,
I am writing this as a letter to each one of you, as we have a very fraternal feeling now that Massachusetts is becoming a Chapter. Our Quarterly Editor has asked me if I would jot down a few impressions of what is going on at the Dexter Estate in Sandwich, Mass., nowadays. This will have to be brief; it could be an entire book.
Last spring when Carlton Lees of Mass. Hort. and I were discussing where the historic first meeting of our Chapter should be held, he suggested the Dexter Estate in Sandwich as having more significance to rhododendronphiles than, say, the library of Mass. Hort. in Boston. We could not help it that the rhododendrons were not in bloom in October: the Chapter was about to be born!
So in June I drove down to the Cape, as I had never been to Dexter, and I had a lot of catching up to do. Usually when people mentioned Dexter hybrids my mind went fairly blank because of all the mystery and confusion about them, plus the fact that I had no clear picture of Charles 0. Dexter as a man.
However, I was aware of the extraordinary quality of the few Dexter rhododendrons I had so far in my own garden: 'Scintillation', 'John Wister', 'Wissahickon', 'Dexter's Orchid', 'Skyglow', 'Ben Moseley'. You yourselves may have 'Amethyst', 'Champagne', 'Dexter's Pink', 'Dexter's Purple', 'Merley Cream', 'Gloxineum', 'Mrs. W. R. Coe', 'Tom Everett', 'Warwick', 'Westbury', 'Betty Hume', and possibly some others. I was on the verge of including 'Brookville' and 'Wheatley', but I have recently heard that there is now some doubt that these are Dexters, so cannot do this until further clarification.
The only one of these with which I had any trouble in our twenty-below winters and high winds was 'Wissahickon', which I had to move to a more sheltered place, where it is now making up for lost time. I had noticed that the blossoms of all the Dexters were breathtakingly large, with clear luminous colors, of good substance which lasted well, with trusses well filled out and compact.
I began to be more curious about this dye expect, C. O Dexter (he had a woolen mill in New Bedford), where feeling for color in his daily craft became possibly the prime motivation in his rhododendron breeding. So I had made an appointment to see the new owner of his Estate, the 5th since Dexter died, to discuss the possibility of the Chapter meeting there in October. Mr. and Mrs. Josiah K. Lilly III do not make their home at Heritage Plantation, as the Dexter Estate is now called, because it is set up as a nonprofit institution, primarily to house some of the unusual and extensive collections of Mr. Lilly's father and grandfather - antique autos, military miniatures and antique firearms. Two new buildings, to house an exhibit of arts and crafts and an antique carousel, are currently being erected.
The extensive plantings are being developed in style by Paul Frost's successor as landscape architect, Phillip Ansell. Now that things are coming under control after over a quarter of a century of upheaval, Dexter's heritage is beginning to assume its rightful place. Mrs. Lilly had commented in June, "We feel it is time the rhododendrons got more attention."
When we were there in October we saw the careful superintending of the moving of about twenty-five sizeable rhododendrons (16'-18' wide) by Herman Howard. Horticulturist at Heritage Plantation. and Peter Meinl, a former - New Jersey nurseryman, who has been working there for some time. Roger Coggeshall of Cherry Hill Nurseries in West Newbury had been engaged to take cuttings of the rhododendrons to be moved.
The problem faced by Heritage Plantation is to find the best of Dexter's hybrids and restore them to the property. Heritage Plantation says that they plan a Dexter memorial. An area designated as "Dexter's Dell" has been selected as the site. This is where the best of Dexter's hybrids will be planted in a careful design.
Herman Howard, who has been in an advisory capacity to the Plantation for three years prior to his retirement as Assistant Horticulturist at Arnold Arboretum, has been at Heritage Plantation full time since Labor Day of 1970. Mr. Howard is devoting himself to the difficult task of establishing this Memorial. He says, "We are honestly and earnestly trying to bring the best of Dexter's hybrids home again. We would like to obtain plants or cuttings of Dexter's finest accepted named varieties." Anyone wishing to help in this project is invited to write to: Herman Howard, Horticulturist, Heritage Plantation of Sandwich, Box 566, Sandwich, Mass 02563.
As for myself, I would be delighted to serve as a repository for information concerning Charles O. Dexter and his rhododendrons, with a view to presenting the material eventually in an organized form. Information both about the rhododendrons and about Dexter as a person would be welcome. It would be fine to receive precise recollections from those who had the good fortune to know Dexter personally. Please send to me at Bear Swamp Gardens, Ashfield, Mass.