Lester E. Brandt
Mrs. Roy Hacanson, Tacoma Chapter
and Fred Robbins, Puyallup
The passing of Lester E. Brandt, Tacoma. Washington early this spring was a loss to our local community and to all rhododendron fanciers. Les became interested in rhododendrons in 1938, and like everything he did, went into it thoroughly. After a period of two or three years, he joined the Royal Horticultural Society, and arranged with one of the largest bookstores in England to send him all the available lists of books and pamphlets that pertained to rhododendrons. At one time Les had one of the best libraries in the United States on rhododendrons.
He corresponded with many of the rhododendron growers in England, and got quite well acquainted with F. C. Puddle...sending him tobacco occasionally during the war. They wrote discussing the various hybrids they were making and comments on rhododendrons in general.
Les studied all the crosses and species that were listed, so that when World War II was over, he sent for many hybrids from Cox, Reuthe, Russell, Hillier, and Slocock. They came via Layritz in Canada where they spent a year, then on to Les's garden. Many of these plants were used in Les's hybridizing in later years.
Brandt worked with the people at the University of Washington Arboretum supplying them with plant material, not only rhododendron species, but Crinodendron, Cytisus, Leucothoe, Enkianthus, Tricuspidaria, Callistemon, Meconopsis, Nothofagus species and others.
He belonged to the Seattle Rhododendron Society back in the early 40's before the American Rhododendron Society was founded, and won quite a few of the first prizes with the Best Display and plant material in the Seattle shows. These were the big shows in the northwest at that time before the war was over. He joined the American Rhododendron Society when it was formed and served as an officer in several capacities.
Les began his hybridizing by developing smaller sized, compact plants for use around the modern home. One of his first named plants "Little Joe" is a fine plant when grown under proper conditions, but not one of his best. He worked with several 'Lady Roseberry' - cinnabarinum crosses, and also with concatenans. He developed many fine yellows, although 'Gold Mohur' is perhaps best known. In recent years many more of his named hybrids were available through several nursery sources. Those such as 'Thor', 'Golden Pheasant', 'Pele', 'Naranja', 'Kubla Kahn' are excellent. The 'Lady Roseberry' - flavidum cross was not well known, but an outstanding garden plant. One of his best crosses: sperabile x forrestii v. repens produced a named clone which grows to about three feet in height, and four to five feet across. It is a very superior plant.
Brandt chose to register his hybrids with the International Rhododendron Authority. Many of his plants were frequent winners of "Best New Hybrid Awards" at the Seattle and Tacoma ARS Rhododendron Shows. Others have received awards from the A.R.S. His knowledge of the genus was outstanding. Although somewhat of a "loner" in later years, he was willing to share his knowledge with those who seemed genuinely interested.
At one time he built a greenhouse specifically for orchids and went whole-heartedly into this field in addition to his rhododendrons. His interest waned, however. Their awkward looks in off-season and the constant care they required brought about his decision to sell them all.
He was in demand for consultation at the large estates in Seattle and Tacoma, and sold many of his finest specimen plants to the owners of those homes. His collection included the Loderi's and Naomi's of such large size as to defy description. One 'Loderi King George' for example, rested on a hillside and was all of 15 feet high and 17 or 18 feet through. A specimen of bureavii was magnificent!
After Brandt's death. some of his finest species were purchased by the Seattle Chapter of ARS for an Arboretum to be founded at Fort Lawton in the Seattle area. Others were donated by his sister to the same park.