The Strybing Arboretum
Owen Pearce, Orinda, California
FIG. 8. The Hall of Flowers, Strybing Arboretum -- Site of
the Rhododendron Show being held during the 1972
Photo by Owen Pearce
The Strybing Arboretum is located on the south side of Golden Gate Park, in San Francisco. Both the Arboretum and the Park are operated by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission, but the Arboretum is a separate entity, under the management of its recently appointed Director, Mr. John E. Bryan. Mr. Bryan is well-known to many of the horticulturists of the west coast, particularly in Oregon and Washington, for he served for ten years in an executive post with the Oregon Bulb Farms, home of the Jan de Graaff Lilies, in Gresham, Oregon.
The Arboretum was established as a result of a bequest by Mrs. Helene Strybing, and plans were laid out and work begun in the mid-1930's, under the care of Eric Walther, the first Director. He had been with the Park, under John McLaren, for about twenty years before assuming his new task, and he served the Arboretum well during the twenty years it was to grow under his direction.
It is well-known that Golden Gate Park was built almost entirely on sand, and the Arboretum area was no exception to this condition. The sand areas were stabilized and trees were planted in the 1870's so that, upon commencing work in the Arboretum, there were many fine, mature trees of numerous genera, around which to develop the Arboretum.
In this story we are concerned with rhododendrons, and it is very fortunate that John McLaren, in the first place, had a great love for the genus. Eric Walther also had a big place in his heart for these plants and he had a deep knowledge of the species. He had much experience in planting and maintaining them before becoming Director, so he laid out large areas in which rhododendrons of many species were planted.
Mr. Walther was followed by P. H. (Jock) Brydon in the Directorship, and of course Jock enthusiastically set about making further plans for increasing the areas devoted to rhodies. Through the generosity of the California Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, he was able to acquire many of the fine plants from the gardens of Del James, from nurseries in the northwest, and from Hillier Brothers in Winchester, England. Mrs. Ray James, Del's widow was helpful and generous in the selection of plants from their garden in Eugene.
Many things were accomplished while Jock was the Director: comprehensive changes in the landscaping of the Arboretum were made; many ornamental plants other than rhododendrons were established, such, for instance, as magnolias of many species; the Garden of Fragrance for the Blind was built and planted; and a far-reaching program of educating school children in the knowledge of plants was initiated. But one of the finest acts accomplished by Jock concerning rhododendrons consisted in obtaining and establishing many of the species and hybrids of the Malesian rhododendrons.
The climate of coastal central California is most favorable for the establishment of two particular groups of rhododendrons, partly because of the cool, moist fogs during the summer months, and partly because of the mild winters. As a result of these conditions, the tender species of the Maddenii series found a good home in Golden Gate Park and the Arboretum. For the same reason, Jock Brydon was able to cultivate the Malesian group, and they have prospered. Visitors to the Arboretum in September and October and in the winter months drool at the sight of the lovely colors and dramatic sizes and shapes of some of the flowers of these South Sea species.
Roy L. Hudson followed Jock for two years as Director, before his retirement. Previous to this term as director, he had served with Golden Gate Park for almost forty years, during which time, under John McLaren he had developed rhododendron plantings in the Park, and was directly responsible for the great plantings in the John McLaren Rhododendron Dell. It was he who developed the use of the Maddeniis in the Park, and he helped both Eric Walther and Jock Brydon in planting them in the Arboretum. During his short stay as Director, he encouraged the further hybridizing and growing of the Malesians.
Pete Sullivan must be mentioned in connection with the growing of rhododendrons in the Arboretum. When the greenhouse in the Arboretum was completed, Pete was placed in charge, and he developed a great and intimate knowledge of the propagation and growing of rhododendrons, particularly the Malesians. He has placed educational exhibits in a number of flower shows held in the Hall of Flowers (located in the Arboretum) and he has received high compliments for his efforts. The superb outdoor planting of Malesians continues to expand. As of this writing R. leucogigas is just starting to flower again, and several hybrids are showing their colors for the first time.
John Bryan, of course, will continue to maintain the interest of rhododendrons in the Arboretum, and the plantings will continue to enlarge and improve.