Dexter Wave Rolling Westward
Francis W. Mosher Jr., Woodacre, California
Immediately after the 1972 American Rhododendron Society convention was held in San Francisco considerable interest began to be shown in Dexter hybrids by members of the three A.R.S. chapters in California. Questions were asked regarding the possibilities of introducing the best Dexter varieties but so little was known about Dexters that selection of outstanding named plants from the East Coast was extremely difficult, if not impossible for many members of the California, San Mateo and Monterey Bay chapters.
Random sampling would not only be very expensive but might result in the over-looking of some of the best Dexter hybrids. Suggestions have been made that co-operative pool buying might be sponsored by one or all three chapters.
Eight years ago Mrs. Betsie Kelius, then living at Levittown, Pennsylvania, came out West on a visit and told California chapter members that all of us were missing a "good bet" in not growing 'Scintillation.' A year or two later, commercial growers at Portland, Oregon. and Santa Cruz, California started propagation and now 'Scintillation' is featured in many local retail nurseries.
The spark that set off this sudden interest in Dexter hybrids was the breath-taking 'Scintillation' in full bloom, part of the 1972 A.R.S, convention show's prize winning commercial display representing the Everett Farwell nursery, Woodside, California. Many of the New Zealand Rhododendron Association visitors seeing 'Scintillation' in bloom for the first time were entranced and made inquiries of officials at the San Francisco event.
It must be admitted that several other Dexters had been introduced into California earlier but they had not been successful as command varieties. Included would be 'C.O.D.' (also termed 'Betty Arrington', although controversy still exists over its renaming) and 'Ramona.' P. H. (Jock) Brydon, Oregon's internationally known authority, is credited with bringing the former west while Cottage Gardens Nursery of Eureka, California is believed to have imported the latter. Neither variety "set the world on fire" here.
Before heading for the East Coast to check out and rate Dexter hybrids, the writer was warned by several nurserymen that just because any Dexter can survive our lowest winter temperatures is no reason why it should be brought west. "Before rating my Dexter be sure to see it in bloom and don't compare one with another. Remember that you should only compare Dexters with rhododendron varieties that already are commercial in California." was the advice given. At Woodacre last December we saw the thermometer hit a 32-year-old low of 17 degrees F. above zero and my interest in Dexter hybrids was re-kindled since all of the Dexters can easily survive that low mark.
After traveling more than 1,000 miles in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in May, 1973, the writer was able to see 53 named varieties in bloom in addition to a dozen or more identified by number only. Visits were made to three commercial nurseries, five estate gardens, eight family gardens, one personal garden, three arboretums, one display garden, two test gardens, one botanical library, two A.R.S. chapter shows, and one garden tour. It should be pointed out that all trusses were those on middle-season Dexters and that very early and very late varieties were not seen, Also time and travel considerations made a visit to the Hermitage Plantation collection at Sandwich, Massachusetts impossible.
On arriving at Long Island, the writer, while enjoying the New York chapter's garden tour, explained the purpose of his inspection and rating expedition. Several eye-brows were raised because it seemed to some incredible that an amateur grower with absolutely no commercial connections who does not propagate a single variety would be "beating the bushes" trying to rate Dexter hybrids. One leader on the delightful tour explained that the task might be a difficult one since one of the world's leading rhododendron authorities and writer was quoted as having said: "Just consider the pink Dexters and throw all the rest of them over the back fence!"
My guides and chauffeurs on the expedition were Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Oechsner, Roslyn Estates, Long Island; Dr. Gustave Landt, Norristown, Pennsylvania; and Mr. R. P. Clark, Bricktown, New Jersey. In addition, rides on the Penn-Central steam train, Long Island Railroad and Reading Railroad electric trains were enjoyable. For their kind assistance and transportation I am indeed grateful to my hosts.
Nomination for honors on my mythical All-American Rhododendron Gardens roster (limited to family gardens only) should go to the following: New York, Mr. and Mrs. Allison Fuqua, Huntington Station, Long Island; New Jersey, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Koenig, Interlaken; Pennsylvania, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Becales, "Fox Valley", Glen Mills.
My ratings for the best Dexter trusses seen (for introduction into California) are:
- Red - 'Red Velvet', first; 'GiGi', second; 'Accomac', third.
- Pink - 'Parker's Pink', first; 'Mrs. W. R. Coe', second; 'Scintillation', third.
- White - 'Helen Everitt', first; 'DE 414', second.
- Cream - 'Beauty of Halesite', first; 'Champagne', second; 'Dexter's Vanilla', third.
- Blue - None.
- Purple - None.
In his travels, the writer believes he discovered a number of "sleepers", race track terminology for future champion prospects not yet recognized. Most of them are listed under numbers only and except for 'Dexter's Giant Red' are not yet included in the Dexter Rhododendron Cultivar Progress Reports issued by Mr. Heman A. Howard of the Hermitage Plantation.
Among the nuggets spotted on my safari into New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania gardens were:
- 'DE 414', an outstanding dwarf white, secured in 1965 from Mr. Cowells, Dexter Estate by Mr. and Mrs. Allison Fuqua, Huntington Station, Long Island, N.Y. it aroused a lot of excited comment on Long Island garden tour.
- 'Rona Pink', an exceptionally fine pink, secured from the Dexter Estate in 1962 and grown by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Koenig, Interlaken, New Jersey.
- 'DE 1001', secured in 1965 from Mr. Cowells at Dexter Estate by Dr. Franklin W. West, Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. The truss is pink with a faint red blotch and extended stamens.
- 'Beauty of Halesite' (HS-1), secured by Mrs. Dorothy Schlaikjer, Halesite, N.Y. from Dexter Estate in the '20s. Cream with olive foliage, tall truss, leaves tend to turn downward.
- 'Dexter's Giant Red' listed in Progress Report as DE 431. This variety may rival 'Red Walloper' and other jumbo reds introduced in recent years on the West Coast. Introduction is very limited in the Middle Atlantic states to date but I did see it blooming in two gardens.
- 'Dot's Cherry Jubilee', (HS-9), pink with deep maroon throat, similar to 'Ben Moseley' but deeper color and larger flower. Secured in the '30s from Dexter Estate by Mrs. Dorothy Schlaikjer, Halesite, N.Y.
In the opinion of the writer, all of the varieties listed above deserve testing and listing after which propagation as commercial varieties may appear to be promising, At this time, no attempt has been made to rate them individually except for 'HS-1' and 'DE 414'.
It is recognized that several named Dexter varieties are prized by their owners due to fragrance such as 'Dexter's Peppermint', Dexter's Spice', etc., but the only one in this aroma category to place in the ratings was 'Dexter's Vanilla' which won a spot without any consideration for its nose-tickling quality. The biggest "lemon" in the Dexter list I found was 'Accomplishment' which I believe accomplishes nothing and should be banned forever.
Before loud howls are heard it should be explained that 'Brookville', 'Wheatley', 'Janet Blair' and 'Roslyn' have been ruled out as Dexters and some outstanding trusses such as 'Todmorden', 'Red House', and 'Huntington' were not in bloom during this tri-state visit.
A valuable handbook, "Rhododendrons & Azaleas," published by the New York Chapter A.R.S. and written by Henry A. Dumper and Fred E. Knapp was very helpful. Also aiding greatly in the search were Dexter Rhododendron Cultivar Progress Reports I and II issued by Heman A. Howard of the Hermitage Plantation, Sandwich, Massachusetts and his task force. It is hoped that future progress reports will include a full truss color description and hopefully some comment on plant form and growth characteristics.
For comparison purposes, following is a Dexter variety rating for Long Island given to the writer by Mr. Sidney V. Burns of Syosset, N.Y.:
- Red - 'GiGi', first; 'Rosse L', second; 'Tripoli' (Ross. EEE), third.
- Pink - 'Scintillation', first; 'Parker's Pink', second; 'Mrs. W. R. Coe', third
- White - 'Helen Everitt', first; 'Dexter's Spice', second.
- Blue-Purple-Lavender - 'Dexter's Orchid', first; 'Dexter's Purple', second; 'Amethyst', third.
- Yellow-Amber - 'Champagne', first; 'HP No. 31', second; 'Honeydew', third.
Impact of the Dexter hybrids in the Pittsburgh area was shown at the 1973 A.R.S. convention show held in the Pittsburgh Hilton Hotel where Orlando S. Pride of Butler, Pennsylvania took the second highest trophy with Bosley's 'Dexter 1020'. He captured the Great Lakes Chapter award for the best balled and burlapped Catawbiense Hybrid Rhododendron in Commerce. W. L. Tolstead of Elkins, West Virginia with 'Betty Arrington' won the C. O. Dexter Award for the Best Truss of a Pink Rhododendron in Commerce.