In Memoriam: James Francis Caperci
Bob Badger and Ernest Dzurick
Reprinted from "Seattle Rhododendronland," newsletter of the Seattle Chapter
He was much shorter than I, in stature. I cannot remember if it was at a Seattle Rhododendron Society Meeting, a Species Study Club meeting or at a Rhododendron Show that I first met him. It must have been around 1960. How unusual I mused for one of short stature to call his nursery after something so tall. Yet, I observed what he lacked in physical height he made up for tenfold over, in enthusiasm, hard work and devotion to his plants and promoting their widespread circulation.
You see, these types of plants were not available in the Boston area where he was born and raised, nor the Navy in which he served just after World War I. After his arrival in the Seattle area in 1920, his horticultural interests were no doubt aroused by the greenery and beautiful flowers that abounded around him. While pursuing other business interests, he obtained his first nursery license in 1946. He purchased an existing nursery, greenhouses and home from another nurseryman, Mr. Elmer Fisher, up beyond the Riverview area in South Seattle where he lived until his retirement in 1980.
Many young rhodophiles or plant collectors bought their first species (his first love) or hybrid rhododendrons or dwarf conifers from him or his wife, direct at the nursery. While thousands of others from around the United States and Canada purchased theirs from his mail order lists. His frequent letters and scion purchases overseas, especially in Great Britain and Japan, resulted in hundreds - thousands - of packets of rare rhododendron species seeds and scions arriving at his nursery. Every purchase from him always included a free plant, rooted cutting or seedlings of a rare species he was raising - if you showed an interest in them. He was known for his generosity and desire to have his friends try one more plant at their place. He frequently gave lectures on his favorite rhododendrons and conifers both here on the West Coast and on the East Coast in the New England area.
As his retirement time neared, he donated thousands of dollars worth of mature unusual species rhododendron plants as well as his very extensive library collection of rhododendron books and publications to the Rhododendron Species Foundation. They acknowledged his generous donations and contributions with the first such citation given by the RSF. He was also recognized for his rhododendron achievements by the American Rhododendron Society when they awarded the ARS Gold Medal to him at the 1974 Annual Meeting in Portland. He was a remarkable propagator and grower of rhododendrons and dwarf conifers and a vigorous supporter of the Arboretum at Washington Park in Seattle. I shall remember him though as a fervent preacher of the remarkable beauty of the "little people of the garden" that God has given us to enjoy. Nearly every rhododendron or dwarf conifer lover's garden around Seattle, contains at least one plant that he was involved with, either grown or introduced by him and his wife at their garden and nursery.
This January 18th, at age 87, he left us and his "right hand man" who had stood beside him through all the years of plant collecting and the years of the nursery business - his wife Betty.
His love for the dwarf rhododendrons, conifers and the horticultural people he knew, was greater and higher than the towering mountain which loomed up in the Southeast distance beyond the nursery.
Rainier Mountain Alpine Gardens is closed and now, James Francis Caperci has left our scene, but his memory will remain for many years.