Let's Face the Name
Kathy Van Veen
Reprinted from the Rhodireview, Vol. III, No. 2, 1991
This is a different way of looking at rhododendrons. The plants and their blossoms are nice, but there is also something to learn and see from their names. Names are important!
I became interested in this in 1985 when Wendie Boyd came to help us in the nursery. Into a loose-leaf notebook, she copied down the names of all the rhododendrons we had had on the property since 1961, the year my father inherited it from his father.
Wendie and I then searched through dictionaries, atlases, and encyclopedias for the meanings of the plant names. Later, I went page by page over the rhododendron books and periodicals in our nursery library. Especially helpful were the Royal Horticultural Society books dating back to 1926. What came of it all is very interesting. Below, I will share it with you, and I hope that you will find it as fascinating.
Long ago and far away in Cornwall, England, there was a man named Sir Charles Lemon, who sponsored Dr. Joseph Hooker in his Sikkim expedition in 1847-1851. Dr. Hooker, the son of the director of the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, brought back the seed of many new species of rhododendrons. The R. arboreum known as 'Sir Charles Lemon' is still on Sir Charles' property at Carclew, Cornwall.
Since Sir Charles had no children, his sister, who had married John H. Tremayne, inherited the property. The family had been in Cornwall since 1569. They named a R. arboreum - R. griffithianum cross for their son 'John Tremayne'. 'Beauty of Tremough' is the same cross, which was named in 1902 by Richard Gill, then head gardener for Henry Shilshon, who had also received some Hooker seed. 'Gill's Triumph' is a clone of 'Beauty of Tremough'. Gill named one of his crosses 'Shilsonii' for his employer and one for his wife, 'Mrs. Richard Gill'. Back again to the early days...'George Cunningham' was named for George Cunningham of Liverpool before 1875, but he should not be confused with James Cunningham (b. 1784) of Edinburgh, who originated 'Cunningham's White' in 1830.
I must mention Dean William Herbert, called the father of English hybridizing. Through his inspiration, an older brother, the Earl of Carnarvon at Highclere Castle in Wales made 'Altaclarense' in 1826. Many reds and whites were later derived from this cross.
Dean Herbert made 'Jacksonii" in 1833, so named because the William Jackson Co. distributed it. Another R. caucasicum cross resulted in 'Nobleanum'. This was done by Anthony Waterer in 1835 and was said to be named for Charles Noble, who admired it.
Sunningdale Nursery in Windlesham, Surrey (our nursery has 'Windlesham Scarlett) was owned by John Standish and William Noble and was founded in 1847. There was, however, an unfriendly separation in 1860, so much so that the plant we know as 'Cynthia' actually had two names! One called it 'Cynthia' (we don't know who she was) while the other called it 'Lord Palmerston' for Henry John Temple (b. 1784), a popular prime minister. The nursery was eventually sold to Sir Hubert Longman. We used to have 'Lady Longman' and there is still one on the peninsula at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden in Portland.
Then there was the firm of Lee & Kennedy of Hammersmith near London. Before 1850, James Lee became interested in hybridizing and, as a result, we have the familiar 'Lee's Dark Purple', 'Lee's Best Purple' and 'Lee's Early Scarlet'*. Although a Mr. Broughton was the head gardener, it is thought that 'Broughtonii' was named for a different Broughton, who was a nurseryman in Holloway in 1840. But the azaleodendron 'Broughtonii Aureum' (aureum meaning gold), originated in the village of Broughton, near Edinburgh in the early 1800s.
There was, and still is, the Waterer Nursery, started by Michael Waterer, who was born in 1745. There were two nursery branches: one at Bagshot and the other at Knap Hill. Many Waterers are memorialized in plant names. 'Souvenir of Anthony Waterer' was named for Anthony Sr. of the Knap Hill Nursery where he died in 1896. When Anthony Jr. died in 1924, the nursery was taken over by his younger brother Hosea. Knap Hill was sold by his sons, who had become American citizens. Gomer Waterer, their cousin, moved from Bagshot to operate the Knap Hill nursery. When he died in 1945, his son, G. Donald, took over after he was released from a WW II prison camp. The lovely 'Alice' was Gomer's wife. There is a good account of this history in RHS Rhododendron with Magnolias & Camellias Yearbook in 1985, written by G. Donald Waterer.
The Waterers created many hybrids over the years and improved upon Standish & Nobel's 'Elegans' with 'Roseum Elegans' in 1851, 'Purpureum Elegans', and 'Purpureum Grandiflorum'. This illustrates how, at that time, plant names were latinized. One of their crosses before 1871 was 'Sir Robert Peel', the English Prime Minister, for whom the English "Bobbies" are named.
In those early days, the Waterers were trying for late flowering and prominent blotching, as in 'Sigismund Rucker', named for an amateur gardener (d. 1875) who also collected ferns and orchids. Waterer's 'Pink Pearl' brought out in 1867 was very popular. There was another plant, 'Halopeanum', named by Mons. Halope in Cherborugh, France, in 1896, but its name was changed to 'White Pearl' to cash in on the 'Pink Pearl' association. Later, in 1925, came 'Mother of Pearl', a sport of 'Pink Pearl'. 'Lady Annette de Trafford' was named by the Waterers for the first purchaser of 'Pink Pearl'. Yes, names are important!
The Waterer Nursery exported plants to the United States and became friendly with Chas. S. Sargent (d. 1927), dendrologist and director of the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. As a result, there are Sargent names in the Waterer hybrids: 'Mrs. Chas. S. Sargent', 'Henrietta Sargent' and 'Ignatius Sargent'.
They also exported to Australia and the hybrid, 'Mrs. E. C. Sterling', honored the wife of Edward Stirling (d. 1919), a customer who imported plants in the 1880s and 1890s, and a professor at Adelaide University. A visitor to our nursery, from Chile, said that many Waterer plants which were obtained at the turn of the century are still being propagated there today.
The 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland also received a boat load of Waterer plants, and many of the larger ones in the parks and old homes date back to that time. 'Percy Wiseman', the manager of the Waterer Nursery in the 1950s, was responsible for the R. yakushimanum Seven Dwarf crosses of 'Sleepy', 'Doc', 'Grumpy', Bashful', 'Sneezy', 'Hoppy' and 'Dopey'.
In 1976, Martin Slocock purchased the Knap Hill Nursery from G. Donald Waterer. He is a relative of Walter Charles Slocock, who was with the Goldsworth Nursery in 1877, which introduced 'Mrs. W. C. Slocock' and 'Souvenir of W. C. Slockock'. 'Faggetter's Favourite' was named by Slocock in 1933 for his propagator. Some of Slocock's more notable plants are 'Goldsworth Yellow', 'Goldsworth Orange', 'Goldsworth Crimson', 'Butterfly', 'Unique' and 'Rainbow'.
In 1894 George Paul of Essex started hybridizing with R. fortunei; to create scented blooms. There is 'Duke of York', a title often given by a king to his second son - at this time it was the future George V (d. 1936). The 'Duchess of York', his wife, was Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, later known as 'Queen Mary' (d. 1953). Her brother was the 'Earl of Athlone', the Governor General of Canada in the 1940s and husband of Princess Alice. And there is 'Princess Elizabeth', who became Queen Elizabeth II in 1952.
Sir Edmund Giles Loder (1849-1920), 'Loderi Sir Edmund', of Leonardslee in Sussex should be mentioned. A lee is a valley and the property is in St. Leonard's Forest, thus the names 'Leonardslee Giles' and 'Glory of Leonardslee'.
James H. Mangles made many R. griffithianum crosses. When he died in 1884, his brother and sister, Miss Clara (d. 1931), received his seedlings at Littleworth Cross in Surrey - thus we have 'Beauty of Littleworth' and the old azaleodendron 'Glory of Littleworth'. Some other seedlings went to F. D. Godman at South Lodge. When one seedling became too big for his greenhouse, he cut it back and gave cuttings to Sir Edmund Giles Loder, across the road. Loder grafted it and distributed it as 'Loder's White', whereas Mangles had called it 'Agnes Beaufort'. Sir Edmund used Godman's R. griffithianum in his hybridizing and his famous cross in 1901 with R. fortunei, created the Loderis, such as 'Loderi Pink Diamond' and 'Loderi Venus'. In 1926 he named a R. arboreum cross for 'Dame Nellie Melba', stage name of the Australian operatic soprano, Helen Mitchell Armstrong. She assumed the name of Melba in honor of her home city of Melbourne.
Speaking of opera singers, there is 'Madame Carvalho', named in 1866 by John Waterer for the French singer, Marie Caroline nee Miolan. I can't stop without mentioning Bodnant in Wales, the garden of Henry McLaren, Lord Aberconway, 'His Lordship'. He was president of the Royal Horticultural Society from 1931 to 1953. His mother was 'Laura Aberconway', daughter of H. D. Porcin who began the garden in 1875. His gardener was 'F. C. Puddle' from 1920 until 1947. He was succeeded by his son, Charles. Today Puddle's grandson, Martin, is the head gardener of Bodnant. Lord Aberconway was responsible for many hybrids and favored mythological names such as 'Persephone', the Goddess of Spring, 'Fabia', descendant of Remus, the founder of Rome, and 'Leda', the mother of Helen of Troy. 'Valaspis' is one of his contractions named for its parents R. valentinianum x R. leucaspis. Another of his, is the winning and lovely 'Winsome'.
There are some cleverly named plants. Sir John Ramsden of 'Bulstrode Park' named one 'Aries', which is the zodiac sign of the Ram, and so he named it for himself! There is 'Tally Ho', the cry of the hunter when he sees a fox. Further, there is a 'Tally Ho' hybrid named 'Red Fox'.
Captain George Johnstone (d. 1961) of Trewithen, Cornwall, named 'Trewithen Orange' and one for his wife, 'Alison Johnstone' (d. 1978). Their garden was taken over by their grandson, A.M.J. Galsworthy. I wonder if he is any relation to Frank Galsworthy, the older brother of British novelist, John Galsworthy? Frank was a painter of flowers, especially camellias.
Cornwall had many rhododendron gardens because of its mild climate. 'Cornubia' is the old Roman name for Cornwall. This was a cross made in 1912 by Barclay Fox, the owner of 'Penjerrick', and was originally called 'Lilianae'.
The English Rhododendron Society was founded in 1916 at Lanarth, Cornwall by Percival Dacres Williams ('Mrs. P. D. Williams') and also by J. G. Millais, author and artist, and C. C. Eley. lt was disbanded in 1951 and its assets went to the Royal Horticultural Society. P. D. Williams' cousin was John Charles Williams (wife was 'Mrs. J. C. Williams') who lived at Caerhays Castle in Cornwall. He backed the Forrest and Wilson expedition between 1909 and 1914 and received many plants in return. J. C. Williams' daughter-in-law became famous just after WW II. A staple in Cornwall is saffron cake and there was a shortage of saffron. She somehow managed to obtain it and became known as the 'Saffron Queen'! Some well known plants originating with J. C. Williams include 'Blue Tit', 'Yellow Hammer' (both named after birds) and 'Moonstone' and 'Red Admiral', the latter named for a butterfly.
Finally, about Exbury in Southhampton, the property of Lionel de Rothschild, who bought it in 1918. It was built by the Mitford family. We have the R. maximum hybrid 'Lady Clemantine Mitford'. Lionel's second gardener was 'Arthur Bedford' (1925-1934). His wife was 'Mariloo' or 'Lady de Rothschild'. His first gardener was 'George Reynolds', the name of an Exbury azalea.
They made many crosses. The one name 'Exbury Cornish Cross' illustrates how hybridizers used to do things. 'Cornish Cross', which is R. thomsonii x R. griffithianum, was done at 'Penjerrick' in Cornwall. At Exbury they did the same cross and so named it 'Exbury Cornish Cross' and sold seedlings by that name.
Lionel named his plants for his friends and had garden parties to commemorate the namings. There was 'Lady Rosebery' named for the Countess of Rosebery, who was a Rhododendron Association member. Others include 'Lady Chamberlain' the wife of Sir Austin Chamberlain of the League of Nations, as well as 'Lady Bessborough', wife of the Governor General of Canada.
I must mention his 'Hawk Crest'** because HMS Hawk was the name given to Exbury just after WW II when it was used by the admiralty as a training college. It, in turn, was named for Admiral Edward Hawk (1705-1881) of the British Navy.
In 1926, he named the beautiful Naomis for his youngest daughter. We have, for example, 'Naomi Early Dawn' and 'Naomi Nautilus'. The name Naomi, in fact, means beautiful. 'Leo' was named for his son Leopold, and the very nice 'Naomi' x R. lacteum cross is 'Lionel's Triumph'.
So there it is! I hope that you enjoyed this and will remember that when you look at a rhododendron bloom, it is more than just a pretty face!
Kathy Van Veen, a University of Washington graduate in geology and oceanography, has worked since 1973 as a propagator at Van Veen Nursery. The nursery was started by her grandfather in 1926 and is now run by her father. She welcomes further information on rhododendron names from readers.
* Unregistered hybrid; name does not conflict with that of a registered clone.
** 'Hawk Crest' is syn. of 'Crest'