Take Time For An Unconventional Convention
Los Altos, California
We think too many people fly clear across the country just to attend a rhododendron convention. Not that we don't consider ARS national meetings worth a trip. They're great! But there is so much more to see than any conference can possibly include, that it's too bad when folks can't take the time to extend their visits. My wife, Kerry, and I have taken to planning most of our vacations around horticultural get-togethers, and recommend it highly. Spring is such a wonderful time to see the country, and there is no finer way to meet kindred spirits than to visit them when their gardens are in bloom. Last year we toured about 40 gardens from Atlanta to Boston, which we will write about before the meeting in Asheville, but now we recommend planning for the meeting in Washington in '93.
While we will be able to drive our own car to Tacoma, you might consider renting a car that you can pick up and/ or drop off there. Shop around, because auto rental agencies differ widely in their rates, especially with respect to drop-off charges. We've found Budget often to be the only agency allowing a one-way trip we wanted to take. But Hertz recently announced new drop-off policies, and we understand National offers good terms if you make arrangements through a travel agent. The differences can amount to several hundred dollars, so it's worth letting your fingers take a little hike in the Yellow Pages.
Several years ago we learned the unpredictable delights of staying at bed and breakfast places. B&Bs are not for everybody, or for those nights when you want to be on the road at dawn. But when you can afford the time for a leisurely breakfast, you could meet interesting hosts and travelers from around the world, and sometimes have an opportunity to enjoy a garden you wouldn't otherwise see. Your library probably has some of the fine guide books that are available describing B&B homes and small inns, such as Diane Knight's Bed and Breakfast Homes Directory for the West Coast, through which we have made many friends.
For us, scenery, wild flowers, flowering trees and other non-rhododendrons are as important features of our vacations as those beloved rhodies. Investigate the horticultural and touring opportunities around the area you could visit. In the case of the Tacoma convention, when you register you can request a list of some gardens in the region, beyond the great ones for which bus tours have been arranged. Check the ARS Journal and publications of other horticultural societies to see where there may be shows or other conventions coinciding with your travel.
We have found a paperback by Myrna Oakley, entitled Public & Private Gardens of the Northwest (published in 1990 by Beautiful America Publishing Company, P.O. Box 646, Wilsonville, OR 97070 and reviewed in the Journal, 1991 winter issue), to be a treasure trove of ideas and information, including directions, times and phone numbers. Articles in old issues of the ARS Journal can suggest all sorts of ideas. Don't hesitate to write to the authors or subjects, describing your interests and asking if you could visit gardens you read about. You can get addresses from the ARS roster, available for $2 from Barbara Hall, the ARS Executive Director. We have met several great gardeners that way.
This spring, besides seeing those lovely gardens at the southern tip of the Puget Sound, you might head north via the Rhododendron Species Foundation and Seattle's magnificent arboretum and other gardens, possibly through the dazzling tulip farms of the Skagit Valley, to the several splendid gardens which feature rhododendrons in Vancouver, B.C. Or venture up the west side of the Puget Sound to visit some of the numerous nurseries and private gardens for which the Olympic Peninsula is famous, perhaps going on to Victoria, with Butchart and some of the other fine gardens that we learned about in conjunction with the 1989 convention.
You might consider driving south from Tacoma to Portland, with its hillside Washington Park and the Portland Chapter's great garden in Crystal Lake Park. Frank Mossman's place in Vancouver, Wash., is well worth visiting enroute. South of Portland, there are the Cecil & Molly Smith Garden near St. Paul and nurseries of many kinds around Canby. From about the 20th of May vast fields of colorful iris will be in bloom at Schreiner's Gardens just north of Salem and Cooley's Gardens near Silverton, Ore. Eugene is one place in Oregon where you might pick up or drop off a rental car, but allow time to visit its fabulous Hendricks Park and nearby nurseries, such as Greer Gardens. One of our favorite gardener's B&Bs is next door to the former garden of the late Carl Phetteplace on the McKenzie River.
If time permits to come to Northern California. You'll find plenty of rhodies in Eureka, where a week-long Rhododendron Festival is held in May, and the Mendocino Botanical Garden in Fort Bragg is the highlight of an area ideal for rhododendrons. Eleanor and Bruce Philp will be glad to help you find interesting gardens around Fort Bragg. Further south, don't miss Sonoma Hort near Sebastopol, the University of California's Botanical Garden in Berkeley, Strybing Arboretum and the McLaren Rhododendron Dell of Golden Gate Park, in San Francisco.
In Los Altos, about 50 miles south of San Francisco, we would be happy to have you visit us, if we're home. Wherever you go, whenever you can, take plenty of time to enjoy the flowers and the people they attract.
Bill O'Neill is a member of the DeAnza Chapter.