In Memoriam: Eric Stewart Wilson
Eric Stewart Wilson of Kimbolton, New Zealand, died April 25, 1992, at his home. He was 84 years old. Mr. Wilson was a member of the ARS and a friend to many members in the United States. He was the creator of Cross Hills Gardens in Kimbolton, which holds more than 2,000 varieties of rhododendrons. Cross Hills Gardens, located 45 minutes from Palmerston North on the North Island, are regarded to be among the finest collections of rhododendrons in the world.
Mr. Wilson was born in Pahiatua, the youngest of 10 children. He worked as a shepherd, shearer, builder, inventor and farmer before gardening became his life in his retirement. In 1951 he built a new homestead and first planted rhododendrons in the home garden. He found they loved the acid soil and the altitude of 550 metres above sea level. He also found that he could be a success at grafting. When he retired in the 1960s he devoted himself to building a "rhododendron wonderland" on the 7.2 hectares of mostly stump-strewn hillside, building the rock walls of the gardens himself.
The gardens first opened to the public in 1970 and now some 10,000 people visit them a year. About 8,000 plants a year are sold to gardeners throughout New Zealand from the Cross Hills nursery. Mr. Wilson also hybridized a number of rhododendrons, 30 of which grow at Cross Hills, including his newest 'Eric's Surprise' (unregistered).
Mr. Wilson's wife Merle, his son Rodney, his daughter-in-law Faith and his grandson Scott will carry on the work of the gardens and nursery.