More Ado on 'Facing the Name'
Kallista, Victoria, Australia
I read with great interest Kathy Van Veen's article on "facing the name" in the Summer 1992 Journal (Vol. 46, No. 3), and my thoughts flew instantly to my favourite rhododendron name. 'Mrs. W. T. Thistleton-Dyer' fascinates me and seems to conjure up visions of a Victorian or Edwardian lady with sweeping skirts replete with bustles and bows.
| 'Mrs. W. T. Thistleton-Dyer'
Photo by Felice Blake
So who was Mrs. Thistleton-Dyer? And so the search began. I soon found out that the lady was the daughter of the famed plant explorer, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, who lived a long and eventful life from 1817 to 1911. Apart from his travels in the Sikkim Himalayas, he was Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew for 20 years from 1865, and many well-known plants commemorate his name, including Rhododendron hookeri. To take a step back further, Sir Joseph's father, William Jackson Hooker, was appointed to the Chair of Botany at Glasgow in 1820, and subsequently was knighted before being appointed Director of Kew in 1841, a position he held until his death in 1865 when he was succeeded by his son.
Now we come to a query - one of spelling - is "Thistleton" or "Thiselton" correct? The International Rhododendron Register proclaims 'Mrs. W. T. Thistleton-Dyer' so the name can't be changed, but checking through other references confusion reigns. In the Second Edition of The Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening both spellings are included. Then we consult The Story of The Royal Horticultural Society 1804-1968 and there is no doubt that "Thiselton" wins the day. And in that book the name is not hyphenated. Perplexing, isn't it? So what hope have we mere gardeners got, if the experts can't get names correct?
Mrs. Thiselton Dyer, later to become Lady Thiselton Dyer, introduced several alpine plants bearing the epithet 'Dyerae'. Her husband William Turner Thiselton Dyer was appointed Professor of Botany to the Royal Horticultural Society in 1872 and, following in his father-in-law's footsteps, Director of Kew from 1885 to 1905. He was long lived, being born in 1843 and dying in 1928. Plants named for him bore the epithet 'Thiseltonii'. His wife too lived a long life from 1854 to 1945, so my visions of the lady were not far out. What a wonderful family!
So now to the rhododendron. 'Mrs. W. T. Thistleton-Dyer' is a R. fortunei hybrid of delicate pink with a deep throat, in a rounded truss, backed by handsome deep green leaves, with an air of quality and elegance one would expect from the seed parent. The pollen parent is unknown. This beautiful hybrid would be an asset to any collection, and it is regrettable that it is not more widely grown. I first met this rhododendron at the Tindale Garden at Pallant's Hill in Sherbrooke (see ARS Journal Vol. 42, No. 2, Spring 1988) some years ago and it has always enchanted me. It must have been imported into Australia from England many years ago, and as far as I can ascertain it last appeared in a 1953 catalogue of one of our leading nurseries now unfortunately closed.
The rhododendron was raised by George Paul, of the Old Nurseries, Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, a well-known horticulturist in his day, being associated with the Royal Horticultural Society for over 60 years, and was one of the original recipients of the prestigious RHS Victoria Medal of Honour. Although firstly a rosarian, George Paul was also interested in hybridizing philadelphus, weigelias, rhododendrons and lilacs. All his rhododendron hybrids were derived from R. fortunei, and were raised prior to 1900. It teases the imagination to wonder if Paul's other hybrids were brimful of quality and also bore the bequest of harmonious style from the known parent.
With this illustrious background, it is a wonder that the rhododendron isn't better known. It is, however, included in Salley and Greer's Rhododendron Hybrids, and van Gelderen and van Hoey Smith's Rhododendron Portraits. But there are many older hybrids, some forgotten, that could hold their heads high amongst the plethora of modern, sometimes overbred, hybrids many of which seem to have lost that elusive sought-after charm that horticulturists always strive to attain.
Editor's Note: The International Registrar will accept requests for plant name changes of plants that carry misspellings of persons' names.
Felice Blake has been a regular contributor to the Journal, writing over 20 articles since 1980.