51st ARS Annual Convention
Oban, Argyll & The Islands, Scotland, May 6-11, 1996
John M. Hammond
Set amid the rugged mountains, moors and lochs of Scotland's West Coast is the fishing port of Oban, gateway to the Western Isles. Argyll's wild and rocky coastline, with its many peninsulas created by lochs reaching deeply inland, make this a photogenic destination at any time of year. Springtime is a particularly attractive season as the banks and braes shed the dull clothes of winter and take on the vibrant greens of a new season. Nowhere is this change more evident than in the magnificent gardens that flourish in the temperate climate which makes Argyll and the Islands a special place to host the 1996 Convention.
Running like a thread through the tapestry of garden visits that form the keystone of this event is our Convention motto "Introduction of Plants from the Wild," and this is complemented by a diverse program of talks by many of the leading speakers in the rhododendron field from both Britain and Europe.
Formed in 1983, the Scottish Rhododendron Society has a geographically spread membership that encompasses many parts of Europe so you can be sure of meeting members who raise plants in a wide range of climatic conditions. In direct contrast to North America, and as our motto implies, our members tend to be primarily species oriented but with more than a passing interest in hybrids. You'll meet people with a wealth of experience in raising and growing rhododendrons, some with professional involvement in gardens or nurseries and some who like many of us just raise plants for pleasure. You'll not want to miss this opportunity of meeting a friendly bunch of guys and gals, and you can be sure that a warm welcome awaits your arrival in the Highlands and Islands of Argyll for Scotland '96.
A special invitation is extended to you by the ARS Board of Directors to attend the Annual Membership Meeting and Banquet on Wednesday, 8th May. This is your opportunity to meet with the officers of the national organisation and thank them for their work on our behalf. Scotland '96 is also a milestone in the evolution of the ARS, as it underlines the growing international status of the organisation and provides a unique opportunity for the European members of District 13 to meet socially with the officers of the ARS to exchange views and ideas. Be sure to make the most of this opportunity.
It is no accident that the event lasts for around a week and that the program is heavily oriented around garden visits, as this reflects the many requests from overseas members to make their visit more viable.
Please note that all pre-registrations must be finalized by returning a completed Convention Registration Form to arrive with Ian Douglas, our registrar, no later than Saturday, January 20th. Pre-registration places not confirmed by this date will be offered to other prospective delegates on the waiting list. We are aware that some members pre-registered on a tentative basis only, and we need to offer all unconfirmed places to members on the waiting list in sufficient time for them to make travel and accommodation arrangements. If you have pre-registered but find that you are unable to join us in Oban we would be grateful for an early indication in order that we can avoid disappointing other members unnecessarily.
Included in the insert is information on travel, special events, speakers, tours and a Schedule of Events. Please read the details carefully and register early to ensure your place on your choice of garden tours. There are practical limitations in some gardens, and as a consequence the number of tour places has been restricted to what the owners feel they can cope with. We recommend that you use the alternative choice columns on the right-hand side of the Booking Form in Section Four of the Convention Registration Form. This should ensure that you will not be disappointed if your first choice has already been allocated. For ease of administration and to avoid excessive money order charges arising from variations in tour costs as a result of your being allocated other than your first choice of tours we will be pleased to make any financial adjustments on your arrival at the Registration Desk in Oban.
Oban is a convenient centre to use as a base for visiting West Coast gardens; many are located on the Isles and involve a picturesque short ferry ride. There is not an airport in the vicinity so access is either by road or rail, both of which are an attractive option, as the route runs alongside the lochs with the glens and mountains as a backdrop. Indeed, the rail route over the West Highland Line has been classified as one of the great railway journeys of the world. Both bus and rail services operate from Glasgow City Centre stations.
To assist members who need to travel to Oban from Glasgow Airport, or from Glasgow City Centre, the Scottish Chapter has arranged a number of transfers by coach, and you will find these detailed as Pre-Tours in Section Four of the Convention Registration Form. Departures on Sunday morning incorporate a garden visit en-route, and you'll find details of the gardens later in this article. The afternoon departures run direct to Oban. These options are competitively priced as are the return transfers by coach which run direct to Glasgow Airport or City Centre on both Saturday and Sunday mornings. Coach transfers to Edinburgh via Glendoick Gardens and Nursery will also run on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Details of these can also be found in Section Four where they are listed as Post-Tours.
All main airports, including Glasgow, have car rental outlets on the Arrival Concourse. However, it should be noted that Oban has a narrow one-way street layout and car parking facilities are very limited. Please note that parking facilities adjacent to the Corran Halls Convention Centre will be fully reserved for the use of tour coaches and mini-buses, service vehicles, etc. If you require a rental car for the period immediately after the Convention we recommend that you arrange for it to be collected in Glasgow or Edinburgh. There is only one car rental outlet in Oban and this requires all cars to be returned to Oban at the end of the rental period.
Please note that Monday, 6th May, is a bank holiday in Scotland and tours on Tuesday, 7th May, are full day options, so it may be Wednesday before you will have the opportunity to exchange foreign currency or travellers cheques. Please take account of this factor in your travel arrangements.
| Gliding across Oban Bay towards the harbour is the ferry used
on the service to Craignure on the Isle of Mull which forms
part of our tour to Torosay Castle and Iona. No one can fail to
be impressed by the scenic grandeur of the West Coast when
the snow still lingers on the mountains in early May. Running
north out of town is the Esplanade, the long low buildings on
the right is the Corran Halls Convention Centre, a short
distance to the left is the Cathedral whose halls will be used
for some of our activities, whilst further left is a group of
hotels which include the Oban Bay and the Queens.
Photo by John M. Hammond
Location of the Convention Centre & Hotels
Our Convention Centre, the Corran Halls, is located on the Esplanade to the north of the main shopping area and within easy walking distance of all main hotels in which rooms have been booked via West Highland Holidays, Ltd. The Oban Bay and Queens hotels are located on the Esplanade immediately north of the Convention Centre. The Regent, Columba and Caledonian hotels are adjacent to the main shopping area in the centre of Oban and less than ten minutes walk from the Corran Halls. A mini-bus service will operate via a circular route shuttle-service between the hotels in the town centre and the Convention Centre during the periods prior to and after main functions to cater for members who are mobility restricted. Your delegate badge will be your ticket so be sure to wear it.
Some activities will take place in the Cathedral Halls, located just to the north of the main venue and only a couple of minutes walk away. On Wednesday and Friday the venue for some of the speakers will be the McCaig Room in the Regent Hotel, which is a few minutes walk from the main venue. Check the Convention program on arrival in Oban so you are aware of the venues for your choice of lectures. We have scheduled a 15-minute changeover period between sessions to provide ample time for you to intermix venues and lectures. A map of Oban will be included in your Delegate Pack.
Convention Booking Form: Garden Tours
A feature of this Convention is the wide range of garden tours that can be found in the pages of the Convention Booking Form. These will be complemented by a sequence of additional visits to Scottish Chapter members' gardens in the Oban vicinity that will be advertised in advance. You will need to watch out for details of these "chalkboard" tours, which will be bookable at the Registration Desk and will run some evenings and on the afternoon of Saturday, 11th May.
A wide range of private gardens will be open to registrants only in the period immediately after the Convention. These will be of particular interest to those members who are planning tours in the Post-Convention period, as the gardens are widely spread in geographic terms and cover most of the British Isles. Mark the appropriate box on your Convention Registration Form if you would like information on the self-guided tours. We recommend that you make prior arrangements, or telephone ahead before visiting, to avoid access difficulties and disappointment.
Commemorative Plant Introduction
The Glendoick-based "green-fingers" emporium have worked their magic and come up with a dwarf hybrid rhododendron to commemorate the 1996 Convention. Peter A. Cox, our Convention chairman, has named this plant 'Oban'. It is pictured on the cover of this issue, with details of its parentage in an article in this issue. It is an ideal plant to complement your collection and should be of particular interest to members with rock gardens, etc. A large quantity will be available at the plant sale, but come early as the "locals" in Oban have also heard the good news!
Annual Rhododendron Show
By tradition we take our Annual Show and Plant Sale to a different location in Scotland each year, and by doing so we generate a wider interest in rhododendrons. For some years the event has been the premier rhododendron show in the British Isles, creating a great deal of interest wherever it is staged. This year we have invited an equal number of British and North American judges as a means of involving our overseas visitors in some aspects of the Convention. Be sure to visit the show and enjoy the range of classes and colours, particularly as the entries are usually heavily biased towards the species. Your Delegate Badge will be your ticket and the show will be open at 12.00 Hrs. for members only. The show will be open to the public from 13.00 Hrs. We are pleased to have the assistance of the Lome & Oban Horticultural Society in regard to setting up the Show and Plant Sale.
Non-Export Plant Sale
Scotland has several nurseries specialising in rhododendrons, and there will be a broad range of plants to choose from, including species from Glendoick and hybrids from Braevallich together with plants supplied by chapter members, all at competitive prices. The sale will be open to members only at 12 noon, and your Delegate Badge will be your admission pass. At 13.0 0Hrs. the sale will be opened to the public. Check your Convention program for the Non-Export Plant Sale hours Monday through Thursday.
We regret that we are unable to provide phytosanitary certification for any plants purchased at this sale, as they have not received the necessary treatment, etc., required for importation to North America, Australia, New Zealand, etc.
Export Plant Sale
A special plant sale for overseas visitors will be held in the Cathedral Halls on Wednesday and Thursday, and this will feature a range of species rhododendrons specially propagated by Glendoick Garden and Nursery. These plants will be of suitable size for packing and carrying as hand-luggage. We have arranged for a full root washing and phytosanitary certification program, the cost of which will be included in the price of the plants. Members from the U.S.A. are advised to obtain an Import Permit, for a maximum of twelve plants, prior to departure to the U.K. Your local Department of Agriculture office can assist with this requirement, which should avoid problems on your return to the Port of Entry in the U.S.A. As our treatment and inspection procedures will meet the U.S.D.A. import requirements they should also meet the requirements of many other countries. Nevertheless, it is the member's responsibility to be aware of the importation requirements for their country of residence.
In the Cathedral Hall you will find botanical books, both new and used, provided by specialist horticultural booksellers. Complementing this will be the stand of the Royal Horticultural Society, which will carry a range of their Yearbooks and other of their publications. A wide selection of books covering various aspects of Scotland will also be available from Oban Books & Music.
Arts and Crafts
Two art competitions are being staged as part of the Convention activities. The main competition is for the best rhododendron painting, in oil or watercolour, and it is intended that these will be displayed on the walls of the Corran Halls. Other specialist artwork will be displayed in the Cathedral Halls by the Oban Art Society who are coordinating both the competition and the sale of paintings.
A special art competition involving the schools in the Oban vicinity is being sponsored by the Scottish Rhododendron Society. This, together with various other activities, is a means of involving the local community in the Convention and bringing rhododendrons into the homes of a wider audience. A selection of these paintings will also be on display.
David Cooper, an Argyll craft specialist, has planned a unique display of Scottish craftwork in the Cathedral Halls. Allow time in your schedule to visit and admire the works of art and craft during the Convention.
Civic Reception. On Tuesday evening a Civic Reception will be hosted by the Argyll & Bute District Council to welcome the American Rhododendron Society to the West Highlands & Islands of Scotland. This will be a special occasion and a cordial invitation is extended to all registrants, so come along and enjoy yourself socially in a relaxed atmosphere. In a variety of ways the District Council have been most supportive in the arrangements for this Convention, the first of its kind in Oban. And we are expecting that some entertainment will be provided in the course of the evening.
Other Activities. Watch the Notice Board in the Corran Halls Convention Centre for details of the other special events we have in store.
Garden & Nursery Tours
An appreciation of the climatic conditions by which our West Coast gardens exist is an essential requirement for any visit to Argyll. Indeed, it is a tribute to those inspired men who, with great vision and amazing dexterity, were successful in creating some magnificent gardens that give the appearance of being natural in terms of their location.
Scotland's West Coast is notoriously windy and wet, but it is the severity of the gales that is the major cause of damage in our gardens. Eagle-eyed delegates will spot locations where the storms have taken out a section of the shelter-belt, thus making way for the icy wind to drive a wedge into the garden with a devastating effect on the microclimate equilibrium. It is well worth bearing these factors in mind as you wander around the gardens of Argyll & the Islands, gardens that remain an inspiration and a joy no matter how frequently you unlatch the entrance gate.
| Glenarn is a most interesting garden with a fine collection
of species rhododendrons, a wide range of hybrids that are
mainly the work of the Gibson Brothers and some superb
companion plants. Amongst the latter are some magnificent
magnolias that tower high above the beholder and dominate
some areas of the garden. There is much of interest to catch
the eye including the many areas where Mike and Sue
Thornley have been carrying out restoration in recent years.
Photo by John M. Hammond
Glenarn is one of those gardens which has been on many members' lists of places to visit for years, and when the opportunity arises the visit is sure to fulfill all expectations. The Gibson Brothers, whose family bought Glenarn in the 1930s, came into contact with Johney Holmes, a character from the West Coast who was mad keen on rhododendrons in a way which was infectious to all who came to know him. Holmes fired the enthusiasm of the Gibsons, and their Scottish connections with the family of George Sherriff on Islay resulted in seed reaching Glenarn from the Sherriff, Ludlow and Taylor expeditions to southeast Tibet and Bhutan from 1934 onwards. Many species were grown from "G.S." seed in the 1940s and '50s. The Gibsons also crossed R. sinogrande and R. macabeanum with many other species, and there are some super large-leafed hybrids towards the top of the garden. Here are many other interesting plants, including an R. falconeri grown from Hooker's original seed of 1849. The garden had been neglected for many years before Mike and Sue Thornley acquired it, and they have spent several years gradually restoring it where necessary, which is evident by all the improvements that catch the eye as you walk round. Glenarn has many other attributes, including sheets of bluebells and daffodils, primulas and some magnificent 40-foot magnolias.
Set high above the river the elegant house and extensive gardens command a sweeping view of the Clyde estuary. Home of the Chief of the MacMillan Clan, the house was designed at the turn of the century and has been enhanced over the last 50 years or so by that doyenne of Scottish gardens, the late Lady Macmillan. Ten acres of formal and informal gardens are imaginatively laid out with the large, stately lawns framed by long herbaceous borders. A further 70 acres of woodland gardens run mainly to the east of the house with a sequence of footpath walks and a profusion of daffodils and early rhododendrons. A walled garden, a scented garden specially for the handicapped and a Celtic paving maze are interesting features within the main garden area. Given its historic associations with John Knox and Robert Burns, this is an eminently Scottish location for a first day's visit.
Younger Botanic Garden, Benmore.
Better known by its original name of Benmore, this magnificent garden set on the west flank of the Eachaig Valley is renowned for its collection of over 250 species of rhododendrons. This woodland garden with its superb old specimens of Douglas firs, larch, and Scots pine is also famous for its avenue of giant redwoods, better known in Britain as Wellingtonias. Planting began with conifers in the early 1920s but was preceded by the original owner James Duncan who planted well over 6,000,000 trees in the years between 1870 and 1883. In 1928 the gardens were left to the nation by Harry George Younger and today they are an important outpost of the R.B.G., Edinburgh. Benmore is a garden of great natural beauty, and its superb collection of rhododendrons are well described in George Smith's article in Vol. 48, No. 2, Spring 1994, of the Journal.
From Benmore the coach will take you down to the water's edge at Dunoon to board the ferry for a scenic passage down the Clyde estuary, outbound for Annan. In the shelter of the 2,866-foot Goat Fell, with the long arm of Kintyre providing protection from the Atlantic, Brodick Castle stands guard high above the Firth of Clyde.
Brodick Castle and Gardens.
Constructed from local red sandstone, some parts of the castle are well over 600 years old, and the many additions over the years culminated in a partial re-building in 1844. Take time to view the interior if you have an interest in historic buildings as it is well worth a visit. For better or worse, R. ponticum was introduced to Annan around 1800 by the then Duke of Hamilton as cover for game, its "pretty" pinkish mauve flowers were thought to be a bonus and it was allowed to spread. But the castle's fame is derived from its gardens, which were cleared out and planted at lower levels by the Duchess of Montrose who started an ambitious woodland garden. Her single-mindedness and her subscriptions to the expeditions of Forrest and Kingdon-Ward brought many rhododendron species to Brodick. Fine specimens of R. sinogrande, R. macabeanum, R. giganteum, R magnificum, R. falconeri and R. arizelum can be found not far from the shoreline. James Barto's suggestion of some 60 years ago that salt is good for rhododendrons also seems to hold good for Scotland, for these plants are spectacular in bloom. Further help and plants came after the marriage of the Duchess's daughter to John Boscawen of Tresco Abbey, on the Scillies. More recently there has been propagation and transfers to Brodick of the best rhododendrons from Gigha to form a secondary collection of Horlicks' plants. Martha Prince penned a wonderful introduction to this historic garden in "A Day at Brodick" in Vol. 41, No. 4, Fall 1987, of the Journal.
From Brodick the coach will take you back to the ferry for the return trip up the reaches of the Loch Fyne to Ardrishaig and then the coach will take you north to Oban.
Stonefield Castle Garden.
On the shores of temperate Loch Fyne some of the earliest introductions of rhododendrons to Scotland were Himalayan species raised at Stonefield from seed sent home by Dr. Campbell of Oronsay around 1835. However, many of the original plants at Stonefield were raised from seed collected by Hooker in Sikkim about 1850 and sent home to his father who owned a small estate on Loch Fyne. These include R. arboreum, R. campanulatum, R. cinnabarinum, R. falconeri, R. grande and R. campylocarpum. Many have grown to tree-like proportions, and the colouration of the trunks is a characteristic well worth noting on Asiatic rhododendrons of this size. There are many other fine rhododendrons including an R. souliei probably raised from seed brought back by Wilson in 1905, R. traillianum which was a Forrest collection and others from Western China and Burma. Stonefield Castle, originally a Campbell residence, was unoccupied for a period after WWII and was later converted to a hotel. Much of the garden was neglected for many years, but recently there has been a considerable amount of clearance work and new planting. Nevertheless, this remains an enthralling place to visit, with some of the mature specimens towering well over 40 feet above the beholder. Stonefield, with its castle standing sentinel looking across the upper reaches of Loch Fyne, has a special charm, as here you will find an introduction to how rhododendrons grow in the Himalayas which make it rather unique.
Achamore House and Garden, Isle of Gigha.
To the astonishment of the local residents a MacBraynes steamer landed on the delightful Isle of Gigha in 1944 with a huge consignment of mature plants from Titness Park in Berkshire, the former home of the late Sir James Horlicks. With great skill, discrimination and determination he set about creating the conditions that would ensure the survival of his shipment. The 50-acre woodland garden of sycamore, ash, beech and pine surrounding the house has been augmented with conifers such as Sitka spruce which provides shelter for one of the most extensive rhododendron collections in Scotland. Influenced by the Gulf Stream, the mild climate has enabled many tender species to flourish. Nicknamed "Jimmy the Bushes" by the local inhabitants, Sir James has bequeathed a wonderful legacy which serves to provide inspiration to Gigha's many visitors each spring, as he too was inspired those many years ago.
Jorosay Castle and Garden, Isle of Mull.
A 40-minute ferry ride from Oban, across the Firth of Lome and offset by the dramatic Highland scenery looking up the reaches of Loch Linnhe, serves to provide a glorious introduction to the Isle of Mull. On arrival at Craignure you can take a side-trip on the little steam railway that runs up to Torosay Castle or stay on the coach for the couple of miles to the gardens. Surrounded by terraced and contrasting informal gardens, the castle was completed in 1858 to a design by the Edinburgh architect David Bryce and replaced an earlier small Georgian house. A series of descending Italianate terraces linking the house with the walled garden were set out by Robert Lorimer, a well respected Scottish architect, around 1899 together with the statue walk that forms the major axis of the garden, running through the centre of the walled garden to Duart Bay. What makes this magnificent garden stand apart from many other exposed West Coast gardens is the sheer quantity of elms, oaks, beeches, horse chestnuts and many other deciduous trees more usually associated with the Lowlands. In marked contrast to the wild and rocky landscape of Mull, the terraces and statues set amid outstanding rhododendrons, azaleas, embothrium, acers and fuchsias make this a most enchanted garden and together with its informal atmosphere will leave a lasting impression of what is still very much the family home of the James'.
No visit to Mull would be complete without taking time to visit the mystical Isle of Iona, the small isle where St. Columba established his mission in the year 563 and burial place for many Scottish kings and chiefs. A small passenger ferry operates across the narrow Sound of Iona from Fionphort, and ample time will be available for you to explore this historic place of pilgrimage.
| The results of Michael Noble's handiwork can be found in
a number of West Coast gardens, including Crarae. Here
alongside the perimeter path at Ardkinglas Woodland Garden
is this vibrant red unlabelled hybrid set amongst a carpet of
bluebells. This stunning example of Noble's work with R.
griersonianum to create bright red flowers throughout the
blooming season is an interesting reminder of one of
the directions of British hybridising in the 1940s and '50s.
Photo by John M. Hammond
Ardkinglas Woodland Garden.
Situated at the head of Loch Fyne, this lovely mature garden is more sheltered than Crarae and also receives appreciably higher rainfall. Shelter is provided by some superb old beech and conifers, many planted around 1810, including a number which are amongst the largest in Great Britain and well worth viewing. Home of the Noble family, the rhododendron collection site was greatly enhanced by Michael Noble who raised many seedlings over the years following WWII. He specialised in the Maddenii Series and the more tender species such as R. elliottii and R. eriogynum. Much of his hybridizing was connected with producing good reds and for this he used 'Penjerrick' and also R. griersonianum, which were crossed with a wide range of both species and hybrids. Bodnant sent a large quantity of young plants north to Ardkinglas, and many of the better forms were planted in a section towards the bottom of the garden. Many important gardens rely on the enthusiasm of a particular individual, and when that commitment ceases they quickly become overgrown. Such was the fate of Ardkinglas and a number of plants have been lost. More recently there has been a renewed interest in both the estate and the garden, which has brought with it the appointment of a full-time gardener. Scattered amid the species you will see the work of Michael Noble, for there are a number of stunning reds whose labels are unfortunately faded out or missing; also a few of the Bodnant plants can be found down near the lower road. There are good specimens of R. mallotum and R. bullatum together with a range of large-leafed species. Ardkinglas House with its separate garden is open only on the third weekend in May under the Scottish Gardens Scheme, but you can get a good view of the house from across Loch Fyne as you travel to or from Inveraray. In early May R. augustinii and R. glaucophyllum flower brilliantly amongst the trees of one of Britain's finest pinetums where the lush growing conditions make plants grow abnormally large. You'll be pleased you stopped by for a while in this quiet and most interesting place.
Southwest of Ardkinglas the road runs along the shoreline of Loch Fyne before heading off south to the Kyles of Bute to pick up the ferry at Colintraive for the short crossing to the Isle of Bute.
| High rainfall and the wonderfully temperate climate at
Ardkinglas result in many plants and trees growing to
abnormal size, another hazard in plant identification. Here
in the lower part of the Woodland Garden Ian Douglas, our
Convention registrar, has been caught consulting a well-used
reference book to confirm our attempts at plant identification
are heading in the right direction. "Rhododendron People" is
an important subject within the classes of our photographic
competition in 1996.
Photo by John M. Hammond
Mount Stuart House and Gardens.
A few minutes south of Rothesay in 300 acres of designed landscape and 18th century woodlands sits the spectacular High-Victorian Gothic house of Mount Stuart. Both the house and gardens have recently been renovated as part of a massive project by the late 6th Marquess of Bute to prepare for the opening of the house and gardens to the public in mid-June of this year. There is nothing small about any aspect of Mount Stuart, which includes the secluded Wee Garden to the south of the house that has a most interesting mature collection of plants and trees, including some fine rhododendrons. Immediately to the rear of the house is a magnificent rock garden complete with a stream that meanders through the plantings, the water eventually falling into a large pool alongside the main driveway. If you have but a passing interest in the architecture of old country houses you must not miss the short tour of the house itself with its breathtaking interior design in marble and stained glass by the 3rd Marquess of Bute and Robert Rowland Anderson, the Scottish architect. Be sure to visit the chapel which is an amazing accomplishment by any standards. Don't forget to leave time to glance at the beautiful Victorian kitchen garden, laid out on a grand scale at the north end of the policies. There are rhododendrons scattered throughout this huge estate, forming an interesting distraction as they are glimpsed from the shuttle-bus that transports you along the driveways. The eagle-eyed visitor will also catch sight of the mature Victorian pinetum of North American conifers, the newly planted arboretum with sub-units representing each major region of the world, the beautiful lime tree avenue leading down to the sandy shoreline and the long yellow drifts of R. luteum hedges that are a stunning sight in flower. You'll want to come back another time to explore this superbly restored estate.
Crarae Glen Garden
Overlooking the western shore of Loch Fyne is probably the finest example of a natural garden to be found anywhere in Britain. Almost everywhere there is the sound of running water as the burn falls down the steep banks of the glen. A carpet of bluebells extends over a wide area and narcissi have spread in the grass over many of the banks. In May the outcrops of rock in the glen abound with a mass of yellow, orange and flame coloured azaleas, as does the large mound to the rear of the house. Many of the rhododendrons are from the seed collections of the Rock expeditions dating from 1923-24, or Farrer. Grandmother of the present Laird, Sir May Campbell, was an aunt of Reginald Farrer, and she introduced many interesting and unusual rhododendron specimens. Some species predate these introductions such as the large R. falconeri planted in 1918. Herbert Spady, our recently installed ARS president, is no stranger to Argyll, and his article in Vol. 42, No. 4, Fall 1988, of the Journal is a fine introduction to this remarkable garden. More recently George Smith penned an interesting article "Rhododendron Species in the Great Garden at Crarae" which takes the reader on a tour of this place of natural beauty; see Vol. 49, No. 1, Winter 1995, of the Journal. Loch Fyne provides protection for many tender and large-leafed species to grow in profusion with spectacular results each spring.
| Crarae, a natural garden of great beauty, has many points of
interest away from the main glen area. On the east side at the
higher end of the garden there are vantage points with
magnificent views across the upper reaches of Loch Fyne.
Great avenues of greenery cascade downwards towards the
water's edge with glimpses of rhododendrons to be seen
amongst the trees.
Photo by John M. Hammond
Twenty miles south of Oban, perched on a rocky peninsula jutting out into Asknish Bay, lies the remarkable woodland garden of Arduaine. Originally laid out as a semi-formal garden around 1910 by James Arthur Campbell, better known locally as Arthur, it was not until the 1920s that the woodland garden began to take shape. By this time the shelter belt composed mainly of pine was beginning to provide a small measure of protection from the gales. Many of the rhododendrons were originally grown from seed, including the massive R. auriculatum with its white, scented flowers, R. giganteum with its large leaves, R. sinogrande standing around 30 feet tall with shiny leaves fully two feet long and that parent of so many fine hybrids, R. griffithianum, and are still thriving despite their age. By 1971 when Ed and Harry Wright purchased the property the garden had been neglected for some years, and the overgrowth was made significantly worse by the scattered debris of trees felled by a hurricane that hit the West Coast in 1968. Over a period of 20 years the Wright brothers gradually cleared the overgrowth and enhanced the garden, a feat which demonstrates an amazing degree of single-mindedness, skill and perceptive planting. George Smith recounts the historical perspective and identifies a wide range of the more important plantings in his article "Arduaine: a Great Scottish Rhododendron Garden" in Vol. 46, No. 1, Winter 1992, in the Journal, which is recommended reading prior to any visit. Arduaine is a special garden for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is Ed and Harry's labour of love and the wealth of rhododendrons they introduced which provide a glorious display each spring. Recently the garden was handed over to the National Trust for Scotland to secure its future.
Included in the Arduaine tour is a visit to two private gardens close by, including Coille Dharaich, the home of Hilary and Alan Hill whose handiwork with rocks and stone was outlined in their article "Coille Dharaich: A Seaside Garden" in Vol. 45, No. 3, Summer 1991, in the Journal. If you have an interest in rock gardens and ground cover then you will be enthralled by this garden and the way it has matured over the last five years.
| With great skill and perception the Wright brothers have
significantly enhanced the informal layout and plantings at
Arduaine in an imaginative way, which makes this garden
an inspiration and a joy to visit. Looking back up the open
area of the garden towards the Cliff Path the lawn is framed
by mature borders full of interesting plants.
Photo by John M. Hammond
| Arduaine is a magical garden for the plantsman. Not only
will the visitor find a major collection of rhododendron
species but also a large and enthralling range of
complementary plants including many tender and rare items.
Natural materials are also used to good effect; here the
attractive little bridge marks the transition between the
more open area and the woodland garden.
Photo by John M. Hammond
On a single track road in a superb location on the south side of Loch Awe lies Braevallich Nursery, one of the largest U.K. suppliers of rhododendrons and azaleas to the wholesale trade. Dating from 1974 the establishment has gradually expanded to its present size and currently provides well over 150,000 plants annually. More than 250 varieties are available ranging from large-leafed hardy hybrids, R. yakushimanum hybrids, semi-dwarf and alpine varieties, as well as evergreen and deciduous azaleas. Here you will see the whole operation from cuttings and tissue culture "plugs" through to sale plants in pot sizes of 1.5 to 10 litres. Philip Bowden-Smith, son of a Devonshire nurseryman, and his "team" work mainly by hand with the philosophy of supplying only the best quality plants at realistic prices. Together they operate a friendly and efficient service in a superlative location. Braevallich Nursery extends a most cordial invitation to you to visit.
| Those members with an interest in propagation and nurseries
will enjoy the half-day tour to Braevallich Nursery set on the
south side of Loch Awe. Whilst they are one of Britain's largest
growers of rhododendrons for the wholesale trade the
operation has retained a cordial and friendly atmosphere as
depicted in this view of Ian Glendenning, on the left,
explaining the intricacies of propagation.
Photo by John M. Hammond
Baravalla Secret Garden
In a quiet corner of southern Argyll, sloping down towards a sea loch, is the home of many of the more tender introductions collected by Peter Cox and Peter Hutchison on their plant hunting expeditions. Operations commenced in 1969 on an area of 20 acres to establish a "wild garden," and there are very few concessions to the visitor apart from some rough grassy paths. This is a tour only for those who are able to cope with difficult walking conditions. This relatively open woodland garden of oak, hazel and birch contains many interesting and rare plants; for introductory details see the recent article by the two Peters in Vol. 49, No. 2, Spring 1995, of the Journal, which gives a brief outline of this most unusual and informal garden. In view of the interest already expressed in respect of this tour you will need to get your Convention Booking Form in early to reserve a place.
Two different tours have been organized for those delegates who would wish to visit places of wider interest during the Convention. On Monday, 6th May, a scenic tour of the West Highlands to the north of Oban will take delegates on a circular journey, stopping at Fort William en-route. The tour will include a visit to historic Glencoe, scene of the infamous massacre in 1692. On Wednesday and Friday the tours will take the picturesque route to Stirling, gateway to the Highlands, located on a bend of the Forth. The imposing castle dominates the scene and many historic skirmishes took place within its sight, including the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Other visits include a distillery which will provide an introduction to the making of whisky, an historical tradition worth sampling!
Glendoick Garden and Nursery.
As the Convention activities draw to a close there will be opportunity on the Saturday and Sunday to return south to Edinburgh on our Post Tours by way of the world-renowned rhododendron Mecca of Glendoick. Started largely as a result of Ewan Cox's expedition to Burma in 1919, the garden still contains a few plants that survived the difficult period during WWII, and whilst many plants were received from other famous gardens it was not until 1954 that the garden and nursery began to be developed. There is a different atmosphere in this garden, quite unlike those of the west with their big-leafed series and big plants. Here in the east are smaller plants with choice foliage in great variety, including many fine forms and collectors items. The glen is steep-sided, with bridges and bamboos amongst which can be found a few larger species but with smaller foliage than in the west. This is a plantsman's garden that will more than repay close inspection whilst the nursery itself will be of interest to many members.
For convenience of delegates who have onward travel arrangements the tour will call at Edinburgh Airport on the way into the City Centre where it will terminate on Waverley Station Bridge, a handy location for both taxis and trains.
If you are staying in Edinburgh don't miss the opportunity of visiting the Royal Botanic Garden with its major collection of rhododendrons and companion plants. The R.B.G. is mounting a special exhibition as a Post-Convention attraction, and here you will find items from its archives connected with "Rhododendron Collectors and Their Collections."
On Monday evening our first speaker, Mervyn Kessell, will set the scene for the Convention by a presentation that will serve as an introduction to the gardens to be visited over the following six days. Mervyn, president of the Scottish Chapter, will outline some useful background details in respect of West Coast gardens and suggest particular aspects to look out for during the visits. This talk will be repeated later the same evening to cater for delegates taking an early dinner.
On Wednesday morning we will be running the first set of six short lectures, and to provide some flexibility in planning your day these will be repeated in the afternoon. This will enable members to mix and match the tour and speaker options as the morning tours are also repeated in the afternoon. In line with the theme of the Convention itself, Tony Schilling will outline his experiences on his visits to China, Butan and Nepal together with the complications of conservancy in respect of wild rhododendrons. Tony has been responsible for the gardens at Wakehurst Place for many years where a wide range of complementary plants are grown.
Vireya rhododendrons have attracted a wider interest in recent years, and Dr. George Argent will shed further light on some of his more recent expeditions, together with discussing where some of the plants fit into present-day classification. George is a resident botanist at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh and has many years experience collecting vireyas in various parts of the world.
There is little doubt that the identification of species rhododendrons is a subject which many members continue to experience difficulty with. However, help is at hand from none other than Kenneth Cox who has been hard at work evolving a reasonably easy strategy for us all to use. Kenneth's way of approach should in time be a great help to us all in sorting out the problems that both man and nature can create. He will also be moderator for the popular Hybridizer's Round Table.
Of necessity there continues to be a wide interest in the control of rhododendron pests and diseases, and Nigel Price will look at those which attack plants in Britain. Nigel is in charge of the National Trust for Scotland's gardens at Brodick Castle and has considerable experience dealing with the powdery mildew that has infected many rhododendron collections in Britain.
Each year as spring and summer come around there is a resurgence of interest in the propagation of species, and Alan Clark has considerable experience in this field as a professional nurseryman. Alan, who is Curator of Gardens at Muncaster Castle in Cumbria, has developed his own method of summer grafting, and as well as demonstrating this he will also go into all aspects of rhododendron propagation.
Of particular interest to members who reside in, or grow rhododendrons for, the colder climates will be the experiences of Jens Birck of Denmark who has raised many rhododendrons from seed he has collected himself. Jens has a particular interest in the Subsection Taliensia and has been very successful in grafting this hard to propagate section of the genus Rhododendron.
Scotland has many fine rhododendron gardens, and whilst our tours have concentrated on those which are adjacent to the shores of Argyll and the Islands there are many others which are well worth visiting. Mervyn Kessell will continue on the theme in his introductory slide presentation and pick out some highlights to be seen in a wider selection of Scottish gardens.
There are many ericaceous plants which make ideal companions for rhododendrons, being all from the same family. Barry Starling has a long-standing interest in British gardens which together with his visits to Sikkim and China has served to widen his understanding as to what we can grow.
Rhododendron hybridising in Britain has a varied and interesting history; indeed the work of many of the early hybridisers from these shores continues to provide inspiration to those who work in this field today. Cameron Carmichael is a professional horticulturist who has a particularly fine collection of British hybrids in his own garden. Cameron believes there are still a number of good hybrids that are little known and he will include a selection of these in his presentation.
A surprisingly large range of rhododendrons are grown at Gotenburg Botanic Garden in Sweden where Bjorn Alden is the Director. Bjorn went to China in the spring of 1993 and saw many plants in flower that he felt would grow in Gotenburg. So later the same year he returned to China to collect seed which is now being grown on with high hopes for future plantings.
Our third speaker from Europe is Prof. Per Magnus Jorgensen who is Director of the Bergen Botanic Garden in Norway where they grow many rhododendrons in what is a surprisingly good growing area. Apart from the hardier species there is a good collection of hybrid rhododendrons, most of them raised in Western Europe.
Prof. David S. Ingram is responsible for the four gardens in Edinburgh, Dawyck, Logan and Benmore that collectively form the Royal Botanic Garden. A vast range of plants can be grown to perfection by virtue of the diverse position and climate of these gardens. David's presentation will make a fine introduction to the work of the R.B.G., particularly for those who are intending to stay a while after the Convention and tour some of Scotland's gardens.
Our final speaker, John D. Bond, is Keeper of the Saville (35 acres) and Valley (400 acres) Gardens at Windsor where both rhododendron species and hybrids put on a magnificent display each spring. John moved to Windsor in 1963 as Assistant Keeper and became Keeper in 1979. His responsibilities also include the Frogmore Garden, the garden at Royal Lodge and a considerable area of amenity woodland. His special interests include the cultivation of hardy trees and shrubs including rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias and conifers. Both the Saville and Valley Gardens are regular exhibitors at the R.H.S. shows where the rhododendrons and other plants have received many awards.
Self-Guided Tour Arrangements
Many owners and administrators of private gardens of specific interest to rhododendron enthusiasts have indicated they are prepared to accommodate small parties of overseas members in the period immediately after the Convention. Many are prepared to act as a garden guide or will arrange the services of a gardener to ensure that the party does not miss significant plants and trees, etc. If you require details, please make sure you have ticked the appropriate box on the Convention Booking Form.
Many British gardens are in excess of 100 acres in size, and it is not uncommon for there to be a 15 to 20 minute walk from the car park to the fringe of the woodland garden where the rhododendrons can be found. In many gardens the azaleas and rhododendrons are scattered over a huge area; sometimes they are segregated in completely different parts of the estate. It is not practical to attempt to visit more than two major gardens in one day; moreover, you could spend two days in some gardens and still not see everything. Many British roads, away from the motorways or main highways, are not suitable for travelling at high speed. Please take care with planning your itinerary and take time to enjoy your visit. If you need help or advice in regard to planning garden visits in particular areas of Scotland or Britain, then contact John Hammond, Convention Manager & Secretary, and we will endeavour to suggest a practical way of approach or options for consideration.
John M. Hammond is Convention Manager for the 1996 Convention and has a long-standing interest in propagation, having started with azaleas some 20 years ago. Along with his wife Margaret he has been a regular visitor to the Pacific Northwest since 1973. John graduated in Science and Technology, lives in Manchester, England, and is a Communications Engineer with British Rail.