In Memoriam: Fred Charles Galle
August E. Kehr
Hendersonville, North Carolina
On July 21, 1998, the azalea and holly world lost one of their most illustrious horticulturists, Fred C. Galle, when he was tenderly laid in his final resting place at Pine Mountain, Ga. He is known to persons all over the world for his books on azaleas and hollies. These giant achievements were made by an individual who was once told by a nurseryman that he was too small to dig trees and shrubs. By his attainments as a writer and horticulturist Fred has proven that the pen is greater than a shovel, and that brains are commonly more productive than brawn.
The love of green plants and the joy of growing them took root at an early age for Fred, along with a fascination for books. He was born in Dayton, Ohio, on July 10, 1919, where plants are so important in feeding the stomachs, as well as nourishing the souls of people who grow them. His love of horticulture came from his training at Ohio State University, where he received his bachelor's and master's degrees in horticulture. He was in the service in World War II where he won a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and a Cluster.
Fred never got a Ph.D. He completed all graduate research and class work at the University of Tennessee and even had done a draft of his doctoral thesis. At that point he decided to visit Gregory Bald to see the azaleas there. One day while out looking over the magnificent display of plants, a bear ate his only draft of the thesis. He never found a single page of it. Fred always joked by saying he did all the work and wrote it up, but the bear got the degree.
I do not know when Fred and I first crossed paths, but I can recall with great clarity in 1981 he asked me to arrange a meeting with Dr. Henry Skinner, Dr. John Creech and myself to offer guidance on an outline and offer support on a project of writing a book on azaleas. The last version of The Azalea Book by Frederic P. Lee had become obsolete in the intervening quarter century. Little did we know that the meeting of four azalea enthusiasts would result in a 519-page masterpiece describing over 7,000 cultivars of azaleas as well as describing all the species of these plants known to the horticultural world. His book Azaleas is listed as one of the "Fifty Great Horticultural Books" by the National Arboretum.
Have you, dear reader, any idea of the magnitude of effort that went into gathering names and details of the color, size, type of flower, names of hybridizers, parentage, year of introduction, and similar facts for 7,000 varieties? If not, sit down and prepare this same information for any 10 varieties in your garden without referring to the book Azaleas.
I was deeply honored when Fred asked me to write Chapter 12 in Azaleas. In appreciation he sent me autographed copies of both the original book as well as the revised edition along with short statements above the autograph. These books are choice to me.
Fred had a busy life. He was Director of Horticulture at the Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., from June 1953 until December 1979 and continued to serve there as curator until 1983 when the first edition of the book took up his full time. He was a member and president of the American Horticultural Society that awarded Fred their Liberty Hyde Bailey Award for outstanding contributions to professional horticulture. He was also awarded the Gold Medal of the American Rhododendron Society, their highest award, and served as the Society's president. Swarthmore College conferred on him the Arthur Hoyt Garden Award. He was a member and president of the Association of Botanic Gardens and Arboreta, as well as the International Shade Tree Conference and the Georgia Horticultural Society from whom he received the Certificate of Merit. He won the Silver Medal of the National Council of State Garden Clubs and the Porter Henegan Award for Horticultural Research of the Southern Nurserymen's Association. In 1964, Mr. Galle was appointed to the elite Advisory Council of the United States National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., where he served until 1971.
Hollies, which was published in late 1997, is the first authoritative and comprehensive guidebook on these plants in the English language. In its 591 pages are described over 800 Ilex species, as well as all named varieties in cultivation. It is a companion book of reference to the one on azaleas. The Holly Society gave him the Shiu-Wing-Hu Award for scholarly publication on the genus Ilex.
About 15 years ago he sent me seed of Rhododendron arborescens. When the plants from this seed flowered, there were many plants that were clearly the true species, but some of the seedlings turned out to have yellow blossoms and flowered in July and early August. When I asked Fred about the possible parentage of these unusual yellow deviants, he replied, "I wish I knew because I would like to repeat the cross." It is perhaps very coincidental that on 17 July of this year Dr. Kathleen Kron of Wake Forest University identified the yellow plants as hybrids of R. arborescens x R. prunifolium. I am already in the process of propagating the best plant. Perhaps it would be fitting to name and register it as 'Fred Galle' in his honor.
Fred Galle was truly one of America's most notable lecturers, writers, and horticultural consultants, and he will be sorely missed by all those who grow azaleas and hollies. Can you believe (as mentioned above) that a nurseryman once told Fred in his young formative years that he was too small to dig trees and shrubs?