In Memoriam: Gertrude S. Wister
Claire Sawyers and Frank West
Gertrude S. Wister, a nationally recognized horticulturist, author, and consultant who devoted her career to public horticulture, died of congestive heart failure on July 13, 1999, at her home in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, on the Swarthmore College campus. She was 94.
A native of Montclair, N.J., Mrs. Wister (nee Gertrude McMasters Smith) was born March 24, 1905, the daughter of Stanton and Harriet Briggs Smith. Keenly interested in plant life since her childhood, she attended the University of Wisconsin, where she majored in horticulture and graduated with honors in 1927.
After college she worked in a nursery for a short time before starting her own business in garden planning and maintenance in Montclair. In the 1940s she began working during the winter months for the Scott Horticultural Foundation and the Tyler Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College (then known as the Arthur Hoyt Scott Horticultural Foundation) from 1955 to 1960 while at the same time serving as the assistant director of the Tyler Arboretum in Lima, Pa. From 1975 to 1977 she served as the acting director of the Tyler Arboretum. She remained a loyal and generous supporter of both of these public gardens throughout her lifetime.
"Those who had the chance to know her and work with her will miss her for her wise words, practical nature, loyal and generous support, and unfailing sense of humor," Scott Arboretum Director Claire Sawyers said.
In 1960, Mrs. Wister was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the Tyler Arboretum, a position she held for more than 25 years. That year she also married John C. Wister, who served as director of the Scott Foundation for more than 30 years. Together they created the Wister Garden, which is now part of the college's Scott Arboretum and was featured on a garden tour as recently as June. John Wister died in 1982.
From 1948 to 1955, Mrs. Wister served as editor of the National Gardener, the bulletin for the National Council of State Garden Clubs. She authored Hardy Garden Bulbs in 1964 and innumerable articles in horticultural publications and magazines. She was also the assistant editor of the Woman's Home Companion Garden Book in 1947, and she edited the American Daffodil Society Yearbook from 1962 to 1964.
Her love of plants and contributions to horticulture won her acclaim and recognition over the years. In 1976 she was awarded the distinguished Achievement Award by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and in 1978 the Massachusetts Horticultural Society awarded her the Thomas Roland Medal for skill in horticulture. In 1982 she received the Gold Medal Award, the American Rhododendron Society's highest honor, for her many horticultural contributions, in particular for cataloging, registering, and perpetuating the Wister hybrid rhododendrons and plants of other hybridizers. In 1985 she received the Scott Garden and Horticultural Award for her national contributions to the science and art of gardening.
Mrs. Wister lived at "The Twigs" on Crawford Pond in Union, Maine, in the summertime.