The Lost Rhododendrons of Townhill Park,
Southampton, England, Part 2
The Distribution of Fred Rose's 1939 Seed Amongst the Seattle Area Nurserymen and Hybridisers
John M. Hammond
"If you want a friend, you must be one yourself," Charles P. Raffill, Assistant Curator, Royal Botanic Garden, Kew.
Part 1 of Mr. Hammond's article in the summer 2003 issue introduced Fred Rose, the head gardener of Townhill Park, and documented his gifts of seed to Halfdan Lem, a member of the notorious Rum-Dum Club in the Pacific Northwest. Part 2 continues the story of Mr. Rose's contribution of seed used by other members, beginning with George Grace.
Seed Raised by George Grace
A significant role was played by a "dark horse" of a different sort. I refer to the part played by George Grace, one of the relatively un-remarked members of the Rum-Dum Club. Grace was well known in the Portland area not only as a builder of many fine homes but also as an adept organizer. He joined the Rhododendron Association, based in London, and by the late-1930s his garden already contained a wealth of both species and hybrid plants. It is said that a dozen or so rhododendron nurseries in the Pacific Northwest got started by obtaining their first cutting material from plants in Grace's collection.
By the mid-1940s there were "giant" Rhododendron 'Loderi' plants in bloom at his home in south-west Portland that enthralled passers-by in the street and attracted many visitors to Grace's door. In 1951 he started the West Oregon Nursery which was still in business at the time of his death in 1974. During weekends in the mid-1940s he traveled extensively in the Pacific Northwest with fellow enthusiast John Henny of Brooks, Oregon, and later with Del James of Eugene, to promote the formation of the ARS and became its first secretary when the Society was incorporated.
Grace was also a highly regarded competitor in the annual rhododendron shows that commenced in the mid-1940s in Seattle, Tacoma and Portland, so much so that on at least three occasions he amassed the most "First in Class" awards at the Portland Show and won the Dr. William Corbin Cup outright. And, it is the reports of these shows that begin to shed some light on what happened to Fred Rose's seed. It is clear that George Grace obtained a portion of the 1939 seed and grew the seed out as we are told this in the report of the 1951 ARS Plant Awards when a P.A. was given to a 'Britannia' X R. griersonianum seedling subject to it being named. Grace had taken first place with this seedling in Class 30, for a seedling raised in America, at the 1951 ARS show held in Portland and it also took the Dr. George Goodman Award for the Best in Show. It was a good- looking truss, from a photo taken at the time, with a 4.5-inch-wide claret-rose corolla that had a deeper claret throat. No record of this plant being circulated, named or registered has been found.
Grace also remarked that "R. griersonianum X 'Lady Bessborough'is one of the finest reds in my garden and is a fine a R. griersonianum hybrid as I have ever seen." Rose tells us, "One of the finest of all R. campylocarpum hybrids is 'Lady Bessborough'. This was obtained by crossing R. discolor with campylocarpum elatum. It was first introduced from Exbury in 1933 - a fine cream-coloured flower with a red base and it was awarded a F.C.C. We made the same cross at Townhill and our plants flowered about two years after those at Exbury. The results were similar. The plants flower rather late in the season, due to the influence of R. discolor, and I have never known them to be injured in any way by frost. To see these plants in flower is a sight to be remembered." It is probable that Rose used this Townhill form in the cross R. griersonianum X 'Lady Bessborough'; this was a Swaythling/Rose re-make of the original Exbury cross 'Day Dream' and Grace named this seedling 'Day Dream, Red Form', but it is not registered. This is not to be confused with 'Day Dream, Biscuit Form'* that opens orange-pink and fades to a biscuit shade; this clone is of unknown origin. Both hybrids were circulated in the Pacific Northwest.
Photo by Harold Greer
Grace commented on another of Fred Rose's crosses: "'Loderi' X R. souliei, which I saw at Mr. Lem's garden near Seattle, Washington, was a fine cross of the 'Penjerrick' type, the trusses hanging in great clusters, and looking like a real weeping rhododendron." The only record I have been able to locate of an R. souliei cross of this type is 'Sharon', this being registered in 1958 as a Del James cross. Information for this hybrid is also scarce and it may not be in cultivation, but we will return to the part played by Del and Rae James shortly.
'Mount Mazama' (Loder Group X 'Britannia') was introduced in around 1967 by Grace and is named after the mountain at whose crest lies Crater Lake, a beautiful part of Oregon, the name being very apt for a plant with most unusual and interesting flowers of fuchsia red with bright red spotting on the upper petal. The base is darker red and the outside of the flower has dark red candy stripes. This seedling was named and registered in 1980, after Grace's death, by Louis and Molly Grothaus.
Amongst the batch of seedlings that Grace raised there were a number that he considered were worth naming and making available to other enthusiasts. He clearly felt the same way in respect of plants raised from Fred Rose's seed by other nurserymen and subsequently entered by them in the shows in the Pacific Northwest. There is little doubt that his judgment was sound as the First in Class awards gained by these plants in the Seattle, Tacoma and Portland shows is sufficient indication to support this view. It would seem that only one of the 1939 seedlings raised by Grace was named prior to his death in 1974; this was 'May Song' ('Bow Bells' X 'Day Dream'). The hybrid was grown on by Robert Bovee and then registered and introduced by the Bovees Nursery in 1972.
Another plant registered and introduced by Robert Bovee in 1958 was 'Glow' (R. griersonianum X 'Armistice Day') and is not to be confused with the 1935 cross of the same name by Crosfield. Whilst this was a 1939 cross made by Rose, it has not been possible to locate any records that suggest that 'Glow' was originally raised from Rose's seed by Grace, so it has been excluded from Table 1 (see summer 2003 issue of the journal). However, it is more than probable that the seed came from Rose.
Seed Raised by Endre Ostbo
In 1933 when Halfdan Lem arrived in Seattle from Alaska he made friends with Endre Ostbo, another Norwegian, who was working as an estate gardener and was propagating rhododendrons. In some ways they were complete opposites; Ostbo was shy and quiet whilst Lem was outgoing and gregarious. Prior to 1935 both had joined the Rhododendron Association, based in London, England, and in 1937 Ostbo started his own nursery at Bellevue, Washington. Ostbo developed an interest in hybridisation, initially with plants grown from seed that came from England, then with plants from his own crosses. J. Harold Clark tells us in 1956 that "several thousand seedlings have been raised and several hundred have bloomed."
In 1950 he exhibited a truss of a Townhill cross under the name of 'Orange Azor'* (R. fortunei ssp. discolor X [R. dichroanthum ssp. dichroanthum X R. griersonianum]) at the Seattle show and this was greatly admired. It was renamed 'King of Shrubs', received a P.A. (ARS) in the same year, the first plant to receive an award from the ARS. Ostbo introduced the plant in 1950, used the same name for his nursery and the name was registered by the I.R.A. in 1958. A repeat performance was to take place in 1953 when he exhibited a truss of 'Mrs. Donald Graham' (['Corona' X R. griersonianum] X 'Loderi') at the Seattle show. This was also raised from Rose's seed, had been named by Ostbo prior to 1945, received a P.A. (ARS) in 1954, and A.E. (ARS) in 1958 and was registered by the I.R.A. in 1958.
'King of Shrubs'
Photo by Harold Greer
Another seedling that Ostbo circulated was 'Apricot #5' ([R. neriiflorum ssp. neriiflorum X R. dichroanthum ssp. dichroanthum] X R. fortunei ssp. discolor). It was registered by the I.R.A. in 1958 under the name of 'Edward Dunn' and received a P.A. (ARS) in the same year. Other numbered clones from the 'Apricot' grex have been noted in the crosses made by Rum-Dum Club members, particularly 'Apricot #2', but none of these clones appear to have been named or registered.
Seed Raised by Ben Lancaster
Some twelve miles up the Columbia River Valley from Vancouver, Washington, is the small town of Camas, home of Ben Lancaster. A carpenter by trade, and permanently handicapped by leg injuries sustained in a 1937 road accident, he turned his attention to establishing a collection of rhododendrons. This many-talented man quickly recognized the benefits of working closely with other hybridisers and became an early member of the Rum-Dum Club. He exchanged his walking stick for a shovel and, with an extraordinary amount of willpower, established Lackamas Gardens in 1946. By 1956 Lancaster had bloomed about 1,500 seedlings from numerous crosses and had 100 selections under evaluation. In a 1967 article he commented, "The constant swapping back and forth of pollen, seeds and small seedlings has promoted a comradeship unequalled in any avocation."
Two of Lancaster's hybrids are known to have been raised from Rose's seed and both are of the (R. neriiflorum ssp. neriiflorum X R. dichroanthum ssp. dichroanthum) X R. fortunei ssp. discolor parentage. 'Buff Lady' was registered by the I.R.A. in 1958 and 'Peach Lady' was registered by Lancaster in the same year. However, both had previously been in circulation for some years and no further details are available.
I have avoided the use of the name 'Nereid' (R. neriiflorum ssp. neriiflorum X R. dichroanthum ssp. dichroanthum)that has been used in a number of references to the parentage of these two hybrids. I will let Rose explain why: "I saw it ('Nereid') first in the Sunningdale Nurseries and I believe the plants I saw there were in truth a natural hybrid. It is a plant for the front row and the colour is orange-red, very striking and dominant. The manager of the Nurseries, that most beloved of gardeners, Mr. Harry White, was particularly fond of that hybrid and one had to be a great friend of his to obtain a plant. I was one of the favoured ones and my plant did well. From it I saved some seed which had been self-pollinated, and from that seed we obtained plants ranging in colour from pale pink to sealing wax red. They are perfectly hardy, maximum height 3 feet and some of the most fascinating of the dwarfer rhododendrons." It is probable that one of these seedlings was used by Rose in the 1939 crosses.
Seed Raised by John Henny
John Henny and his brother Rudolf, of Brooks, a small community some seven miles north of Salem, Oregon, developed an interest in rhododendrons after seeing them whilst traveling on the West Coast in the 1930s. This led to a sequence of visits to nurseries in the Pacific Northwest that grew named hybrids, the founding of friendships that would last a lifetime and the establishment of a nursery business at Brooks. In his quest for information about the genus John traveled extensively which led to him becoming a member of the Rum-Dum Club, thus providing the brothers with access to plant material and information about hybridization techniques.
Whilst the seed from Rose was probably shared with John there is no clear indication whether the two brothers shared the seed amongst themselves, but with the passing years both registered crosses raised from the seed. John, an affable enthusiast, became dedicated to the goal of founding an association for those with an interest in rhododendrons and at weekends in 1942 and 1943 travelled the West Coast by train with George Grace in pursuit of his mission. He was elected the first president of the ARS in June 1944.
There are two of the Henny's seedlings that are known to have been raised from Rose's seed and both are of the 'Margaret Dunn' parentage, R. fortunei ssp. discolor X (R. dichroanthum ssp. dichroanthum X R. griersonianum). 'Golden Belle' was raised by John Henny and registered by the I.R.A. in 1958. 'Talisman' was raised by Rudolph Henny and registered by him in 1958 under the name 'Margaret Dunn Talisman'. Both had been in circulation for some years prior to their registration and 'Talisman' should not be confused with the Aberconway cross of the same name that was introduced in 1950 and registered in 1958.
Plants Raised by Del and Rae James
In December 1945, shortly after hostilities had come to an end in most of Europe, Del James of Eugene, Oregon, a railroad locomotive engineer, wrote to Charles P. Raffill, Assistant Curator at the R.B.G., Kew, seeking help to obtain rhododendron seed and also advice about the newer hybrids. This letter instigated a regular interchange of correspondence that was to last for over a decade and it was Del's wife, Rae, who became the main correspondent on behalf of the Jameses. Raffill, an extremely knowledgeable and practical horticulturist, who at age of nearly 70 still worked long hours at Kew each day and then at night was an aircraft spotter in the Home Guard throughout the war, had been at Kew for almost half a century.
Raffill provided unstinting support to the efforts of the Jameses to establish a significant collection of rhododendrons, magnolias and other plants and in return received plant material to enhance his collection of American iris. Frances Burn's compilation of this correspondence provides a remarkable perspective to the difficult years on both sides of the Atlantic immediately following WW II, a nostalgic journey through times when life and its pleasures were much more simple than today's complex lifestyle. Heading this article is the very appropriate motto that graced Raffill's office desk throughout his tenure at Kew.
The Jameses and Halfdan Lem became good friends in the early 1940s and Del and Rae seem to have traveled to Seattle each spring and fall to visit Lem's nursery. Whilst the Jameses did not receive a share of the 1939 seed they did obtain a number of the seedlings raised by Lem and, in a letter to Raffill dated March 27, 1946, the Jameses tell us, "It was through his [Lem's] kindness that we were able to obtain our plant of R. griersonianum X 'Britannia'." In the fall of 1945 the Jameses had visited Lem and were given this seedling, and "it turned out to be a very large flower in a nice truss, brilliant red with a darker throat - no blotch or noticeable spots, but just darker shading to the base...we shall expect great things of it."
In a letter dated April 30, 1946: "Our garden is coming into bloom now, and is beautiful. In the red rhodies, we have...R. griersonianum X 'Armistice Day'..." And with reference to the same plant in the spring of 1947: "...a beautiful glowing red with large thick flowers." The Jameses entered a truss from this plant in the 1948 ARS show held in Portland, Oregon, and it "...took the blue ribbon in the class for a truss of any griersonianum hybrid." Lem was to later name 'Darlene' and 'Thelma' from the same cross.
Photo by Harold Greer
In early June of 1946 the Jameses again visited Lem in Seattle and were "...very much interested in a cross made in England and grown by our friend in Seattle, which is lacteum X 'Mary Swaythling'. We have a couple of plants that he has given us to grow, and have had very good success with them so far. One of his seedlings has bloomed with a lovely creamy yellow flower, about four to five inches across." A sister seedling was named 'Fred Rose'* by Lem. In the spring of 1947 Del James writes, "A number of new rhododendron seedlings are in bloom, too...One new seedling is dichroanthum-neriiflorum X discolor with a very beautiful bloom." Whilst the Jameses do not tell us the origin of this seedling it is almost certain to be from the same seed lot from which 'Edward Dunn' was named by Ostbo. Harold Greer has commented, "The cross of dichroanthum-neriiflorum X discolor was frequently called 'DND'. I remember the Jameses had several crosses labeled that way, such as 'DND' X 'Fawn' which I grew for a long time, but I think the plant died some time ago." In a letter dated January 8, 1948, "We, too, had a big surprise a few days before Christmas, when our friend from Seattle, Mr. Halfdan Lem, who had done so much with rhododendron hybridising, came down for a two-day visit. It was the first time he had been down in Oregon, and he was very much surprised to see what a wonderful state it is." In early January 1950 the Jameses paid a return visit to Lem's nursery but the weather turned cold and began to snow so they cut short the visit to get back home before the situation deteriorated further.
It was the commencement of reportedly the worst winter for snow and frost since 1894 and caused severe damage in many gardens in Washington and Oregon. The Jameses outlined some of the aspects in letters dated January 29 and March 8. In regard to Lem, "Just received a letter from our friend in Seattle, dated two days ago, his garden is in terrible shape. Makes one feel like weeping to read of all the wonderful things on which he has spent so many years being damaged so badly. We can only hope that they won't be in such bad shape as they now look when the weather clears up." In discussing the effects on their own garden they mention a plant of 'Mrs. J. H. van Nes' X 'Loderi' which is more than likely to have been another seedling that came from Lem's nursery. Lem later named 'Pink Nes Loderi'*, 'Seedling No. 49'* and 'White Nes Loderi'* from the same batch of seedlings. Whilst the Jameses made good use of the seedlings that came from Lem in their hybridisation work they do not appear to have named any of the seedlings, with the exception of 'Tomeka'. H. R. Fletcher, in "Rhododendrons on the West Coast of America," tells us, "From Mr. Rose's seeds Mr. Del James also raised a most interesting seedling which he calls 'Tomeka'." This (R. dichroanthum ssp. dichroanthum X R. griersonianum) X R. decorum ssp. decorum cross was later registered and introduced by Hadley Osborn in 1978.
Photo by Harold Greer
Two final points are well worth further consideration. Firstly, some of the 1939 seedlings grown-out by the Jameses may still be extant at Hendricks Park Rhododendron Garden, or in the gardens of friends in the Eugene area. Secondly, it would be interesting to know if any of the exchanges of letters between the Jameses and Lem were "tucked away" for safekeeping in a similar way as the Raffill correspondende."
It is unlikely that we will ever know what was discussed when George Grace and Fred Rose eventually met at the 1949 R.H.S. Rhododendron Conference in London. There would have been much to talk about. George Grace commented, in an article published in the 1950 R.H.S. Rhododendron Year Book, "I am sure that Mr. Rose must be a very remarkable hybridiser for I have seen the results of some of the seeds of his crosses which he sent to Seattle, Washington. I only wish Mr. Rose could see some of the fine plants which are scattered all over the Pacific Northwest that have come from his crosses...It is our good fortune to have received seeds from Mr. Rose."
To my mind the most important aspect of this tale has been implied many times, but perhaps never clearly stated. That is, the seed of crosses of an extraordinary hybridising duo were mailed at a time of war and entrusted in good faith to another group of extraordinary hybridisers who would raise and evaluate them an ocean away in and around Seattle. And, in so doing, the crosses provided a sense of direction to a very capable group of rhododendron nurserymen and enthusiasts. What is certain is that the crosses listed in Table 1 (see summer 2003 issue) run like shining threads through the tapestry of sixty years of hybridisation work in the Pacific Northwest.
And, were Fred Rose's premonitions about the impending hostilities fully justified? Townhill Park house and grounds were requisitioned and handed over to the Red Cross in 1939 for use as a convalescent home for British and American soldiers arriving back at the port from hostilities overseas. During the winter of 1939, the period of the so-called "phony war," the expected rush of casualties did not materialize and the Swaythling family came down from London most weekends to Townhill Park. The gardens continued to be maintained in all their glory but with passing weeks Rose's younger staff were called-up for military service, as were many of the servants in the house.
So, Rose's remaining staff turned their attention to digging up the flower gardens and concentrated their efforts on growing food instead. Not many months were to elapse before food became so scarce that a Saturday market was established at Townhill Park where the local population could buy food grown in the garden. Southampton and its strategically placed port and docks were bombed 57 times, 4,278 homes were totally destroyed, a further 11,000 homes were seriously damaged, and many shops, businesses and industrial premises were also destroyed. It is difficult some sixty years later for many of us to comprehend the trauma, anguish and austerity faced by those who lived through the nightmare of persistent air raids along the South Coast in WW II. It is also highly likely that many American soldiers would have been enthralled by the gardens during their stay at Townhill Park, particularly in the springtime.
In 1945 Lord Swaythling decided that, faced with the rigours of high taxation in the post-war economy, the need to live off capital instead of income and, coupled with the restoration work needed to the property after its release from wartime service, the house was too costly to maintain. In any case, it was almost impossible in the immediate post- war years to get servants and gardeners, as all able-bodied persons were required to work to support the fragile economy.
So the family moved out to Bridley Manor, a smaller property near Guildford. Lord Swaythling sold the house and 30 acres of grounds to Middlesex County Council in 1948 for use as an educational establishment. Most of the remaining land was sold to Southampton Borough Council for housing development. So, 1939 was the last year in which crosses were made by the Swaythling/Rose duo and marked the zenith of their work at Townhill Park. It is also a sad reflection that in the post-WWII society there was no longer the same scope for men such as Fred Rose. He continued to live in Southampton, close to Townhill Park, and worked at Sunningdale Nurseries for a time.
Whilst this tale has taken us on a fascinating journey through the pages of old books and publications it is important that we retain a sense of perspective and not forget that to undertake our journey we turned the clock back over half a century. Much has been accomplished by a new generation of hybridisers in the Pacific Northwest who have built on the foundations laid by the members of the Rum-Dum Club. New hybrids are now available that mark a significant improvement on many of those covered in this commentary. That said, there are some hybrids in Table 1 (see summer 2003 issue) that even today would grace any garden and would be well worth taking the time to seek out.
Bell, Gwen, 1977. Halfdan Lem, hybridiser. Quarterly Bulletin, Amer. Rhod. Soc. Winter 1977, Vol. 31, No. 1.
Burns, Frances Scharen. 2001. To Have a Friend. An Exchange of Letters on Rhododendrons, Iris, Lilies, War and Peace 1945-1951. Del & James and C. P. Raffill. Big Rock Press, Vida, OR.
Coney, Ralph, and Jim Brown. 1999. Townhill Park House (A Brief History). A local paper published by The Bittern Local History Society, Southampton, England.
Elliott, James A. 1977. Lem hybrids. Quarterly Bulletin, Amer. Rhod. Soc. Winter 1977, Vol. 31, No. 1.
Fletcher, H.R. 1958. The International Rhododendron Register. The Royal Horticultural Society, London.
Fletcher, H.R. 1962. Rhododendrons on the West Coast of America. R.H.S. Rhodo. and Cam. Yearbook, 1963.
Foland, Milton. 1974. George D. Grace 1897-1974. Quarterly Bulletin, Amer. Rhod. Soc. July 1974, Vol. 28, No. 3.
Grace, George D. 1950. Rhododendron growing in the Pacific Northwest. R.H.S. Rhodo. Yearbook, 1950.
Greer, Harold E. 1996. Greer's Guidebook to Available Rhododendrons, species & hybrids, Third Edition. Offshoot Publications, Eugene, OR.
Hammond, John M. 1998. Do the crosses of Pacific Northwest hybridisers make viable plants for growing in Great Britain? The Scottish Rhododendron Society Yearbook No. 1, 1998.
Henny, Rudolph, 1951. Results of the 1951 show of the American Rhododendron Society. Quarterly Bulletin, Amer. Rhod. Soc. July, 1951. Vol. 5, No.3.
Madison, Harry R. 1954. The Seattle Rhododendron Show, 1954. R.H.S. Rhodo. and Cam. Yearbook, 1955.
McClure, Don. 1977. Lem favorites. Quarterly Bulletin, Amer. Rhod. Soc. Winter 1977, Vol. 31, No. 1.
Rose, F.J. 1949. Hybrid rhododendrons. R.H.S. Rhododendron Year Book, 1949.
Salley, Homer E., and Harold E. Greer, 1992. The Rhododendron Hybrids, Second Edition. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Salley, Homer E., and Harold E. Greer. 1986. The Rhododendron Hybrids. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Thornton, Ray. 2001. The lost rhododendrons of Southampton. R.H.S. Rhodo. with Cam. and Mag. Yearbook, 2001.
John Hammond, a member of the Scottish Chapter, is the ARS Alternate Director of Chapters At Large.
* Name is unregistered.