The ARS Gold and Silver Medal Who's Who
and Their Associated Hybrids, Part 1
Clive L. Justice
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Over the years since the founding in Portland, Oregon, in 1945, the American Rhododendron Society
has recognized its members and some non-members who have made more than the usual contributions to
the work of the Society and/or the development and understanding of the genus Rhododendron
as plants, both species and hybrids, for the garden. There are four awards given by the ARS: the
Pioneer Achievement Award, and the Gold, Silver and Bronze medal awards. Each ARS chapter is entitled
to award the Bronze Medal Award to honor one of its members. Many Bronze Medals have been awarded by
ARS chapters and recorded by being published regularly in the ARS Journal. The Pioneer Achievement
Award recipients are chosen by the ARS president and the ARS Board of Directors. The Gold and Silver
medals recipients are chosen by the ARS Honors Committee.
The Honors Committee was chaired for many years by Ed Egan of Tigard, Oregon, a long-time member of the Eugene Chapter.1 The Honors chair is now, since 2001, held by Jeanine Smith2 of Woodinville, Washington. She is a Seattle Chapter member. The chair selects the five Honors Committee members, receives the nominations, and checks the letters of support requirements laid out in the Honors Committee Regulations. The names of the five Honors Committee members are representative of the Society's membership, their deliberations are confidential and the Chair has no vote. The ARS began awarding Gold and Silver medals at its annual meeting windup banquets that have almost always been a surprise for the recipient when selected from among the dinner guests and brought up the podium by his or her nominator.3 What follows is a compilation of those who have received ARS Gold and Silver medals since the founding of the ARS, through the years of its development into a North American-wide organization of sixty-five chapters in twelve districts (Regions) throughout the United States and Canada with an International District (so called) of five chapters with individual non-chapter members in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Hawaii, Europe and India. Beginning soon after the inception of the Society, an ARS Register of Plant Names was set up in which are recorded and described those hybrids that ARS members and others have named. It is proposed here that a measure of historical linkage be attempted between the medal award and the Register. I have asked Jay Murray (a 1999 Gold Medal recipient), the current keeper of the Register, to help where my memory and research fails. However, I am wholly to blame for any errors, counts, comments and connections herein recorded.
In the years up to 2002 there have been eighty-three Gold and thirty-three Silver medals awarded. The first Gold Medal was awarded to Claude I. Sersanous in 1952, for his services to the Society as the first president. It was when the ARS and the Portland Chapter were more or less one and the same. He also gave generously to the establishment of the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Test Garden in Portland. The Rhododendron named for him used only his initials. Rhododendron 'C.I.S.' has flowers with petals of a rich cream inside and an orange-red outside with large orange-red calyx. It is a 'Loder's White'-'Fabia' cross, raised by Rudolph Henny of Brooks, Oregon. 'C.I.S.' received an ARS Preliminary Award (P.A.) in 19525, and went on to get an RHS Award of Merit (A.M.), at the Royal Horticultural Society's Wisley trials. Nurseryman Rudolph Henny did receive the Society's Gold Medal, but it was given posthumously (GM-13) in 1963. Rudolph Henny created another hybrid and named it 'George Grace' for George Grace who was the secretary-treasurer of the Portland Chapter during most of the 1960s. This hybrid was a Loderi Group X 'Borde Hill' with rhodamine pink6 flowers. George Grace received the Gold medal (GM-7) in 1960. Rhododendron hybrid 'Grace' had received a P.A. earlier in 1952.
The Silver Medal was not given until thirteen years after sixteen Gold medals had been awarded. The first one went to Mr. Rocco Cappelli of Portland Oregon, in 1965. Bill Robinson7, the only remaining charter member of the founding chapter of the ARS, the Portland Chapter, says Mr. Cappelli was a Portland Nurseryman and while not a member of the ARS did not qualify for the Gold under the old rules. However, I can find no mention of his award or his contributions to the Society, or the genus Rhododendron, anywhere in the pages of the ARS Journal. It was not until a decade later that the second ARS Silver Medal was awarded to a non-ARS member. The recipient was well known to all who had anything to do with rhododendrons, in particular the species. It was to H. H. Davidian, taxonomist at the Edinburgh Botanic Garden8 who held the job of classifying and registering the species of rhododendron. Davidian followed the system first developed by Sir Isaac Bayley Balfour, Sir W. W. Smith and H. F. Tagg9. Known as the Balfourian System, it consisted of grouping the species into like, observable, physical, characteristics in leaf and flower etc., called series and subseries.10
Eighteen years later Davidian received the Society's sixty-seventh Gold Medal, for the most part in recognition of his writing the monumental four volume work The Rhododendron Species, 1982, Timber Press, Portland, Oregon. His dubious American rhododendron connection for the writer is a rhododendron species in the Barbatum series, discovered by George Forrest in the Salwin and named for a friend of his, Mr. Bainbridge. Rhododendron brainbridgeanum is not named, as was related to the writer many years ago by some now forgotten wag, for Bainbridge Island, across from Seattle, where Davidian had found it on one his trips to the Pacific Northwest. However, Davidian is the only person to have received both the ARS Silver and Gold medals.
Eleven women have received ARS Gold, although Mary Greig, Velma Haag, and Jay Murray shared the honor with their husbands, Ted, Charles, and Robert respectively. Mrs A.C.U. Berry of Portland, Oregon, was the first to receive a Gold Medal (GM-9). A superb plantswoman in the Gertrude Jekyll- William Robinson traditions, she kept a fine garden and her expertise with alpine plants extended to rhododendrons, raising the seeds sent to her from the 1920s Kingdon-Ward and 1930s and '40s Joseph Rock expeditions that she subscribed to. Her legacy is the Berry Botanic Gardens that has a woodland of rhododendrons raised from the seed sent her. Sonja Nelson writes in The Pacific Coast Rhododendron Story: "In 1983 the Berry Botanic Garden began the Seed Bank for Rare and Endangered Plants of the Pacific Northwest and today is a member of the Center for Plant Conservation."11
The writer's memory of the Berry garden woodland is an Ektachrome slide of a sprawling Rhododendron 'Purple Splendour' in bloom among Western sword fern and second growth Douglas fir in this woodland that I have shown to classes in plant identification and landscaping, touting it as the only way to grow and use this grand old English hybrid.
Ted and Mary Greig of Royston, just south of Courtenay on Vancouver Island, were the first to be jointly awarded the Society's twentieth Gold Medal. While Ted was an expert plantsman especially with alpine plants it was Mary that took on the rhododendrons to become one of the PNW leading authorities on the species. The writer remembers Ted and Mary not for the summer blooming auriculatum crosses 'Royston Reverie' and 'Royston Rose' but for the hybrid 'Butterball'. Salley and Greer, in Rhododendron Hybrids12, Second Edition, list it as a xanthostephanum-triflorum, cross. However, Alleyne Cook claims it is a trichocladum-luteiflorum, cross. Since Homer Salley, Harold Greer and Alleyne Cook all have ARS Gold Medals GM-70, GM-61 and GM-77 respectively and will be dealt with in a subsequent account, it is not my place as a historian to get involved in this controversy, but I like this small leaved Pieris-like shrub with canary yellow brown spotted small cluster of flowers, whatever its parentage.
Part 2 is continued in the JARS v58 no.1.
1 A list of all the Gold and Silver medal winners and the year awarded up to and including 1995, compiled by Ed Eagan, will be found in Vol. 49, No. 3, summer issue of the ARS Journal.
2 There are just over fifty Smiths in the ARS, and as far as I can determine they are not related. So far only two Smiths: Cecil Smith (GM 23) of Aurora, Ore., and Britt Smith (GM 51) of Kent, Wash., have received Gold medals along with one Silver to J. Parker Smith (SM 21) of Sebastopol Calif.
3 This was not the case when the writer received his Gold Medal (GM 79). Being unable to attend the 2000 annual meeting as I would be away in Sikkim, I was leaked the news the evening before we left for India and so had to wait before receiving the medal with framed citation at the Vancouver Chapter, September 2000, meeting.
4 These ARS Chapters at Large are the Danish, Dutch, Scottish, Swedish, and J. D. Hooker Chapter in Sikkim, India.
5 Initially the ARS began a process to rate and give awards to North American created rhododendron hybrids similar in nature to the RHS Award of Merit (AM), and First Class Certificate (FCC) for plants. However, the ARS awards system consisted of three successive stages to the top award. The first step was a Preliminary Award (PA), then an Award of Excellence (AE), and finally a Test Garden Certificate (TGC). It proved unworkable and misleading on a North American basis, as it really only ever proved of any merit regionally. However, with adoption of international registration of rhododendrons hybrids under RHS rules, the ARS Awards program has fallen by the wayside. Regional test gardens like Meerkerk might be an answer but that is another story.
6 Rhodamine Pink is 527/1 on the HCC Colour Chart.
7 William (Bill) (Robbie) Robinson was head gardener with the city of Portland Parks for twenty-five years. He built the large rock garden at the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden in Portland. He received the Portland Chapter's first Bronze Medal Award. Along with fourteen others Bill received the Founding Member Award at the 50th Anniversary Banquet May 13, 1995, in Portland, Ore. Bill was last seen alive and well at the ARS Annual Convention in May 2003 at Olympia, Wash.
8 The Edinburgh Botanical Gardens, or the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE), is the international designated registry and depository for all rhododendron species.
9 The Balfourian classification of rhododendron species was first set out in 1930 with a book titled The Species of Rhododendron, edited by J. B. Stevenson and published by the (English) Rhododendron Society, founded in 1915. A second edition was published in 1947 of which the writer has a copy. In 1961 the writer took this copy to the 1st International Rhododendron Conference held in Portland, Ore. Dr. Harold R. Fletcher, who was then Keeper of the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh (Balfour was also a Keeper of the RBGE), was a featured speaker at the conference. If I remember correctly Davidian had been asked to come to the conference but his boss came instead so my 2nd edition of The Species of Rhododendron is autographed by Harold R. Fletcher.
10 There is a daunting forty-three series and an equal number of subseries in the Balfourian System and that's not including the Malesians (vireyas). In a subsequent "Gold Medal Who's Who" the Gold Medal winner who developed the new Rhododendron species classification system that now includes the garden challenged genus Ledum will be revealed.
11 The Pacific Coast Rhododendron Story: The Hybridizers, Collectors and Gardens by Sonja Nelson & Portland Chapter American Rhododendron Society, 2001, Binford & Mort, Portland Oregon. Page 19.
12 Salley and Greer, in Rhododendron Hybrids (by Homer E. Salley and Harold Greer, Rhododendron Hybrids, 2nd Ed., 1992, Timber Press, Portland, Ore.) Timber Press, Portland, Ore.)