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Journal American Rhododendron Society

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Dr. Glen Jamieson ars.editor@gmail.com


Volume 57, Number 4
Fall 2003

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Let's Celebrate the Legacy and Plant the Future
Howard Roberts
Rosemont, Pennsylvania

        Over two centuries of history, culture, and horticulture welcome visitors to an area within a 50-mile radius of the 2004 ARS Convention. Historic sites of the Philadelphia environs run the gamut from Independence Hall to George Washington's Headquarters at Valley Forge and include John Bartram's house and garden, John James Audubon Center, and the Franklin Court area of old Philadelphia, to name a few. There are many arboretums and gardens such as Longwood Gardens, Winterthur, Mount Cuba, Tyler, Morris, Jenkins, the Barnes Foundation, and Chanticleer. The famous Philadelphia Museum of Art is a national treasure. Then, when you drive across the rolling landscape that made this land so attractive to the early settlers, it's easy to see why people have treasured the land they cultivate and have, in many instances, improved upon it! Extending west beyond Valley Forge National Park, there are still farms in Lancaster County with fertile fields tilled by horse-drawn drawn plows as in generations past, and the distinctive Amish attire remains a refreshing sight in today's world.
        During the ARS Annual Convention at King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, May 12-16, 2004, the Hospitality Committee wants your experience to be as rewarding as possible, both in scheduled activities and in "on your own" excursions. On the first day of the convention, May 12, transportation has been arranged for visits to Winterthur and Longwood Gardens. Besides the world-renowned collection of decorative arts begun by Henry Francis duPont, Winterthur's extensive woodland garden of azaleas and wildflowers is worthy of a long visit. Longwood Gardens hardly needs any description. It is one of the world's great gardens with more than 11,000 plant varieties growing in over 1,000 acres of formal gardens (some with gigantic fountains), conservatories, meadows and woodlands. There will also be transportation from the convention hotel to two nearby arboretums: Jenkins on May 12 for a late afternoon wine and hors d'oeuvres reception, and Chanticleer on May 14. Jenkins will be featured in a future article, and Chanticleer can briefly be described as a 31-acre pleasure garden.
        When it comes to "on your own" excursions, the Hospitality Committee will provide informational brochures, magazines of local interest, and lists of restaurants and attractions. We strongly suggest, however, that if you have special activities on your agenda, you make reservations early. Mid-May is graduation time for many local schools and universities, so it is wise to plan ahead. There are two websites that should be helpful: one is GoPhila.com and the other is: Philly.com.
        For this article we have selected three of the nineteen gardens that will be on tour during the ARS Annual Convention May 12-16, 2004. It can't be said that these are typical mid-Atlantic gardens, for each of them is individual in character and plant content. You will find they range from long-established gardens to relatively recent endeavors; from level, open terrain to wooded slopes with waterfalls; from high to low elevations, influencing the selection of plant material. All three owners of the gardens in this article are experienced propagators, and in at least one case an owner will have some of his newly introduced hybrids available at the convention's gigantic plant sale.

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The Huber Garden - Salford, Pennsylvania
The land on which Robert and Helene Huber's garden stands had been cleared for farming by Bob's grandfather and great-grandfather in the 1800s. When they became owners of the property in 1953, they reforested what has now become a substantial garden area. The Hubers became close friends of Charlie and Ethel Herbert, enthusiastic and knowledgeable rhododendron gardeners, and together Charlie and Bob obtained cuttings and seeds from local gardens and made numerous trips to the home of Caroline Gable, daughter of the renowned hybridizer Joseph Gable.
        When a garden is fifty years old, you can expect to see some impressive, mature rhododendrons. Back in the 1980s a rooted cutting of Rhododendron adenopodum from the Huber garden was acquired by a rhodo-novice at a joint chapter plant sale. An onlooker at the transaction commented, "If you want to see something spectacular, you should see the 'mother plant!'" Today that rooted cutting is 7'x 8' and going strong, so the parent must be humongous. The Huber garden features many large rhododendrons which reflect the work of Gable and other regional hybridizers; the collection includes some plants that Charlie Herbert raised and named. Among the unique and quite rare specimens are 'Disca', 'Cadis', 'Pickering', 'Curly Aden'*, 'James Allison'*, 'Isabel Gable'*, 'Hannah Hersey', 'Valley Creek', 'May Moonlight', 'Robert Huber', 'Gary Herbert', 'Nearing Pink'*, 'Smirfort'*, 'Caroline' (Gable), 'Brown Eyes', 'Lynne Heckler', 'Gary Huber' and 'Aaron Heckler', the last two being a couple of Bob's cultivars. There is also an impressive collection of R. degronianum ssp. yakushimanum hybrids, some of which are thirty years old and one-of-a-kind, as well as a magnificent display of azaleas. To extend the colorful bloom time of rhododendrons, azaleas and dogwoods, there is now a splash of hundreds of myriad hued daylilies, reflecting the Hubers' daughter's avid interest in these plants and other perennials.

The Huber Garden, Salford, Pennsylvania.
The Huber Garden, Salford, Pennsylvania.
Photo by Tom Ahern

The Ahern Garden - Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
For those of us who live in lower elevations it seems phenomenal that Tom Ahern can achieve such astounding success near the very top of the north slope of Bethlehem's mountain ridge where winter temperatures may fall to –10°F and accompanying winds can be severe. The range of form and color in the Ahern garden is truly enviable, and much of what you see is from his ingenious hybridizing efforts.
        When Tom and Barbara Ahern purchased their 1.4-acre property in 1984, they found that even with the removal of small trees and undergrowth it was too shady for the cultivation of roses which had been their former interest. They set about clearing the overgrown vine/brush areas and replacing the forest underlayer with deciduous azaleas. Tom was invited to join the newly formed ARS Lehigh Valley Chapter, of which he subsequently became president, and thanks to generous members and newly found plant sources, he started putting in rhododendrons by the dozens. He began hybridizing in 1989 with plants from his own yard and subsequently collected pollen on a trip to Washington State. His pollen sources are not limited to the West Coast, but come from whatever donors may carry the flower color and leaf-form that he strives for.

The Ahern Garden, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
The Ahern Garden, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Photo by Tom Ahern

        Like a number of other hybridizers on the East Coast, Tom is concentrating on hardy yellows and oranges, where great strides have been made in the past few years. In achieving striking underleaf color, he has introduced 'Rosevallon' to hardier parents, and he has lately been working on creating hardy plants that resemble tender species unable to survive in sections of the East Coast. Tom has always been generous in sharing his seeds and seedlings on the road to perfection, and some of his newly registered plants will be available at the convention plant sale. The Ahern garden has several distinct areas; it is well maintained, densely planted and features a small greenhouse and nursery garden displaying a number of his most recent hybrids.

The Zurich Garden - Toms River, New Jersey
Have you ever walked on paths of moss, edged in stone and banked on each side with exquisite rhododendrons? Most likely not. A visit to the Bill Zurich's garden during mid-May is a sensuous experience, where one can stroll along soft, mossy paths, enjoy the vibrant colors of the flowers, scent the Rhododendron fortunei fragrance enveloping the beds, and listen to the voices of migrating neo-tropical birds. The moss paths are an unforgettable feature of this exceptionally fine garden that has been developing and expanding over the past seventeen years. When Bill became serious about growing rhododendrons in 1985, he removed all maples from the 4-acre property, leaving oak, black gum and a smattering of pines for the necessary shade. The portion of the grounds near the house is composed of a manicured lawn with an ornamental garden, a small koi pond, and garden beds of lepidotes and other shrubs.
        The woodland garden consists of verdant paths meandering under a high canopy of oaks whose shade protects numerous varieties of ornamental trees and shrubs, including magnolia, styrax, sciadopitys, and a collection of Japanese maples. The main emphasis, however, is on the rhododendrons that line every path in the garden, presenting a profusion of color, texture and form at bloom time in May. There are lepidotes, elepidotes from Dexter, Gable and other hybridizers, and a selection of deciduous azaleas. Plants such as 'Dexter's Spice', 'Dexter's Harlequin', 'Dexter's Champagne', 'Don Kellam', 'Dexter's Peppermint', 'Amazement', 'Mountain Marriage', 'Gable's Ivory'*, 'David Gable', 'Dorothy Russell', 'Consolini's Windmill', 'Hello Dolly', 'Accomplishment', 'Henry's Red', and 'Phipps Yellow' are just a few of the elepidotes to see. Many of the plants were started as cuttings by the owner who is a member of the ARS Princeton Chapter, and they represent a broad spectrum of East Coast hybridizers and a few from the West Coast. The Dexters have pride of place in a garden of their own, behind the house. As an additional attraction, there is a glass house with several hundred orchids; these unfortunately will not be at peak bloom at convention time, but with good spring weather, you will want to spend as much time as possible outdoors.

The Zurich Garden, Toms River, New Jersey.
The Zurich Garden, Toms River, New Jersey.
Photo by Joan & Reid Warren

        The Huber, Ahern, and Zurich gardens featured in this article help celebrate the legacy of Dexter, Gable, Nearing, and other great, eastern hybridizers of the past through representational displays. You will see as well the efforts that are being made to introduce new and different varieties. We hope that what you experience will strengthen your respect for the accomplishments of our forebears and instill the desire to look to the future. For further photographs and descriptions of these gardens and the others on tour, and to learn more about what's in store for next May, visit our convention website at www.2004arsconvention.org.

* Name is not registered.

Howard Roberts, a member of the 2004 Convention Committee, is the past president of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter.


Volume 57, Number 4
Fall 2003

DLA Ejournal Home | JARS Home | Table of Contents for this issue | Search JARS and other ejournals