In Memoriam: Howard Oliver
On Monday, August 28, 2006, Howard Oliver, a long time member of the American Rhododendron Society, passed away at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto, his wife, Betty, at his side. He'd been there almost two weeks. A memorial will be planned for the spring.
At our rhododendron shows, Howard would show up with many trusses, perhaps even bringing somewhere between a quarter to half of the trusses of the Rhododendron Show. Many times Howard Oliver would win the Sweepstakes Award. Howard Oliver was one of the original members of the De Anza Chapter, and before that a member of the San Mateo Chapter, where I first met him at one of the San Mateo Chapter meetings.
Howard Oliver has grown rhododendrons for over forty years on a half-acre lot in Menlo Park. Howard had 300 rhododendrons, 300 evergreen and deciduous azaleas, 300 camellias, and at least twenty-five magnolias. Some of the magnolias are growing in a neighbor's yard. Each plant is a separate type. Because of this, Howard Oliver has something in his garden in bloom almost year around. At most meetings of the De Anza Chapter, Howard would show up with at least ten trusses in bloom.
The soil of Menlo Park is adobe. Because of this, Howard grew his plants in raised beds, using a planting mix that he developed, which is forty percent fir bark, forty percent lava rock, and twenty percent Osomocote. To get healthier plants, Howard used his knowledge as a former geologist at the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey and his knowledge of rhododendrons to come up with two fertilizers, an 18-6-12 that is used during the growing season and a 2-10-10 that promotes bloom.
Howard was a geologist for the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, from which he retired from in 1997; and was a past president of the Peninsula Geological Society. Howard turned the grounds of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey facility in Menlo Park into a rhododendron garden.
Howard Oliver is responsible for several hybrids including red flowering 'Bill Oliver' and 'Lauren Oliver', and the deciduous azalea hybrid 'Mrs Betty Oliver' which is a hybrid of R. occidentale or 'Irene Koster' that has pink flowers with deeper pink veins, and an orange flare. There is a plant of 'Mrs Betty Oliver' at the Menlo Park Civic Center, in the garden area adjoining the Public Library.
Howard Oliver and members of the Camellia Society, of which Howard was a long time member, helped in the plantings of rhododendrons and camellias at Conner Park in Los Altos. In 1992 Howard Oliver was responsible for a garden at Red Morton Park in Redwood City, where are located several plants of R. occidentale that were discovered by Britt Smith and Frank Mossman, and Mike McCullough.
In 1991 Howard Oliver went on one of Britt Smith and Frank Mossman's R. occidentale expeditions to Stage Coach Hill, and other places in Northern California and Southern Oregon, and discovered R. occidentale A/0 1.