Scottish Rhododendron Society Jubilee Conference
May 7th to 11th, 2008, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh
Vancouver, British Columbia
The casually written program for the speakers and lectures at the Scottish Rhododendron Society's (SRS) Silver Jubilee Conference belied the importance and serious nature of subsequent professional presentations held in the Royal Botanical Garden's herbarium lecture hall - more on this later.
Edinburgh and Vancouver share much the same climate and our seasons even coincide. They too had a long cool and cloudy wet spring, so the March and April blooming Star and Soulange magnolias, tulips and daffodils were still in bloom.
We left Vancouver on Tuesday May 5th with the March-April blooming 'Kwanzan' cherries just coming into full bloom and flew overnight to London's Heathrow. On the taxi drive to our Edinburgh hotel the street side rows of 'Kwanzan' cherries were also in full bloom.
After registering at the Herbarium Foyer and getting our Conference package we attended the cocktail (wine) hour or so hosted by the RBGE in their newly renovated Victorian Palm House. Although it's not as spectacular or as big as the one at Kew, its cast iron structure is a fine example of Victorian garden architecture. There among the palms we were able to mingle with Conference delegates from ARS chapters in Pacific Northwest Districts and regional chapters of the Rhododendron Society of Canada in eastern North America. ARS chapters in Denmark, Holland, Sweden and the non aligned German Rhododendron group had delegates along with those from the antipodes: rhodo societies in New Zealand and Australia. I had previously registered for the conference as a member of the J.D. Hooker (Sikkim) Chapter, so with the SRS Conference hosts headed by John Hammond's committee all five of the At Large ARS chapters were represented. There was even a delegate from Finland. He was one of the invited speakers.
I had signed us up for two garden tours: Gardens of the Scottish Borders and the Gardens of Perthshire. The Borders tour included Dawyck Botanic Gardens and Arboretum that now does the research, educational and conservation work of the RBGE. The Perthshire tour went north of Glasgow to the Cox's garden and nursery and other gardens. I'd been there on the Oban Conference tours in '94 so I let my son Douglas take that one. Dawyck has many of the conifers of the PNW introduced by David Douglas as well as rhodos collected by Earnest Wilson and by the Balfour family. (I learned they were no relation to the Henry Bailey Balfour who created the Balfour Rhododendron Series Classification system). The other gardens we visited are tucked into the rolling rounded grassed and forested Pennine hills in the two border counties of Mid Lothian and West Lothian. The gardens were tucked into the vales between the hills incorporating the burns with their created and natural rills, falls, ponds and bridges as garden features. Some of the gardens are part of working farms: pastoral, rustic, natural and Idyllic. Dawyck had an Arcadian flavour, no nude statues though.
The lectures and talks were professionally presented using power point and other computer technology. Three presentations that caught my interest were Finland's Dr. Peter Tigerstead's work (grandson of Arboretum Mustila's founder) in getting Finland-hardy rhododendron hybrids by raising and growing-on in very large batches (a thousand or more) of his rhodo crosses and then planting them out in the woodland parks of Helsinki. They provide enjoyment for Helsinkians while being survival tested over several decades of winters. Survivors of this on going program are propagated for Helsinkian's gardens, Helsinki's public parks and for export to Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Sweden.
Of most interest to me was the presentation of a Ph.D. dissertation by a young candidate at the University of Edinburgh. His thesis was that rhododendrons originated in the Western Hemisphere North America and have moved back and forth across the North Pole at least three times through succeeding ice ages and continental drifts and shifts over several million years. The present disjunct world Northern Hemisphere distribution of the genus are the sequestered remains from that long process. His proof is that rhododendrons in the Caucasus Mountains were part of those in Japan/Korea/Siberia while at sometime past they separated from the pack and holed up in the Caucasus. The proof is that both the Caucasus rhododendron species and those in Asia's North Pacific share the same DNA and are unrelated to those in Nepal, Bhutan and western China. It was fascinating and provoked some great discussions and skepticisms from such as ARS Gold Medalist David Chamberlain, now retired, and others in attendance.
The final presentation was by the Conference Chairman John Hammond, luckily not a summing up, but a process he developed to reproduce large rooted plants from old rhodos that are in poor shape in old gardens and can't be moved in order to duplicate one-of-a-kind rhodos for garden restorations. John showed slides of 3-4 inch diameter limb from an old rhodo that he had wrapped in black plastic with peat moss filling around the limb up to the size of a large bologna sausage. The bark on the limb's upper surface had a large cut to expose the cambium and had been made with a permanent drip water supply fed into the sausage. The next slide taken some time later showed the black plastic removed and a mass of roots. The limb could then be severed from its parent and planted out into the soil. The audience response to the unveiling of the sausage of root mass was great. What a closer as they used to say of vaudeville shows. I and some others who had gardened in the tropics whispered quietly, "Marcotting" so as not to take away from John's presentation. It was named for the Frenchman who invented it and used to propagate tropical fruit bearing and hard-to-root trees and shrubs in the tropics, particularly where you have a garden boy on hand who can water daily the bundle of sticky soil wrapped in coir ( palm fibre). Sometimes called "goatee-layering," it is now little used.
John, and his committee are to be congratulated for a fine conference, equal in most respects to the one in Oban on the Glasgow side. The Banquet in the Kings Hall of the George Hotel, one of Edinburgh's finest, was a full dress affair. Many of the older ladies wore Flora McDonald long tartan gowns and shawls while the old sods like me wore Tartan kilts and Prince Charles jackets. I eagerly await the full Conference proceedings, which Mrs. John Hammond tells me will be out sometime in late 2009.