Fall Activity in the Society Test Garden
By Ruth H. Hansen
During the hot, dry summer and fall months the usual amount of maintenance was carried on in the Test Garden, mowing, weeding and watering. Due to the long drought, watering became a most urgent necessity and kept the garden maintenance man more than busy.
Many rhododendrons have bloomed off and on all summer and continued through the autumn. The month of September produced a number of off season blooms, mainly R. ponticum , R. 'Mohamet', R. 'May Day', R. 'Max Sye', R. 'Gill's Triumph' and R. 'Elizabeth'. Our plant of Gordonia alatamaha , Franklinia isn't much over six feet tall but it's white single flowers with golden stamens were a delight to all visitors. It began blooming late in August and continued till after the middle of October when its brilliant fall-colored foliage became more fascinating than the flowers. As this small tree thrives amid the rhododendrons it gives one a sense of pleasure and deep satisfaction knowing that it grows so amiably with them and produces such lovely bloom and autumn color at a time when the rhododendrons are a lush green.
Work started earlier than usual in the Test Garden this Fall. There were a number of rhododendrons donated by Mrs. C. I. Sersanous in memory of her late husband and our President for so many years, which our volunteer workers had to dig and then bring to the Island for planting. After this, all activity was centered around the further construction of the rock garden. Thirty more yards of lava rock have been delivered, most of which are covered with beautiful mosses and lichens directly off the slopes of Mt. Adams from the Trout Lake area, about 60 miles from Portland. Once these were placed they appear as though they had actually grown there, so expert has been their placing. We are extremely fortunate in having one of our own members undertake the difficult task of creating this rock section. If one could watch the placing of some of the large sized rocks there would be a deeper appreciation of the hard work that has gone into the construction of the Rockery.
Native Douglas Fir, Pseudo-tsuga taxifolia , old and venerable form the background for the rockery. Many of the old-gnarled roots are exposed to the surface making it impossible to plant small rhododendrons between them, therefore we have used either a groundcover or make a massed planting of bulbs between the roots. In all instances we have retained the few native shrubs which already existed on the slope and now have two fine groupings of the slender-stemmed Wood Rose, Rosa gymnocarpa , whose small fragrant foliage and delicate pink flowers bring back pleasant memories to all who see them. Vaccinium parvifolia, Red Huckleberry is another native shrub we greatly prize as it blends so well with the dwarf rhododendrons. The native Dogwood, Cornus nuttallii has also been saved and soon to be planted with it is the weeping form, Cornus Florida pendula .
Last February we began this new rockery which will ultimately be about 200 feet long and from 12 to 15 feet on a vertical slope. It has an almost figure S-shape with two exposures, north and east. The old rockery onto which this new section is attached has a western exposure, so it will be possible for us to give the dwarf hybrids and species rhododendrons almost any situation they may prefer. From February until May about half the new construction was in and planted, now this fall and winter we have concentrated on the completion of the other half. To date it is about half finished but now that Christmas is here no more work will be done till after the first of the New Year. A few rhododendrons have been planted in this new section but the remainder will have to wait till the construction job is completed.
Early in October we received a gift of almost 300 miniature bulbs representing 17 varieties of miniature Daffodils, both hybrids and species, 3 varieties of species Crocus, 3 varieties of species Tulips, Muscari tubergenianum , Chionodoxa luciliae and a group of Anemone blanda . Mr. Alan Davis, a bulb specialist not only donated this wonderful collection but came out to the Test Garden and helped plant them. All were planted in the section of the rockery which was completed last Spring and all have an eastern exposure. Needless to say members are looking forward with great anticipation to next March and April when these precious little gems will make a fairy land of the rockery. We nestled each variety among the rocks, the very low-growing ones in front close to the path, the taller-growing ones further up the slope.
Today, the 6th of December the Society received another very wonderful gift of 500 daffodils, 'February Gold' and 500 Narcissus bulbocodium , 'Hoop Petticoat' Daffodils from Mr. Jan de Graff, the noted bulb and lily hybridizer. The 'February Gold' were planted in bays along the main paths of the hybrid rhododendron beds and at the approach to the Test Garden on both sides of the bridge. In the spring, this will make a glorious sight as one approaches the Island. About half the Hoop Petticoat daffodils were planted, the rest will be as soon as the rockery is finished. Again, we could not have gotten along without the help of Mr. Alan Davis and Mr. Al Brinkhoff, both non-members of the Society who planted until the last bulb was tucked away for its winter's sleep.
Primarily, the rockery is for the growing of dwarf rhododendrons of which the Society now has one of the finest collections, but with the addition of these dwarf bulbs we are extremely proud of having two fine collections within the one setting, each complimenting the other.
Early in 1952 the garden was given an assortment of eleven Japanese Maples. At that time, they were planted in groups of three in various parts of the Test Garden. Now, some will have to be moved into the rockery where their beauty will be set off to greater advantage.
Later on, possibly during January or early February, when the weather becomes too damp outside we plan the regrouping of the planting within the Coolhouse, making it more attractive to the visitor. When the Coolhouse was completed over two feet of rotted sawdust was spread over the entire inside area, now after three and a half years the sawdust has almost disappeared. The tender varieties now grown in tubs can then successfully be planted in the ground.
There has been a great deal of work accomplished in the Test Garden. The adjoining Peninsula, which we have more or less neglected this past year seems very slow to the three or four workers who show up each Saturday morning to do their bit towards the development of this Garden. However, in looking back over the years, one should remember that this Test Garden is only eight years old. We have made tremendous progress and have a right to be justly proud. As long as we have the will and determination along with the memory of Mr. C. I. Sersanous who made this Test Garden dream come true for the American Rhododendron Society, our incentive for continued development will succeed.