The Rhododendron Park of Eugene
R. M. Overstreet, M.D.
Members of the Men's Camellia and Rhododendron Society realized that the splendor, beauty and elegance of their favorite flowering shrub was not sufficiently known. Small modern home sites did not afford enough space for even the small time collector. Greater area Was needed to enjoy the beauty of more plants to give the rest of the community a chance to know rhododendrons better. The area of Hendricks Park, then used as a deer enclosure, was coveted, so a joint venture was proposed.
The Eugene City Council was sounded out. They agreed that this was a worthwhile undertaking and that a letter embodying the wishes of the group be drafted. Such a letter was drawn up and submitted the Council on November 27, 1950. This met with approval of the Council and a portion of the park was set aside. Since this had been enclosed as a deer pen for several years, there was little brush to be removed and the terrain was well suited for use as a garden.
A formal contract was not thought necessary, so the area remains set aside by a gentlemen's agreement between the parties involved. This arrangement was found entirely satisfactory and has remained so through the ensuing years. The area is on a height on the eastern edge of the city overlooking a residential section. The University of Oregon campus with downtown Eugene extends to the west and the Willamette River and valley extend to the horizon on the north. The southern boundary is the right-of-way of Summit Drive, an unimproved, but oiled city street. This street follows the bottom of a shallow ravine, affording a slope facing to the west and south, well protected with large, old Douglas fir and oak cover. The west exposure falls off steeply to a new residential area and is lightly covered with oak trees. To the north, the hillside falls off to a residential area in the process of development. This is covered with Douglas fir which has required some thinning. The east boundary, the entrance to the park, is well shaded by conifers and old, white oak trees. The entire knoll is the site of an early volcanic intrusion covered by weathered sandstone, shale, and topsoil, the result of generations of weathering and mulching by natural woodland processes.
The Eugene Park and Recreation Department under the direction of Mr. W. Riley (Tex) Matsler, a landscape architect of considerable experience, and Paul Beistel in direct supervision, and also experienced in landscaping, made it possible to proceed. Planning was started at once. An adequate supply of water was brought in by underground pipes large enough to supply water to all plantings by means of overhead irrigation. Paths were laid out and graveled. Beds were planned early, subject to several minor, but few major relocations.
Plants were given freely by the members of the society, well grown specimen plants and un-flowered seedlings. Plant sales were held by the club, the proceeds being used to purchase more plants. More than a few substantial gifts of money for the purchase of plants were donated. The over-all plan was established early. This was followed by foundation plantings.
The entrance walkway, when followed counterclockwise, leads to a large group of camellias and older hybrid rhododendrons with a spectacular display of evergreen azaleas in the center facing a large lawn area. Native columnar basalt rocks have been used to lend accent and afford seating. The walk continues to the right through older hybrids on to a planting of large species rhododendrons occupying a shaded area on the north slope. There are numerous groupings of small, low growing varieties scattered throughout. The walk is bordered by ground cover of Pachysandra , Gaultherias , Vaccinium , Ivies, and other small well suited materials. At the west end of the park are many nursery rows shaded by oaks, firs and spectacular smaller growing maples. As the walk turns to the south, there is a planting of representatives of the Neriiflorum series. including several of the introductions from the Rock expeditions. The west slope is the site of a large mass display of alpine rhododendrons and heather on a sunny hillside, while under the trees are many specimens of the triflorum series, together with several good sized hybrids. Toward the open center of the park from this corner is a dazzling display of Exbury azaleas and related hybrids framed by a protecting wall of columnar yew trees and set off by low growing alpine rhododendrons, heathers and lithospermum in the foreground.
Continuing east, we come to the Gick Memorial. This is a large planting of rhododendrons partially enclosed by a semicircular cedar stake windbreak. In the center is a fountain representing an open flower, a magnificent piece of sculpture. A bench is placed against the southeast wall, permitting one to overlook much of the park from an effective vantage point. (Fig. 22)
Fig. 22. The Dr. Royal Gick memorial planting in Henricks Park.
In a small valley behind the Gick Memorial is the Barto planting. This consists of many plants coming from the original nursery or from clonal divisions from the early collections of James A. Barto. There are exotic, large leaf, small tree rhododendrons, unnamed hybrids, identified species and a few as yet unidentified species scattered through the trees and on the gentle hillside.
Between the Gick Memorial and the main gate are extensive and lush growing nursery rows. These consist of rooted and grafted cuttings of presently owned plants, seedlings from species and many seedlings the result of crosses made by members of the society and given to the park.
The Gick Memorial was made possible by Mrs. Virginia Gick in memory of her late husband, Dr. Royal Gick. Dr. Gick devoted much of his time to the introduction and propagation of new plants. Beginning early when few were initiated, he imported and gave generously new and unusual camellias. This interest soon encompassed the family of rhododendrons. He purchased many hybrids and soon began making his own crosses. However, his collections included importations from all parts of the world where hybridizing was going on. His skill in bringing plants back to life after the searing and purifying process of plant inspection and fumigation was phenomenal.
Barto's knowledge of the genus Rhododendron preceded that of most of the present group of enthusiasts. He was truly a pioneer, raising many thousands of plants from seeds sent by plant explorers in Asia, as well as from gardeners of England, Scotland and the United States. This was carried on under primitive conditions on his farm near Junction City. A devastating fire destroyed many of his treasures in 1940. This was followed by his death soon afterwards. Many of his remaining plants have been scattered up and down the coast. Efforts to get together a representative collection is rapidly bearing fruit. Mrs. Barto and her children have made it possible to obtain some of these and others are constantly coming to the attention of interested members since the beginning of the planting in 1958.
The Men's Camellia and Rhododendron Society achieved maturity gradually. In 1951, affiliation was made with the American Rhododendron Society. The members realized the futility of bachelorhood by welcoming all comers of both sexes in 1955 and have profited much from this infusion of new blood. In the same year, it became the Eugene Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society.
Original crosses by members of the local society are rapidly becoming large plants. Among the hybrids of local origin of blooming size are those resulting from crosses made by Mr. and Mrs. D. W. James and Mr. and Mrs. M. W. Lyons. Many others have contributed original material, so that in ten short years, much has been done to build up a fine rhododendron garden. The devotion and untiring care of Ernest Allen is bringing into blooming many new plants each year.
The Eugene Rhododendron Garden is located in Hendricks Park on Victoria Heights in the southeast part of Eugene. It may be reached by way of Fairmount Boulevard to Summit Drive or Birch Lane. It is open throughout the year from 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. during the week and from 1:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. on Sundays.