QBARS - v15n3 The Rhododendron Conference: Retrospect

The Rhododendron Conference: Retrospect
J. Harold Clarke, President A.R.S.

As this is being written the first International Rhododendron Conference is behind us-almost two months. Isn't is strange how one can spend months, or even years, preparing for such a meeting, looking forward to it as a big event, three whole days plus special events both before and after. And now, looking back, those three days zipped by at unheard of speed. We didn't even get to meet many of the visitors. Plans had been made to introduce important visitors, and ask for a few remarks, as a little extra icing on the cake. But, thanks to the program committee, and to the fact that all our speakers appeared, things moved along at just the right speed to use up all the time so the little extemporaneous talks we had looked forward to couldn't be worked in. There was enough rhododendron talent, ability, and know-how present for twice the time allotted.

The talks presented at the Conference will be in the Proceedings which will appear some time this fall. Some speakers are still polishing up their manuscripts. Unfortunately it will not be possible to show the hundreds of colored slides with which most of the talks were illustrated. They were an extremely important part of the Conference, a part which only those in attendance could enjoy.

A number of our distinguished guests, and particularly those from abroad, attended the big show in Oakland and were shown some of the high spots of California horticulture by members of the California Chapter. A meeting was held at San Francisco on May 6, at which several of the visitors gave talks for the benefit of rhododendron lovers of that area. This group came on to Eugene to see the show of that Chapter on May 7, and to visit some of the outstanding gardens during the next two days. The writer was unable to attend these pre-Conference tours, but from the reports they were most enjoyable. The Chapter members who helped entertain our distinguished visitors have our thanks, but I'm sure they felt well repaid by the opportunity they had to become acquainted, to ask questions, and to learn more about their favorite plants. From what I hear certain species questions were settled, but other plants stumped the experts, and will provide subject matter for many a learned discussion in the future.

The registration for the Conference was a little under 300, but that was family registration, so that the number in actual attendance at the various sessions appeared to be somewhere between 500 and 600, possibly more if one counts the visitors at the first session, which was open to the public, as a courtesy to the host city. All sessions were well attended and interest never seemed to lag.

Gov. Mark Hatfield gave a fine "Welcome to Oregon" address in which he indicated real interest in, and considerable knowledge of, Rhododendrons. He and Mrs. Hatfield stayed to hear Dr. Fletcher, and Mrs. Hatfield, sitting next to the speaker, helped operate the projector, pushing the button to advance a new slide when Dr. Fletcher tapped her on the shoulder. This projector was the very latest, requiring only a Governor's wife as one of the accessories.

The Portland Chapter gave a reception the night before the Conference opened which provided an opportunity for everyone to get acquainted. Special entertainment for speakers and other distinguished guests was generously provided by Mrs. A. C. U. Berry, garden party and buffet dinner, Mr. James McDonald, luncheon, and the Portland Garden Club, a luncheon. A number of outstanding gardens were opened to Conference visitors on Sunday, with tea provided at the Thomas Kerr home.

A very important part of the Annual Meeting, which took place the last night of the Conference, was the awarding of two gold medals. These went to Mr. George Grace of Portland, first Secretary of the American Rhododendron Society, and one of its most devoted members, and to Mr. Del James, a pioneer Rhododendron collector and breeder of Eugene, Ore. The citations read at the presentation of the medals appear elsewhere in this Bulletin. Ordinarily not more than one A.R.S. medal is presented in any one year, but the fact that none was awarded in 1960, cleared the way for this double presentation.

Gavels made from the wood of the famous 'Red Maximum' rhododendron were presented by Mr. H. R. Yates, Frostburg, Maryland, (Middle Atlantic Chapter) to the Pres. of the American Rhododendron Society, and to the Royal Horticultural Society through the courtesy of Sir Giles Loder. These gavels were autographed, bearing the names of several outstanding eastern rhododendron specialists. The presentation to the President of the A.R.S. was somewhat providential as he had forgotten to bring with him the gavel, made from an R. maximum growing at Valley Forge, and presented to him by Mr. Chas. Herbert of the Philadelphia Chapter.

At the last session Mr. Clive Justice, President of the Chapter of Vancouver, B.C., presented to the A.R.S. a large map of the world, beautifully drawn and colored, and lettered to indicate the original habitat of a large number of the more important rhododendron species.

One of the things which drew many of the visitors from a distance was the National Test Garden. The Test Garden committee, which has labored many years to develop the "Rhododendron Island" worked extra long and hard this spring to have the extensive collections in tiptop shape. Apparently none of the visitors were disappointed as many were heard to say that seeing the Island was ample reward for making the trip.

The Portland Chapter Show, held on Saturday and Sunday, was a fitting climax to the Conference. There was considerable interest in the collection of species plants being grown in the Portland area, staged as a non-competitive exhibit. Further details as to Portland Show entries and winners will, I hope, appear in the Bulletin.

Just before the Conference began there was a brief dedication ceremony at the Test Garden. A plaque was installed, near the entrance, in memory of the wife of Mr. A. S. Martin, a member of the Philadelphia Chapter. Mr. Martin provided funds for the development of an entrance garden, which will be planted largely to the big-leafed species.

After the Conference proper had ended a number of the visitors went on to see the Tacoma and Seattle Shows, bringing to an end a notable three day meeting for some, two or three weeks of rhododendron tours and garden visits for others, and an even longer period for some of the visitors from foreign lands.

All in all I would call the International Conference a very real success, with everyone apparently enjoying themselves and learning something new about their favorite plant. And this success is due to the unstinting efforts of everyone concerned, speakers, committee members, and many just friends of the Society who were willing to help. If I started mentioning names it would take another page or two, and some would be sure to be overlooked. So, on behalf of the American Rhododendron Society, I would like to thank, most sincerely, the many individuals and groups who were directly responsible for a very pleasant event.


From an early date Del James has continuously gathered rhododendron knowledge from a wide range of sources, both in this country and abroad. This information he has passed on to the members of his chapter, thereby greatly contributing to its interest, enthusiasm and growth.

He has imported many choice rhododendron species and hybrids in the form of plant material and pollen. These things and the products there-from not previously available here, he has shared generously. He was one of the charter members who founded the A.R.S. and was one of the first in his area to suggest organization and affiliation of the Eugene chapter of the National Society.

On his visit to the British Isles he made direct contact with many of the foremost people in the rhododendron world, gaining much valuable information especially in the field of breeding. As a result he has many fine hybrids in addition to those which have been exhibited, and for which he has received awards.

He has been an important influence in the development and continual improvement of the Eugene Rhododendron Exhibition gardens at Hendricks Park, a great source of pride and enjoyment to the people of Eugene.

With all, he has been a kind and gentle person, willing at all times to help, encourage and instruct younger members, thereby contributing to the strength and activity of the American Rhododendron Society in his area.

We are pleased to grant the A.R.S. Gold Medal to Del James.


Pioneering is always difficult, and the beginning years of the Society were strictly pioneering. Tonight we honor a person who perhaps had more to do with the starting of the American Rhododendron Society than any other single person. The Society takes great pleasure in granting its highest honor, "The Gold Medal" to its first Secretary. For the countless hours of tedious work in organization, and correspondence, and for the actual expenditure of many dollars of his own money in those early years we hereby, as a small measure of thanks, grant to George Grace the Gold Medal.