QBARS - v15n3 Some Reminiscences of the First Secretary of the American Rhododendron Society

Some Reminiscences of the First Secretary of the American Rhododendron Society
George D. Grace, Portland, Oregon


In the April issue of the American Rhododendron Society Quarterly Bulletin, the minutes of the first meeting were published along with overall pictures of rhododendron culture in the Pacific Northwest during the past twenty years. Also an outline of the need for a Rhododendron Society was also outlined; where it was organized and some of the details, and some of the principals who look an active part in its formation.

It has been more than seventeen years since the first meeting. Sufficient time has elapsed to evaluate how we have progressed and how well we have built. I should like to continue on with some more observations, both from memory, notes and press clippings which I trust will be interesting material and reading.

On January 9th, 1945, the corporation papers were signed by John Henny, president, P. H. Brydon, Vice President, E. R. Peterson, Treasurer, and George D. Grace, Secretary.

These papers were prepared by Mr. Robert A. Leedy, attorney, for the Oregon Journal, who paid for the preparation of the papers and all expenses for the incorporation. The Society owes a debt of gratitude to the Oregon Journal for the publicity and many helpful deeds performed for the new society. Many of these I shall refer to in subsequent paragraphs.

I became acquainted with Mr. Dean Collins, Editor of the Garden Section of the Oregon Journal, several years before, when I did a series of articles promoting a large floral park in the west hills, two miles from the downtown center of Portland. This proposed garden was to feature rhododendrons, including azaleas, magnolias, and camellias.

Mr. Collins, a veritable dynamo in garden activities in the Portland area, became very interested in the idea, and featured it on the front page of the garden section. This friendship continued during the formative years of the American Rhododendron Society.

The First Fall Meeting

Minutes and notes on meeting of the Rhododendron Society, October 5, 1944, at the Auditorium of the Public Service Bldg., Portland. Oregon.

Rhododendron Society Incorporates as National

Decision to incorporate, and gifts of rare plants as the foundation for an exhibition garden were highlights of the first fall meeting of the American Rhododendron society in the Public Service Building auditorium, October 5, 1944.

Talks were made by Mr. Brydon and Avery Steinmetz, prominent Portland nurseryman and former president of the American Association of Nurserymen. J. G. Bacher, eminent Portland horticulturist, showed colored pictures of Oregon developed hybrids and of plantings of many of the better known varieties of rhododendrons in Oregon gardens.

Endre Ostbo of Seattle, a specialist in the growing of imported English rhododendrons, sent several fine plants to the meeting which were auctioned for the benefit of the Society. E. R. Peterson, Portland, the society's treasurer, added another for the same purpose.

Close to a hundred people were in attendance, many from out of Portland and a number from the state of Washington.

Decision to incorporate the American Rhododendron Society, as co-operative non-profit concern under the laws of Oregon, is one more step toward making the Pacific Northwest and Portland the rhododendron capital of the North American continent.

Sponsor Test Garden

Incorporating also makes possible the sponsoring of a permanent year-round rhododendron exhibition garden in Portland, which will become internationally famous both for its beauty and for the great variety of rhododendrons planted in it.

The foundation of this exhibition collection was announced at the Thursday evening meeting when The Oregon Journal and P. L. Jackson, its publisher, presented the American Rhododendron society with one of the rarest rhododendrons in the United States, and probably the finest plant of its kind to be publicly shown in America. It is a Rhododendron bureavii of the taliense series and is native to the high mountains of southwestern China. The gift was obtained from Mrs. Vernon R. Churchill, of Eastmoreland. who purchased it at auction when the plant was presented in July to the Rhododendron Society by its grower, J. G. Bacher, to be sold for the benefit of the Society's treasury. Mrs. Churchill felt that more people could enjoy the unusual beauty of the R. bureavii if it were in a public collection rather than in a private garden, and so made it available to the Journal.

It was raised by Mr. Bacher from seed brought to America in 1932 by J. F. Rock with seeds sent out by the University of California. The growing of these seeds was entrusted to Mr. Bacher. The English rhododendron society recently gave the R. bureavii a highest award.

No R. bureavii has as yet bloomed in America. The plant is distinguished for the beauty and elegance of its foliage. The leaf has a bronze-red underside and a medium green top, while the stems look like they were wrapped in chamois skin.

Announcement of the Journal's gift immediately brought forth the presentation of another rare variety of rhododendron, an R. falconeri .

This was made by S. L. Burnaugh. By unanimous vote of the members present, the secretary was instructed to write letters of appreciation to P. L. Jackson and Mr. Burnaugh.

Lively Bidding

In the lively bidding for the plants presented by Endre Ostbo, a 'G. W. Leak' went to Theo. Van Veen of Portland a R. 'Loderi King George' to W. L. Jaquath of Newberg, and a R. Fabia' to Glen Savage of Portland. The R. 'Britannia' presented by E. R. Petersen, went to Pem Gaul of Portland. In behalf of Ostbo, a R. 'Sir Charles Lemon' plant was presented to Mrs. Vernon R. Churchill in appreciation of her spirited bidding for the R. bureavii offered at the July meeting.

That too many people in western Oregon take its favorable fall planting season for granted and fail to make the best of it was the contention of Mr. Steinmetz in his talk on the advantage of planting rhododendrons in the fall. He pointed out that by October 1 plants are mature and buds have set. The soil then is still mellow and warm and in condition to incorporate the leaf mold or peat moss so necessary to successful rhododendron culture. The warm soil also will stimulate a root growth which will carry the plants through the cold weather.

The speaker emphasized that there is not the competition of other garden work in the fall and that the selection of varieties is better. He felt that the lack of appreciation of the advantages of fall planting was due largely to habit, to procrastination and to lack of promotion of the idea by growers and nurserymen. He emphasized how much more pleasant it was to work with rhododendrons in the fall weather than in the cold and mud of early spring.

If one goes to the Multnomah County Court House and takes a look at the map of the West side hills along Terwilliger Blvd., one will find a large acreage marked Rhododendron Park. While the Rhododendron Park was never developed due to lack of finances, enough effort was expended to warrant a description and some details for the record.

While the interest in a floral Park was growing, and plants were being collected and stored at various gardens, your secretary - was busy surveying a site of thirty acres within two miles of downtown Portland, with magnificent views of Mt. Hood and the Willamette River. and covered with maples, firs, alders, cedars and various other natural shrubbery.

The plan for its purchase was presented to Mr. Vernon Churchill, assistant to the Publisher, the late Mr. Philip Jackson, and the late Mrs. C. S. Jackson, of the Oregon Journal. The result was the purchase of this property by the Jacksons for the American Rhododendron Society to have it for perpetual use with the stipulation that in the event that it was not used by the Society, it would revert to the University of Oregon Medical School.

Much work was done on the grounds, such as clearing and making trails. Lack of finances prevented the completion of the thirty acre site. The present site of the American Rhododendron Society Test Gardens at Crystal Springs has replaced the larger project on the West Hills. The late C. I. Sersanous. president, negotiated an agreement with the City of Portland for the present site, although on a much smaller scale. With the help of President Sersanous, the City Park department, and others, the Society - was able to develop this. This is another story which Mrs. C. T. Hansen, also our present secretary, and others have so ably written about.

The Society's Publications

Certainly the life blood of any organization is its publications. As stated in the preceding article, it is one thing to get membership for five dollars a year; it is another thing to give them their dollar's worth. To those who live at a distance the one way to keep their interest was through publications. From 1945 through 1949, a yearbook was published and mailed free to members. After the 1949 yearbook, the quarterly bulletins of the Society had taken its place, under the very fine editorship of Mr. Rudolph Henny.

The publication of the first yearbook in 1945 was quite an undertaking as the society was without funds and no previous experience in publications. We were under a war economy; help was scarce in all lines of endeavor, even paper was scarce. There was no other way but to go to work and make the best of it. A great deal can be accomplished by friends and good credit.

Again, Mr. Dean Collins of the Oregon Journal, came to our aid and offered to edit the books for the years 1945 and 1946. Mr. Collins' help was greatly appreciated.

Mr. Peter Binford, of the firm of Binford and Mort, Publishers, agreed to publish the books with provisions to pay for them as we could. The first editions were of fifteen hundred copies, quite a sizable chore for the new society.

Mr. Endre Ostbo, of Bellevue, Washington, furnished the cost of the first colored plate of his new hybrid, R. 'Mrs. Donald Graham.' The other cuts were furnished gratis by the Oregon Journal. The cuts were made by the late Lewis Ostbo of the Engraving department of the Journal. The following reprint from the 1945 yearbook expresses the appreciation of the officers of the Society for the work of Dean Collins:

To Dean Collins

Garden Editor, Oregon Journal, Portland. "The officers and directors of the American Rhododendron Society express their thanks and great appreciation of his services as Editor of this book. Without him, its publication would have been very difficult. Entirely as a labor of love, Mr. Collins has sacrificed hours of his time and has drawn generously upon his rich experience as an editor and as a gardener. As a result, your officers feel that the Rhododendron Yearbook for 1945 will do much to further general knowledge of the Rhododendron and to widen public interest in its culture and development."

Were there any criticisms of the first yearbook? Yes, a few. There were some incorrect terms and spellings. Yes, I plead guilty to the part that I played in it. I am neither a scholar nor an author, or botanist. I do plead guilty to assembling all the materials for the yearbooks 1945 and 1946 besides most of the materials for the years 1947, 1948, 1949. It is now very easy to stand back and criticize the other fellow when he is doing the work.

I would like to say for the officers of the American Rhododendron Society, no one in the early years received any monetary compensation for their work. We paid for our own gas, meals, fares to Seattle and other places. If we needed money, we dug into our own pockets for it.

The 1948-1949 Dr. Joseph F. Rock Expedition

One of the first acts of the Secretary was in contacting different people in assembling the materials for the yearbook, and to locate and contact Dr. Joseph F. Rock. Being a member of the National Geographic Society, and having followed his articles on Western China which included his seed-hunting expedition of 1932, I was desirous of contacting him, and wrote to Mr. Ernest Fisher of the National Geographic Society staff. He in turn advised me to contact Dr. Judd of the Arnold Arboretum of Jamaica Plains, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Through Dr. Judd contact was made with Dr. Rock, - who wrote Air Mail that he would be coming West on his way to China, and would contact me at that time. Later, I received a long distance call from San Francisco, in which he stated that he was making his headquarters in Likiang, Yunnan Province, in Western China. Dr. Rock suggested that he would undertake a seed expedition for the American Rhododendron Society for a certain specified amount of money, and requested that the officers of the society be approached on the proposed expedition.

At a meeting of the directors of the American Rhododendron Society, it was decided to take up Dr. Rock's proposal, and immediately a fund-raising project was undertaken with your secretary collecting the funds. The interest was very good, and soon the money was subscribed.

Many problems arising in regard to the expedition were still to come. Dr. Rock asked to have some tulip and daffodil bulbs sent to him at Likiang. They were duly sent and arrived safely. A United States Importation Permit was procured and mailed to Likiang, China. Dr. Rock also urgently requested by mail several hundred cloth and plastic bags. These were sent by Air Mail at a cost of two hundred dollars, paid out of my own funds.

About this time, the Communists were closing in on Western China, and it was a problem to get mail through. Dr. Rock requested me to deposit a certain sum to his account at Farmers Branch, 'National City Bank, 22, William St., New York, New York. This was done according to agreement, but Dr. Rock did not receive the deposit slip. A letter came asking why the money had not been deposited, and also said that no bags had been received.

In the meantime, a large package of dried herbarium specimens, seeds, a box or two of lily bulbs and a number of magnolia seeds arrived. These were taken to the office of the late John G. Bacher for separation, packaging and delivering to the various contributors. At the recent International Rhododendron Conference, it was a great pleasure to meet again Mrs. Turner, who had done the actual packaging at Mr. Bacher's office. This was no small job.

In the early part of April, 1949, President John Henny, Dr. and Mrs. J. Harold Clarke of Long Beach, Washington, and I left for the Rhododendron Conference in London, England. Among the luggage I carried was the dried specimens of the rhododendrons to be delivered to Dr. J. M. Cowan of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Edinburgh, Scotland; also taken along were two collections of seeds. One was for the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley, and the other for the Royal Botanical Gardens, of Edinburgh.

Alas! all the troubles were still not over. I had taken the train to Chicago, and then to Washington, D.C., and made arrangements to meet John Henny at the Statler Hotel on Friday evening. Arriving at the Pennsylvania Station, I took the package of specimens to the hotel where I set it down and did some phoning. When I looked for the box, it was gone. Fortunately it was found the next morning in the basement storeroom of the hotel, where an attendant had taken it, thinking it had been lost by one of the visitors.

I met John Henny that evening at the hotel, turning into bed about midnight on the fourteenth floor of the Statler Hotel, facing the Empire State Building. This was quite an exciting experience for me as it was my first trip to New York.

I had no more than gotten to sleep when the telephone rang. Mrs. Grace was on the line, as she had gotten a cable from Dr. Rock wanting to know why he had not gotten his money. Needless to say, Saturday morning, as soon as the National City Bank, Farmers Branch opened, John Henny and I were talking to the Vice President of the Bank, explaining our problem.

He gave us photo-static copies of the deposits and agreed to cable the deposit to Dr. Rock. The deposit slip had never reached Dr. Rock through the mails. I also found out from Dr. Rock that the bags had finally arrived in bad condition, and with some of them stolen.

The Dr. Rock expedition has for the past ten years paid rich dividends. Each year. new species are blooming to add to the knowledge and interest of the Society. The seeds and the box of specimens were delivered to Edinburgh and the seeds to the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley. For many years to come, these species will come into bloom for the enjoyment of the garden lover.