Dr. John C. Wister Honored
Fig. 5. David Leach, John Wister, Joe Gable,
Back row, Dr. Clement Bowers, Harry Skinner, R. P. Jefferis
An evening in honor of Dr. John C. Wister, given by the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, November 9th, 1961, at the Madison House of the Presidential Apts.
The Philadelphia Chapter was host to a distinguished gathering of the American Rhododendron Society members and guests from the East Coast, to pay honor to one of its own-Dr. John C. Wister. While the assemblage contained many "Veeps" in the horticultural world, the friendliness and warmth of such individuals as Dr. Wister, Mr. Leach and Mr. Gable, so indicative of our own Philadelphia Chapter, pervaded the entire evening.
It was just four years ago that the Philadelphia Chapter had its beginning. November 11, 1957 at the request of the writer, 17 interested people met at Morris Arboretum to discuss the possible formation of a Chapter. On January 16th, 1958, 18 members of the American Rhododendron Society requested official recognition as a Chapter, which was granted later in the year. We still have 15 of these Charter members. Today our membership stands at 109.
In October, Raymond P. Jefferis Jr., President of the Philadelphia Chapter, saw some plants at Mr. Gable's, and asked if there were any of which Mr. Leach was particularly fond. Mr. Gable replied that Dave Leach generally knows everything there is to know about a plant, and remembers every person connected with it, to which Mr. Jefferies added that Dave Leach is liked as a person, as well as an authority, highly ethical in the use of the names of all people associated with plants. Mr. Gable's reply was, "He's all that, and more."
We were particularly fortunate in having Mr. Leach bring slides to show us, and to tell us some pertinent facts about them. Mr. Leach in his opening remarks stated that John Ruskin infuriated Asa Gray by saying that the purpose of a flower was the production of seed. Gray said the purpose of a seed was the production of flowers.
In the 16th and 17th Century, people felt they should garden because God gave us herbs to cure diseases. Today beauty is its own excuse for being. To garden is an end in itself, not to instruct the mind or relieve 20th Century tensions. Dr. Wister's own attitude is that beauty is its own excuse for being.
Mr. Leach showed slides of the good, new, different and unfamiliar in rhododendrons and azaleas. He indicated plants that Frederick Street marked with an asterisk, explaining that Street feels those so marked will be present 100 years from now. Knaphills R. 'Honeysuckle' and R. 'Cecile' are thus starred. R. 'Cecile', Mr. Leach feels, is highly satisfactory in the East, as well as in the West. Mr. Leach also cautioned against disappointment in the Knaphills, telling us it takes about three years for them to perform well after planting. R. 'Toucan' has been the best at Brookville of all white-flowered Knaphills.
Mr. Leach told us, then backed up his statement with slides, that deciduous azaleas work out more attractively than evergreen azaleas. He showed a walk bordered with deciduous azaleas and a planting of mixed evergreen and deciduous azaleas.
Particularly outstanding pictures and it's hard to pick, because they were all really outstanding, showed R. degronianum - attractive in flower, and again as an evergreen Exbury form of R. yakushimanum
smirnowii - a good form is handsome, with good indumentum
R. 'Ramapo' - a handsome plant, enduring -32°, satisfactory in every way
Mr. Leach went on to say that Dr. Wister has done a great deal for the Dexter rhododendrons. Mr. Bosley, at Mentor, Ohio, got a carload of Dexters some years ago, selected for hardiness. Most died, but about 10 proved to be hardy and reliable, performing every year. Dexter R. 'Scintillation' is first rate in every respect. It bloomed in the Spring of 1961, after the very hard winter we had in the East. The parentage of many Dexters is not R. fortunei as has been suggested, but R. decorum . Roland de Wilde's R. 'Pink Perfection', too, is very satisfactory, blooming at Brookville two years out of every three.
An interesting part of Mr. Leach's pictures and talk was a series of slides showing the species and hybrids which went into the making of his hybrids. As an example, R. wardii x fortunei x catawbiense var. album Glass, produced R. 'Limelight', a lovely pale yellow, hardy to -32°, with good foliage, and flowers 3½" across. Mr. Leach also presented excellent slides showing fine detail of the scaly leaves of rhododendrons of that type.
Remarks of guests follow.
It was at the time I first came to Philadelphia that I fully began to realize what John Wister meant to horticulture. He has contributed in so many ways - rhododendrons, Dexters, native azaleas. My interest was largely stirred up by my connections with him.
Peonies, iris, hemerocallis, hollies, azaleas, rhododendrons have benefited greatly. How much we are indebted to John for leading us and giving us inspiration, not only in rhododendrons, but other fields. I bring greetings from the Middle Atlantic Chapter.
Just about 35 years ago I met John Wister at the New York Botanical Garden. I had heard of him long before, as a student at Cornell, in connection with iris, hemerocallis, peonies. John Wister is not just omniverous in all sorts of fields. He is right on all sorts of things. That has been the characteristic of John Wister throughout - to be an authority.
I want to congratulate Philadelphia on having produced a person like this. We have very fine heritages here - the background of horticultural interest including original botanists like John Bartram and Governor Logan (first to introduce corn). It gives me a great deal of pleasure to come here. I have known John Wister for many years, and have known him quite well. His judgment is unexcelled.
I could talk all night about the accomplishments of Dr. Wister. What he has done speaks for itself, not only in rhododendrons but in many other flowers - daffodils, trichomas and other things of which I wouldn't even know the names. His helpfulness to somebody like me who doesn't know very much* has meant a lot. I learned that when he came to see me, the plants about which he didn't say very much, weren't much good. He has been very helpful. I always felt better after he came to see me.
* (Those who know Mr. Gable do not agree with his opinion of his merits, but it is typically humble of him...and the really great have humility.)
Dr. Wister then spoke on the need for more breeders to breed rhododendrons hardy in this climate, and then to breed with R. maximum for late flowers.
The American Rhododendron Society is new, compared with other societies. In Philadelphia I want to see 50 to 100 people breeding rhododendrons. I base this wish on the American Iris Society of which I am a member, and which has 500 people breeding iris. I hope we can bring into the Chapter more people who will breed plants that bloom early.
Mr. Jefferis then told us that Dr. Wister majored in landscape architecture at Harvard, class of 1909. One of the founders of the American Iris Society, he served as its President during its first 15 years. He was Secretary of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for 25 years, active in the American Rose Society, director of the Arthur Hoyt Scott Horticultural Foundation, and the John J. Tyler Arboretum, author of several books, magazine and newspaper articles.
Following this tribute to Dr. Wister, a number of very fine door prizes, donated by Chapter members, were given out.