QBARS - v17n1 A Visit To The Soviet Union

A Visit to the Soviet Union
David Leach, Brookville, Pa.

I was lucky in the conditions attached to my visit to the Soviet Union. It was more than that. I visited their geneticists, observed the results of their plant breeding, lived on a collective farm for a while to observe the translation into actual use of scientific laboratory research and had many unusual privileges as a result of the government sponsorship. I gave a few talks, one at the Institute of Genetics at Kharkov, Lysenko's old home base. I learned much more than I imparted, and I would not have missed it for anything.
They have done a tremendous amount of successful work with agricultural crops but almost none with ornamentals. And I want to tell you that there is no evidence of their science being stultified by a bureaucracy. The scientific research seems to be ably and imaginatively planned, the personnel are sharp and dedicated, and the programs appear to be adequately financed.
I cannot see that there will ever be much activity in the hybridizing of ornamental plants in the Soviet Union. There is simply no opportunity for private pleasure gardening. Almost all of the city dwellers live in vast apartment houses, mile after monotonous mile of them. They have no land for their own use. And the farmers, who do have up to an acre of land for personal use. grow only vegetables and support a few farm animals on it. This land yields an important supplement to their income and they are not going to divert it to non-productive purposes. So this leaves, then, only the parks and public lands as an outlet for ornamental plants. The planting and maintenance of such lands is the function of a government agency, and I can not believe that this whole climate of Soviet life is conducive to any great effort in hybridizing plants for pleasure gardens.
The Soviet people love flowers however, and their homes are full of them, bought at kiosks on the street. In the autumn on Sundays, they go out into the country to gather bouquets of brilliantly colored tree leaves.
Everywhere I had the warmest. cordial and hospitable reception that I could imagine. It is hard to reconcile the attractive people one meets with the cynical, aggressive government.

R. caucasicum
Fig. 11. R. caucasicum growing in The Botanical Garden
of the Soviet Academy of Science in Moscow.
Leach photo

The Botanical Garden of the Soviet Academy of Science in Moscow had only four species of Rhododendron in it: caucasicum , dauricum , luteum and - of all things - macrophyllum . The director said that their long, humid autumn keeps Rhododendrons from hardening off properly and then they are injured by their winter low temperatures.
So the unexpected invitation resulted in a trip which was engrossing from first to last.