The Richard Blake Palmer Horticultural Trust
R. R. Forster
Horticultural Experiment Station Vineland Station
Flight Lieutenant Richard Blake Palmer was killed while on active service in Burma during the Second World War. In 1945 the Palmer family established a Horticultural Trust Fund as a memorial. The purpose of the Trust is the improvement of ornamental plants, in particular genera such as Ilex and Rhododendron, which could be grown more extensively in Ontario.
In addition to these woody plant genera, breeding work with gladiolus; and lilium has been done by Dr. Palmer*, both before and after the establishment of the Trust, resulting in substantial improvements with both plant groups.
* E. F. Palmer, Director. Horticultural Experiment Station. 1916-1956 (Retired).
The Trust, though privately endowed, is operated in close co-operation with the Horticultural Experiment Station. This arrangement works admirably in that the Trust supplies finance to purchase plant material and hire student labor, and the Experiment Station supplies the necessary planning and supervision of the Trust breeding projects.
The writer was assigned the rhododendron breeding project, and in 1958 work was started towards building a collection of species and cultivars. The objectives of this project are similar to those of rhododendron plant breeders in the Eastern United States, namely the production of commercially acceptable garden hybrids of high quality with a high degree of winter hardiness and adaptability.
The scaly-leaved group are not being neglected. It is realized that their generally compact habit and adaptability to a relatively wide range of soil conditions make them potentially valuable for modern landscape use.
Vineland enjoys a favored climate compared with other areas further removed from the Great Lakes. Winter temperatures seldom fall below zero, and the closeness of Lake Ontario moderates extremes of high and low temperature. Thus, breeding must aim at producing hybrids with a reserve of hardiness if they are to be of use in areas of Ontario outside the Niagara Peninsula.
The site chosen as a test-garden is a slope facing east, protected from all sides by established trees including Douglas fir, Norway spruce, silver maple and sycamore maple. Although the rhododendron plantings are located as far as possible from these trees, their invading roots do present a problem. Pines have been planted and will ultimately replace unsuitable trees. A creek runs along the bottom of the slope, but its ornamental possibilities are reduced by an overabundance of water in winter and quite often none at all in summer.
The soil varies from light sandy loam to heavy clay loam, and there is a pH range of 6 to 7. These conditions are rather unfavorable for rhododendrons and consequently the first plantings were made in raised beds of peat, using logs to contain the medium. There are two disadvantages to this method of cultivation - the high initial expense and the need for extra irrigation during the summer months due to the beds drying out more quickly. Future plantings will probably be confined to areas of sandy loam with peat tilled into the soil and with chemical adjustment of the pH.
In 1961, work was started to adapt an area of woodland to rhododendron culture. Here the conditions are much more favorable. The soil is a slightly acid sandy loam, and the tree cover a high canopy of red oak and white pine. Here the hybrid seedlings will be grown to maturity, and there is sufficient remaining space to plant out the selections for long-term testing and evaluation.
Members of the American Rhododendron Society, if visiting the Niagara Falls district, are urged to call at the Experiment Station at Vineland to observe a Rhododendron Garden in the making.