QBARS - v19n3 Genesis of the Rhododendron Species Foundation and Rhododendrons in Great Britain

Genesis of the Rhododendron Species Foundation
and Rhododendrons in Great Britain

Milton V. Walker, M.D., Creswell, Oregon

R. hemsleyanum
Fig. 34.  Truss of R. hemsleyanum at the
Rhododendron Island in Portland, Ore.
This is a species rare in cultivation.
Cecil Smith photo
R. aberconwayi
Fig. 35.  Heavily spotted form of R. aberconwayi in
the garden of Cecil Smith, Aurora, Ore.
Cecil Smith photo

I consider it an honor to be asked to address you on the Species Foundation and Rhododendrons in Great Britain. I cannot pretend to be an authority or an expert, despite having recently had the rare opportunity of seeing thousands of species plants in British gardens. At a time like this, I like to remind myself of the definition of an expert "An expert is quite an ordinary fellow, away from home." Many of you know me too well, for me to pose as an expert.
Let me first direct your thinking to a group of men to whom we owe a debt of gratitude-the plant explorers, who brought from Asia, those species we now enjoy and without which we would not have our splendid hybrids.
Hybridization of Rhododendrons only started 139 years ago with the blooming of that spectacular blood red R. arboreum which had been introduced from India 15 years previously Plant exploration commenced in earnest with Sir Joseph Hooker, who in 1847 pioneered a hundred years of explorations that gave us most of the Rhododendrons we are growing today. Among Hooker's introductions are to be found some of the finest we have like R. thomsonii and R. falconeri . Fine old patriarchs from Hooker seed growing at Stonefield in the west of Scotland, and at Rhu near Glasgow, are sights long to be remembered.
E. H. Wilson pioneered a new period in plant exploration which resulted in the astounding discovery by him and his contemporaries, Forrest, Farrer, Rock and Kingdon-Ward, of more than 6,00 new species in the first 40 years of the 20th century. Unfortunately both Farrer and Forrest died in the field.
Our debt to these men has been very graphically pointed out by David Leach in his book "Rhododendrons of the World" where he says-"The journeys of the plant explorers into the mountain wildernesses of India, Burma, Tibet and China, were high adventure of courage and endurance, of disappointment and discovery, of exalted experience and overwhelming disaster."
I am glad the fine tradition established by the early plant explorers is being carried on today, by Peter and Patricia Cox and their friend P. C. Hutchison, who are now collecting in Bhutan and by Francis DeVos in Nepal.
Financial Backers of Expeditions Travel in the mountainous regions of Asia was arduous and dangerous 50 to 60 years ago and it took financial hacking to undertake an expedition then as it does today. Let us think far a moment of these fine people who financed the intrepid explorers with their own money. At first there were individuals like Veitch and Sons, and Arthur K. Bulley founder of Ness Gardens. Later there were syndicates composed of larger numbers of contributors as the costs increased. Mr. Bulley alone financed George Forrest's first two expeditions and was also a member of each syndicate financing the last five expeditions of Forrest. We must not forget these financial backers who made the explorations possible.

Growers of Seed
Who grew out all the seed sent back by these plant explorers? Probably thousands of packets of seed were sent back in the course of just a few years. We know that in a 10 year span no fewer than 312 new species were discovered. J. B. Stevenson, of Towercourt, and his wife were among those who not only backed the plant explorers financially, but grew out seed from probably every one of the expeditions. Euan Cox writes me that this enormous influx of seed between 1922 and 1938 was "handled like an efficient business concern. Jac Stevenson as it were ran the office, keeping a very careful record in what came to be a dozen or so notebooks - Mrs. Stevenson undertook the practical work, sowing every seed, and did most of the pricking out and ultimate planting in the nursery bed."
Last spring I sat on a bench in the garden of General and Mrs. Harrison, (the former Mrs. Stevenson) while she told me it was her daily job, after Mr. Stevenson went to the office, to transplant 250 seedlings from each batch of numbered seed. Later I wrote Mrs. Harrison for more information about Towercourt and was amazed to find that, from the records, she had evidently sowed and cared for a total of 2,942 packets of Rhododendron seed.
The amount of work is staggering to the imagination. The bookwork to keep the records straight was in itself no small job. As the seedlings grew, there was the problem of selecting, discarding and finally describing the new species as they came into bloom. The plants in the Stevenson collection at Towercourt made possible, in large measure, the descriptions of the species in the first Handbook.
We do indeed owe a great debt of gratitude to the plant explorers and to the financial backers of the expeditions, but I feel we are equally indebted to people like the Stevensons who did the less exciting but very essential labor of growing out these hundreds of thousands of seedlings.

Species Project
A few years ago while Dr. Phetteplace was visiting Mrs. Stevenson, she expressed to him her real concern over the loss of carefully selected forms of the species, due to the breaking up of fine collections growing in the gardens of private individuals. She pointed out the confusion that was becoming worse each year with the growing of multitudes of open-pollinated seedlings under species labels, (when in the main they were hybrids and not true forms of the species.) Mrs. Stevenson predicted utter chaos in 25 years, unless something was done soon to preserve and propagate the true forms. This comment, made by such a respected and knowledgeable woman as Mrs. Stevenson, led first to the A.R.S. Species Project, then this past year to the Rhododendron Species Foundation under whose guidance, there is now taking shape in America, a collection of authenticated true forms of the species.
For more than three years, groups of people working on the Species Project, have visited gardens on the West Coast, seeking to locate good forms of the species. In doing so, we have formed a much better idea as to what were forms truly representative of the species. The conclusion was reached that many of the species we were growing were poor forms and possibly not true forms at all. The most unfortunate aspect of our findings was, I think, the realization of the many years of wasted effort in bringing into bloom inferior plants from open pollinated parents, when at the same time in Great Britain there were being grown hundreds of true species of remarkable beauty with the owners quite willing to share their treasures with us.

Stevenson Collection
Two years ago while on a European trip, I made a point of going to see the part of the Stevenson Collection of Species that had been moved to Windsor Great Park. While I had read about it in Lanning Roper's excellent book, I was not prepared for the magnitude of the collection, the size of the plants nor the number of different forms of each species. Here were gathered together, so it seemed to me, all of the best forms in the world. Later I was to learn that this was not strictly true, although I may be forgiven when you realize I was looking at the result of nearly 50 years of work in germinating seed sent back from expeditions, of growing out these seedlings, of sorting, discarding and saving only the truest and best forms in a lifetime of work for Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson. The thought naturally occurred to me," How wonderful it would be if we in America could have a collection like this."  I wondered if we could get cuttings and scions and discreet inquiries revealed that it might indeed be possible. After considerable correspondence, a meeting was arranged with Sir Eric Savill of Windsor Great Park, for September on the way home from this trip.
Mrs. Walker and I were invited to have lunch with Sir Eric at his home in Windsor Great Park and we found him to be a most friendly and genial host. High point of the meal was a delicious brown trout that he himself had caught the day previous. After lunch we had about an hour's discussion of the Species Project in which Sir Eric displayed a very real interest. and about which he seemed already to be informed. Suddenly he turned to me and said, "Dr. Walker, you may have anything we have - anything." After a moment of thought he added, "You would of course be foolish to take anything and everything, because we have a lot of poor things here. The private gardens of Britain have many fine forms that you should also have, and you ought to have only the best for your collection." Later after we had discussed some of the problems of importation and had agreed that the sending of cuttings and scions would be most feasible, Sir Eric again returned to this matter of private collections. "I would suggest that you come back next spring during the blooming season," he said, "and plan to spend 2 to 3 months visiting private gardens and selecting the best forms for your collection."
To be able to visit private gardens would be a privilege indeed, but to select the best forms was, I knew, beyond my knowledge and capability. Do you see how easy it is for "quite an ordinary fellow, away from home" to be treated as an expert? I thanked Sir Eric and said that even if these private owners would be so kind as to offer cuttings to a stranger, which I doubted, I wouldn't be capable of selecting the best forms. On the first point, I remember he said something like, "Tut and nonsense, we'll see that you get into every private garden that you want, and Mr. Findlay and I will see that you get whatever cuttings that you want too."

The winter, after this conversation with Sir Eric, was spent doing a great deal of reading about British gardens and trying to figure out just how we could accept the wonderful opportunity presented. Somehow a list of the good forms in the gardens to be visited both public and private, would have to be compiled so as to know what to look for when we visited them, and eventually to use if we were to request cuttings and scions later. By spring, I had notes on over 60 Rhododendron gardens in Great Britain, at least twice as many as it would be possible to visit. How was I to know that the species described in the literature were true forms? I would certainly have to have the assistance of authorities like Mr. Davidian and Mr. Findlay. Suppose these people were good enough to offer to send us cuttings, how were we to get them into the States without pre-shipment inspection of the parent plants? Sir Eric had told me that such inspection was quite impossible because of the distances involved in getting inspectors to come from London. Could anything be done to prevent the losses some of us had experienced with entry fumigation? And just supposing we were able to get a sizable number of cuttings in, who could be trusted to propagate them? Who would grow them on? Wales Wood and Dr. Clarke agreed with me that somehow a way just had to be found to get these fine species for the Rhododendron buffs in America.
We realized that eventually a permanent garden would have to be established so that these outstanding forms would never be lost. To do this would take a great deal of money, and someone suggested a non-profit corporation in the form of a Foundation that would be able to receive tax exempt gifts. Wales Wood, who is fortunately an attorney, went to work on this angle while we traveled to Great Britain last spring. We were most hospitably received and saw some wonderful species in bloom. Maybe you would enjoy seeing some slides now of the gardens visited and a small fraction of the species seen. After you have seen the slides, I will continue with my talk by telling how we have attempted to solve some of the problems I have sketched for you.

Note: 75 slides of outstanding forms of species and general scenes of a few of the very beautiful gardens visited were shown at this point.

At the beginning of this talk your attention was drawn to some of the pioneers to whom we are greatly indebted-the plant explorers, the backers of the plant expeditions and particularly to those dedicated people like the Stevensons who grew the seed sent back, sorting and discarding those plants that were not, in their opinion, true species. Mention has been made of the beginnings of the A.R.S. Species Project, sparked by Mrs. Stevenson's concern over the loss of true species and the chaos that was resulting from open-pollinated seed being grown under species labels. The unplanned but very fortunate visit we had at Windsor Great Park and later the very generous offer of Sir Eric Savill has been related. And just now you have seen a sampling of the very fine forms of the species that are being offered to The Foundation so that we too may enjoy their superb beauty.
How we have met some of the problems inherent in this amazingly generous offer remains to be told.
You will remember Sir Eric's recommendation of a visit to private gardens so that I could see for myself the fine forms in bloom and select the most valuable for our collection. No one realized more than myself how inadequately prepared I was to undertake such an assignment. Very fortunately I had available the constant assistance and encouragement from men of knowledge and authority. With the help of Sir Eric Savill and Mr. Hope Findlay from Windsor, Dr. Harold Fletcher and Mr. Davidian from Edinburgh, and Mr. Patrick Synge, Editor of the Royal Horticultural Society, Mrs. Walker and I were able, last spring, to visit 30 private gardens and several large nurseries. We also spent many days studying the plants at Windsor, Wisley and the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. We traveled over 3000 miles by car, and what seemed like 30,000 miles by foot, as well as going by train and boat as we crisscrossed all of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland during a visit that extended for 2½ months. With the help of the men just mentioned, a list of what were considered the best forms in each garden was compiled. Then this list was checked by Mr. Findlay and Mr. Davidian for purity and it is from this list that during the past year we have requested 322 different species or forms for our Foundation Collection. The University of British Columbia through Mr. Leon Koerner a very generous benefactor, offered to receive and propagate any of the species we wished to have sent to them. They even agreed to grow on for a period of two years the propagated plants and to forward them at any time to any destination we desire. All they asked in return, was the privilege of keeping one plant of each species to establish a Canadian Species Garden. They have agreed to assume the complete financial responsibility for that garden.
This heaven-sent offer relieved us of the pressing problem of immediately locating somewhere to put the plant material (that was already being mailed to us.) After all you cannot say to someone offering you plants that you want very badly, "Sorry, I'd like to have them but I don't have a place right now to put them. Would you send them to me in a year or two?" We felt it was up to us to find a place right then for this very generous gift or the opportunity might be lost forever.
Fortunately the importation arrangement between Canada and the United States is such that we anticipate no difficulty in bringing these plants into this country as soon as we have a place to put them.

While we were in Great Britain last spring Mr. Wales Wood drew up the articles of Incorporation and in June of last year a non-profit corporation to be known as the Rhododendron Species Foundation, was registered with the Corporation Commissioner of the State of Oregon. An organizational meeting was held in July when Officers and Directors were elected and Bylaws adopted. I might mention just a few items of policy and organization that may interest you.
It was agreed at this first meeting that the Species Foundation should complement and extend the functions of the American Rhododendron Society, and in no way be in conflict. It should not be responsible to the A.R.S. and likewise the A.R.S. should not be responsible financially or otherwise for the Foundation.
The Bylaws do not provide for a general membership. It was felt that a large membership with dues and yearly fund raising activities was not indicated and that the objectives could be well served by a Board of Directors if very carefully chosen. It was thought advisable to have a Board of considerable size, maybe 25 eventually, with all but the original Directors to serve for a period of 5 years in order to assure as much permanency as possible. We realized that we had to have a core of Directors living in the Northwest, but wanted all sections of the United States and possibly Canada represented. We wanted the A.R.S. to be fully represented on the Board but not to overweight it. We recognized our primary need for business men with experience in public relations, insurance, stocks and bonds and real estate. We would need a great deal of legal council and so the legal profession should be well represented on the Board. We most certainly needed men who could, by personal contribution or by influence, help in raising the endowment of a million dollars that was considered absolutely necessary to the successful achievement of our objectives. We fully realized that the success of the Foundation depended on the Board of Directors who should be men of national stature in horticulture and business, men of recognized integrity and leaders in their field and men willing to give liberally of their time and substance.

Founding Board of Directors of the Rhododendron Species Foundation
Milton V. Walker, M.D., President, Creswell, Oregon.
Sir Eric Savill, Honorary Vice President and Director, Crown Estate Office, The Great Park, Windsor, Berkshire, England.
Mr. Wales Wood, Vice President, St. Helens, Oregon.
Mr. Fred M. Robbins, Secretary, Puyallup, Washington.
Mr. Clarence A. Chase, Treasurer, Eugene, Oregon.
Mrs. Prentice Bloedel, Bainbridge Island, Washington.
Dr. J. Harold Clarke, Long Beach, Washington.
Mr. Edward B. Dunn, Seattle, Washington.
Mr. Henry F. du Pont, Winterthur, Delaware.
Dr. H. B. Hawthorn, Chairman, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C., Canada.
Mrs. Henry Issacson, Seattle, Washington.
Mr. Gordon E. Jones, Director, Planting Fields Arboretum, Oyster Bay, N.Y.
Mr. David G. Leach, Brookville, Pennsylvania.
Mrs. Pendleton Miller, Seattle, Washington.
Dr. Henry Skinner, Director, United States National Arboretum, Washington, D.C.
Mr. Cecil C. Smith, Aurora, Oregon.
Dr. John C. Wister, Director, Arthur Hoyt Scott Horticultural Foundation, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.
Board meetings have been held in July, October, March and the Annual Meeting was held last evening. Beside electing the Founding Board of Directors just enumerated, one or two important items of business deserve mention.
Last evening at the first Annual Meeting of the Foundation, it was decided to establish an Advisory Council for the Foundation. The suggestion had been made that there are many good men and women who are interested in the Species Foundation whose advice and guidance would be most helpful; but for various reasons are not able to consider a position on the Board of Directors. We feel that the addition of an Advisory Council will greatly strengthen the organization of the Foundation.
As you no doubt realize, a Foundation cannot function without Tax Exempt status. At the October meeting of the Board, the Bank of California was selected to act as Trustee for the Foundation. When we met with the Trust Officers of the Bank, one of the first questions asked us was, "Have you filed your application for tax exemption with the Internal Revenue Service?" Actually we hadn't at that time. We asked to be advised on this matter, and the trust officers strongly urged us to engage the services of a competent Tax Attorney because of the complexities of the laws and the recent changes in these laws. We did engage the services of a highly recommended Tax Attorney, and after 5 months of careful preparation of the application, and the assembling of supportive data, the application was filed on March 26th of this year. Action on these applications normally can be expected in about a year and some have taken over 3 years.
I am very happy to report to you that the Foundation has already received notification from the Internal Revenue Service of Tax Exempt Status. The communication says in part, "you are exempt from Federal Income Tax as an organization" and also, "Contributions made to you are deductible by donors." I am sure you will agree with me that a major obstacle has been overcome and the road ahead should be clear going to the achievement of our goal of a million dollar endowment.

I would like to outline for you the broad objectives of the Foundation. Leaving aside all the legal and technical language in the Articles of Incorporation, I would say that the objectives could be summarized as three fold. 1) Making available true forms of the species-both type and outstanding forms. 2) Preservation of these forms so that they will not be lost, and 3) Research and educational activities in the species of Rhododendron.
I have told you how we are solving the immediate problem of importation and propagation. By present methods I am afraid it will be years before these good forms are propagated in sufficient numbers to be generally available. We have given a good deal of thought as to the best and quickest way to make these species available to everyone as soon as possible. In fact we are already financing a research program in the meristematic culture method of propagation which, in orchids, makes it possible to reproduce 10,000 plantlets within 12 to 18 months from a single cutting. The purpose of this research is to devise a process for the rapid propagation of Rhododendrons by cell culturing procedures. The over all plan is to set up gardens in strategic locations, so that while these true forms of species might not be available for everyone for some little time, they will be found in Foundation Gardens and be available as a source of pollen and for study.
A large central or main garden located either in Oregon or Washington seems climatically best suited for the greatest number of species and has priority in our planning. Subsidiary gardens are planned to eventually exhibit species suitable for those particular climates and to maintain stock plants for the propagation which will probably be carried on at the main garden. Subsidiary gardens have been suggested for Vancouver, B.C.; San Francisco Bay area and the California or southern Oregon Coast for the more tender varieties and the large leaved species; Hamilton, Ontario, Long Island N. Y., Pennsylvania - and perhaps North Carolina for species suitable for those particular climates. These subsidiary gardens would not be owned by the Foundation but would be located at, and maintained by, Botanic Gardens or other institutions, by special arrangement. It is anticipated that only the main garden would be owned by the Foundation.
The main purpose of the gardens would be to carry out the objectives previously outlined. We feel that each garden located as conveniently as possible to a population center, should exhibit true forms of the species suitable for that particular climate. And that these species should be accurately named and provide comparative standards for study. The gardens would be primarily for study and research and definitely not Display Gardens. We think that such gardens will be of inestimable help to hybridizers as a source of pollen. Many men have found it difficult to be sure of the parentage of the plants they are using in their planned programs of hybridization. Large scale propagation facilities and possibly a meristematic culture laboratory will have to be set up at the main Foundation Garden. We hope the scientific activities of the Foundation will not only encompass research into propagation techniques, but also research in the identification and reclassification of the species in their series, as is now carried out at the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh. Permissible limits of variation in the different species and the many questions concerning natural hybridity are intriguing lines of research. In order to aid the Foundation in its scientific activities, it would he advisable to provide specialized training specifically in the genus Rhododendron, to otherwise qualified botanists. And to provide a start in this training we must find an adequately trained taxonomist.
Our immediate problem is to find and finance the purchase of property suitable for the Foundation Main Garden. In two years time at the very most, we must have a home prepared for our rapidly enlarging collection of species.
I would like to point out that the project undertaken by the Foundation is definitely not a West Coast one, not even a National one but is international in its scope. Dr. Harold Fletcher, Regius Keeper of the R. B. G., sent me a copy of a paper he had written for the International Association of Botanic Gardens and Arboreta, and read during the Tenth International Botanical Congress held in Edinburgh in August of last year.
In the opening paragraph of this paper Dr. Fletcher said, "If accurately named living plants are to be found anywhere they ought to be found in Botanic Gardens. Yet it is clear that the percentage of wrongly named plants growing in Botanic Gardens is high. Even so, seeds from these plants are distributed to Botanic Gardens and Horticultural establishments-seeds, moreover, from incorrectly named plants which have been openly pollinated." To quote further, "Thus for ages, Botanic Gardens have been distributing incorrectly named material throughout the world. Obviously it is high time this practice stopped and the only way to stop it is to make available for distribution, viable seeds resulting from controlled pollination of authentically named material, and/or to make available vegetative propagations of such material."
By way of illustration he cites how "an authentically named reservoir of living material of the genus Rhododendron could be built up and the material distributed to interested parties." He suggests one collection in Great Britain and one in America."  In his letter to me Dr. Fletcher says, "As you see, the whole matter ties up with what you are intending to do in America."
All of us I know have the greatest respect for Dr. Fletcher because of his horticultural knowledge and achievements. It is therefore a source of great satisfaction to have his wholehearted support and outspoken approval of what the Foundation is attempting to do.
The support and interest in the Foundation both here and abroad is very gratifying. I have had letters from people all over the United States and Canada who have heard about the Foundation. I have been asked to speak about the Foundation in a number of places. I greatly appreciate the opportunity tonight of being able to tell you something about the genesis and the objectives of the Foundation.
There are many men right here before me who have made great contributions to horticulture. We do hope their names will not be forgotten nor the results of their work lost. Neither should the sacrifices and discoveries of the early plant explorers be lost nor the work of people like the Stevensons be wasted. We want to avoid that chaos referred to by Mrs. Stevenson with the loss of the true forms of the species and the confusion that was resulting from open pollination.
From a more personal standpoint, an opportunity has been presented to us, of not only being able to preserve these good forms by establishing them in a collection here in America, but someday to have them in our own gardens. Will you help us in our efforts to make the best possible use of the opportunity presented?