Report of 1976 Convention of the Rhododendron Society of Canada
Elinor Clarke, Ashfield, Massachusetts
For some time we have been interested in rhododendrons growing in Canada, as conditions there are similar to our own. This was the first year we had an opportunity to attend the annual Convention of this Society. An added attraction was the Montreal Botanic Gardens, host to the Convention. Traveling with me was Dr. Martyn Apley, our collaborator at Bear Swamp Gardens.
The culture of rhododendrons in Canada did not receive much formal attention until 1952, when a testing and breeding program was undertaken at the Research Station in Kentville, Nova Scotia, under the auspices of the Canadian Department of Agriculture. As a result of generally increased interest in the genus, the Rhododendron Society of Canada was formed twenty years later, the first Show being held in 1972. By 1976 the Society numbered about 300 members, which compares favorably with the American Rhododendron Society, as the population of Canada is about one-tenth that of the United States.
Because the majority of Canadians, in fact about 90%, live within a ribbon 3000 miles long and 100 miles wide, communication is at least as difficult there as here. Toronto and Niagara are already forming Regions of their own, with separate presidents and treasurers.
The '76 Show at the Montreal Botanic Gardens was the first time the Show had been held outside Ontario. About 20,000 visitors to the Botanic Gardens were expected to see the Show the first weekend in June.
A display was set up by Leslie Hancock of Woodland Nurseries in Ontario, assisted by his daughter, Marjorie Van Alstyne, and other members of his family. It was laid out to demonstrate the use of rhododendrons and azaleas in a small woodland garden, very attractively occupying an entire corner of the principal building at the entrance to the M. B. G.
A surprisingly large number of trusses were entered in the Show, mostly Ironclads and other hardy hybrids. Shammarello hybrids were much in evidence. Judging was facilitated by dividing the judges into teams, each team responsible for a particular section. I was assigned to a team with Leslie Hancock and Ray Halward.
Best in Show (also Best in Commerce) was won by 'Gibraltar,' a particularly fine truss grown by Jack Van Gemeren, Head Gardener of the M. B. G. 'Mist Maiden' was selected as the Best Species, grown by Don Craig at the Kentville Research Station. The Best Canadian-produced Hardy Hybrid went to Kentville also, for their cross containing 'Goldsworth Yellow,' 'Catalgla' and yakushimanum .
High point of the Convention was the dedication of the new Garden of Ericaceous Plants at the Montreal Botanic Gardens, which had been in the process of construction since 1974 under joint sponsorship with the Rhododendron Society of Canada. A generous amount of land has been set aside by the M. B. G. for this purpose. This includes a bluff overlooking the Ericaceous Garden and a small pond constructed in the rocks. Over 175 species and cultivars have already been acquired.
The plant selected for the dedication ceremony was 'Evangeline,' a hybrid produced at the Kentville Station. This is one of their Acadia series, the others being 'Acadia,' 'Bellefontaine,' 'Gabriel' and 'Grand Pre.'
On behalf of the American Rhododendron Society a plant of 'Russell Harmon' was contributed and used in the ceremony. Several other plants were also contributed: 'Catalgla' (at the suggestion of Dr. Kehr), 'Henry Yates,' 'Janet Blair', 'Pearce's American Beauty,' 'Vernus,' nakaharai and the azalea 'Lorna.' The larger plants went directly to the Montreal Botanic Gardens. Those not yet ready were placed in custody of Leslie Hancock and Marjorie Van Alstyne. The interest and concern of the American Rhododendron Society were much appreciated by members of the Rhododendron Society of Canada, who expressed hope for closer collaboration.
Several tours to gardens of members showed some of what was being grown with determination and horticultural finesse. In addition, Rudy Behring, chairman of the Convention, had prepared a list of Rhododendrons and Azaleas in Eastern Canada as of Fall '75 at five representative locations (Zones 5b and 6a). These included well over 100 rhododendron species, nearly 150 cultivars and nearly 175 azaleas.
Speaker at the banquet was Anthony Shammarello of Euclid, Ohio. He said that in the early '20s rhododendrons were not being grown in northern Ohio. About that time an embargo on imports of plants stimulated interest in American hybrids. Since then interest in rhododendrons, both in the United States and Canada, has grown tremendously.
Many of our ARS members are already members of the Rhododendron Society of Canada and find articles in their Bulletin (issued twice a year) informative and useful.