JARS v36n1 - A Tour of the Joseph B. Gable Farm and Nursery

A Tour of the Joseph B. Gable Farm and Nursery
George Ring

The Joseph Gable farm and nursery is in Stewartstown, Pa., a small rural farming community some 40 miles north of Baltimore, MD. From convention headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, it is about 1½ hours by bus. A box lunch will be served on the tour.

Historically, Mr. Gable farmed grain, hay and potatoes, and grew apples, after returning in 1919 from the First World War. Sometime in the 1920's, Mr. Gable decided to become a nurseryman. From that time, farming at Gable's decreased in importance while the nursery business gradually expanded. At first, plants available from the nursery included typical landscaping varieties of conifers and other ornamental trees and shrubs. Rhododendrons in his first listing were mainly collected-in-the-wild R. maximum and deciduous native azaleas. In the 1920's and 1930's, Mr. Gable received seed of rhododendron species collected by plant hunters in expeditions to the Far East. Out of more than 300 species tried, most succumbed to the rigors of the Stewartstown climate. However, the survivors formed a solid base for Mr. Gable's extensive hybridizing which continued some 40 years.

Hybrid seedlings were planted in thinned-out woods to fend for themselves. The finest of the survivors of the earlier planting, evaluated over many years were propagated by rooted scions and grafts, and have gradually found their way into the general nursery trade and into specialists' gardens.

Many of the original selected plants are still growing in the woods. More recent selections and propagations from selected older hybrids grace the lawn and landscaping around the Gable farmhouse. It is a short 10-minute walk from the farm-house to the woods where there are some 6 or 7 acres of mature rhododendrons under tall oaks. In the woods most of the plants are not labeled, but good progress has been made in identifying many of them from Mr. Gable's notes and files.

Around the house, most of the rhododendrons are labeled. Mr. Gable's careful record-keeping and astute observations enabled C.A. Bowers and Dr. David Leach to include documented data on the performance and quality of many species and hybrids in their books on rhododendrons. ( R. fortunei , R. griersonianum , R. catawbiense , R. maximum , R. brachycarpum , R. haematodes , R. metternichii , and a few other species are prominent in the parentage of Gable rhododendrons. The character of R. yakushimanum can be recognized in a number of selected Gable hybrids.)

Depending on the season, plants which may be in bloom at tour time include R. mucronulatum , 'Gable's Pioneer', R. schlippenbachii , 'David Gable', R. metternichii , R. adenopodum , R. augustinii (Gable hardy form), R. fortunei , R. houlstonii , R. vernicosum Aff. R. 18139, R. reticulatum , R. hippophaeoides and others.