The Icing on the Cake
Austin C. Kennell, Afton, Virginia
One of the very special things about rhododendrons and azaleas is the annual American Rhododendron Society convention.
There's really nothing quite like an ARS convention! It's a great big family reunion, an exciting kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and smells, and an unusual exposure to the world of rhododendrons, all rolled up into one wonderful experience.
ARS conventions are many things. They're hectic, informative, nostalgic, friendly, fun. You walk a lot. You sit a lot. You talk a lot. (And you've never really lived until you and some 40 other rhodo buffs scramble on and off a bus time and time again).
There's arts and craft sales. Seminars. Happy hours. Waiting in line. Book sales. Eating. Clapping. Getting up early. Going to bed late. Losing your name tag. Reservation mix ups. Speeches. Reports. Laughing. Reminiscing. Taking pictures. Packing. Unpacking. Rain. Heat. Meetings. Door prizes. Auctions. Awards. Checking in. Checking out. Rushing for a plane. Looking for a parking place. Loading. Unloading. Riding elevators. Waiting for elevators. Trying to read plant tags. Trying to recall people's names.
You ooh and ah through gardens that you wished yours would look like but never does. Rhodos, azaleas, companion plants. You see breathtaking sights - mountains, lakes, snow, sunsets. You experience new and wonderful epicurean delights.
And then there's the plant sale! A no-holds barred battle royal of normally nice folks temporarily crazed by the thought that someone else might get the plants he or she can't live without. Waiting for a plant sale to open is like watching a group of great white sharks circling for the kill. The tactics of the veteran plant sale shopper in out-maneuvering, out-conniving and out-muscling the competition should be required study at the Army War College. Why, one year a fellow from Afton, Virginia brought back 162 plants from Portland, Oregon on the plane with him. He would have brought more but his wife refused to hold any plants on her lap for 3000 miles.
But the main attraction of an ARS convention is people. ARS members are the greatest in the world I never met an American Rhododendron Society member I didn't like. (There have been a few, though, who I thought were in the wrong society). No where is the charm and friendliness of A.R.S. members more apparent than at our conventions.
Attendees come from all areas - all walks of life. Some are professional - many are amateurs. You see old friends - and make new old friends. You look at snapshots of new plants - and new grandchildren. You exchange addresses - and promises to visit. There are moments of sadnesses for those who are no longer able to attend.
You meet our leaders. You hear about where we're going and where we've been. You can argue - or agree. You vote for or against. You hobnob with the greats, and the greats-to-be. You talk with legends. You stand in tribute. The non-smokers glare at the smokers. You jockey for seats. The dragees go off shopping or sightseeing - or suffer in silence.
A lot of truly dedicated people knock themselves out to make our conventions exciting and trouble-free. They spend an unbelievable number of hours to accommodate a very diverse group of people. It's a frustrating, herculean task - but, somehow, they do it.
If you like rhodos and azaleas, you'll like an A.R.S. convention. If you like new things, new places, new excitements, you'll enjoy an A.R.S. convention. If you like people, you'll love an A.R.S. convention.
Cleveland, here I come!