In Memoriam: Newton W. Edwards
George Ring, Fairfax, VA
Organizer, enthusiastic collector, evaluator, propagator, grower, nurseryman and friend. Newton Edwards was all of these - and more. He became interested in rhododendrons (and the people that grow them) in the early 1960's when he was trying to find an activity for his recently retired father. As it turned out, his father never became a rhododendron fan, while Newton's interests grew rapidly. His first membership in the ARS was with the Middle Atlantic Chapter where he found many rhododendron friends from the Washington, DC area. After a number of informal meetings at Newton's home, some of these people, along with others who were interested, founded a new Chapter, The Potomac Valley. Newton was elected to serve as this Chapter's first president. The Chapter has flourished. For his chapter activities, plant evaluations, and long time support, Newton was awarded the Chapter Bronze Medal a few years ago.
Besides his activities in the American Rhododendron Society, Newton was an active member of the Fairfax County Park Authority for ten years, and served as Chairman for part of that time. He participated in the development of both the Green Spring Farm and Mason District Park, donating many rhododendrons and azaleas for their plantings. An amphitheater in Mason District is named in his honor.
Always on the lookout for the newest, best, hardiest varieties, Newton collected rhododendrons from all over the U.S., and even from K. Wada in Japan. His many trips to the west coast for the U.S. Department of Interior invariably resulted in his return with suitcases and footlockers bulging with new, acclaimed rhododendrons. Many of these failed to survive in his garden but a satisfying few did and became an important part of his nursery. On one occasion he acquired two large truckloads of unlabeled mature Dexter and Gable rhododendrons from a close-out sale at De Wilde's Nursery in New Jersey. Azaleas from North Carolina and other places found their way to the Washington, D.C. area homeowners through Edwards' Rhododendron Gardens. No nursery was safe from his search for better rhododendrons and azaleas. Those he found to be the best he propagated and grew to make available to his customers.
Newton's many years of experience with hundreds of varieties of rhododendrons served him well in his Chairmanship of the ARS National Rating Committee. He noted the wide range of their performance in his own garden and strongly supported the expansion of ratings to include "plant performance" as well as plant habit and flower quality. He wrote articles for the Journal on how to rate rhododendron performance, and demonstrated to many chapters how their own members' experiences could be used to develop chapter ratings for rhododendrons.
Recognition of the importance of identifying easy to grow rhododendrons, and his development of a performance rating system which can be used by local chapters, are important contributions to the advancement of the cultivation of rhododendrons.