JARS 43n1 - The Fraser-Gable Letters

The Fraser-Gable Letters
Bill Dale
Sidney, British Columbia, Canada

George Fraser was a pioneer rhododendron nurseryman in Ucluelet, British Columbia, on the remote west coast of Vancouver Island. He first went to Ucluelet in 1894 and carved a nursery site out of the dense forest. He remained there until his death in 1944.
Because of his isolation, he carried on an active correspondence with fellow rhododendron enthusiasts such as E.P.J. Magor of Cornwall, the director of Kew Gardens, the director of the Arnold Arboretum and many others.
The one person with whom he corresponded most frequently was Joseph Gable of Stewartstown, Pennsylvania. They exchanged letters, pollen, seeds and seedlings during the period from 1926 to about 1940, only four years before Fraser's death at age 90.
Fraser, a bachelor, lived in a shack on his nursery land and from accounts by people who knew him, he saved all the letters, etc. that he ever received. After his death, the contents of his shack were thrown out and burned and the shack torn down to make way for a housing development.
What a shame, as undoubtedly, if his papers had been saved, we would have
Fortunately, Joseph Gable saw fit to save Fraser's letters to him. In 1960, Gable sent seventy-four original letters from George Fraser to Clive Justice of Vancouver, so that they could be preserved in British Columbia. These letters are now deposited in the British Columbia archives in Victoria.
Following are some excerpts from a few of these letters as well as some reference to Fraser by Gable in his correspondence with Guy Nearing which appears in the book, Hybrids and Hybridizers , edited by Philip A. Livingston and Franklin H. West (Harrowood Books, Newt own Square, PA, 1978).

Fraser To Gable

May 16, 1926
"The public are very little interested in species such as ponticum , maximum and catawbiense . I have burned up many thousands of good seedlings of ponticum . Right in front of my window and all over the garden are beautiful seedlings between ponticum and the named hybrids, but they are overgrown now and though they are admired by visitors, no one thinks of buying them, but it does not matter - they are worth their room."

December 17, 1926
"A few flower buds are showing of that cross I made some years ago between our occidentale and your arborescens and as there seems to be quite a variety of wood in the seedlings there may be some of them worth growing."

"There is no sale here for maximum . I still have a batch of some 800 in the nursery lines now grown up to six feet. I have any quantity of named hybrids of every colour, but I prefer a lot of seedlings I have saved from a collection which came to Victoria from the nursery of the late Thomas Meehan of Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1889 and which I think must have been on their own roots. They show to their best advantage in an avenue of about 150 yards."

February 28, 1929
"I won't try any of your seeds, but I think any of those you have raised from pollen which came from E.P.J. Magor, Lamellon, St. Tudy, Cornwall, England, would be of interest to him, and you might send him a pinch. He is a fine gentleman and he will be only too pleased to help you out at any time, or I am mistaken. This summer has been bad for seeds of rhodos. Right below my window is a bush of occidentale with 12 labels, representing that many crosses and not one of them took. Quite a few of them with good pollen from you."

Gable To Nearing

January 30, 1931
"My friend in Vancouver [Island] who has seedlings 10-12 feet high and yet unnamed insists that to get good color in hybrid seedlings the plants from which the seed is taken must be own rooted. With a long life of experiments and experience as a background I think some weight should be given to his advice...Fraser of Vancouver [Island] grows a hybrid that is so dark it is about black judging from the dried flowers he sent me. He claims it is the darkest rhodo he ever saw, and calls it 'Mrs. Jamie Fraser' I believe."

December 20, 1931
"Mr. Fraser of B. C., an old hybridist - alas growing too old as we all must - says that many hybrids, not all, at first sterile, later become fertile. Perhaps only partially, perhaps normally so. My experience not being carried out over so many years, I have nothing to corroborate."

Bill Dale will present a program on George Fraser at the ARS National Convention in Victoria, April, 1989.