JARS v45n1 - The Rapture of Rhododendrons

The Rapture of Rhododendrons
American Rhododendron Society Annual Convention
Oakland, California, April 10-14, 1991
A. Karen Morebeck, San Francisco, California

Experience "California '91 - The Rapture of Rhododendrons" this spring. The members of District V, California, invite you to the ARS Annual Convention, to be held April 10-14 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Oakland. Soaring 21 floors above downtown Oakland, the hotel provides guests with immediate proximity to San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area. Downtown San Francisco is only minutes away by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART).
Convention goers will have a chance to discover Oakland - a city with character and beauty and undiscovered charm. Located in the hub of the entire San Francisco Bay Area, Oakland boasts a year-round average climate of 62 degrees. This balmy Mediterranean weather makes for a perfect partnership with all sorts of rhododendrons.
Bay Area rhododendron lovers know how truly fortunate they are to be able to grow hundreds of different species and hybrids. In April, it's not unusual to see public and private gardens filled with blockbuster trees or tiny rock garden specimens. Found here is the largest diversity of rhododendrons grown in the United States.
The five-day meeting will be filled with tours, lectures, discussion sessions, plant sales, a boutique and social events. Plus, additional tours are planned before and after the meeting.

Don't miss Wednesday evening with a wine and beer reception and Italian buffet dinner. There are plenty of surprises in store for a rip-roaring good time. This will be an occasion to catch up with old friends and a chance to meet new folks. Try your luck with a never-before-played rhododendron game with prizes too. Another highlight will be a presentation by two maddenii authorities, Paul Molinari and E. Parker Smith, who will give a live, hands on presentation on "California Favorites." Yes, this means they will pass the plants around! Seventeen speakers covering a wide range of subjects related to the genus Rhododendron have been asked to participate in the convention's lectures and discussion groups. Experts and enthusiasts from throughout the rhododendron and azalea growing areas of the continental United States, as well as from Hawaii, New Zealand and Great Britain, will be educating and entertaining convention goers for the duration of the meeting. Two morning sessions consist of workshops where simultaneous talks will be featured. Each talk will be given twice so there will be ample opportunity to hear the subjects of your choice.
The American Rhododendron Society's special night will be on Saturday with the annual dinner meeting and no-host reception, again a time to see old and new friends. ARS President Austin Kennell will take care of national business including recognitions and awards. Featured speaker for the banquet will be Graham Smith, director of the Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust in New Zealand. He'll report from "Down-Under" taking a look backward at the 80's and forward to the 90's.
Arriving from the opposite side of the globe will be E. G. Millais from Surrey, England, who will give an illustrated talk Saturday on his recent rhododendron collecting expeditions to Tibet, Sikkim, Bhutan and China. Coming in from Hawaii will be Scott Lucas of the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kauai. He'll show how their collection of vireyas is doing under conditions approximating those in their native habitat. Vireya lovers will get a double treat with Bill Moynier who has been instrumental in the popularity of vireyas in California. Species fans will get the latest news from Richard Piacentini, director of the Rhododendron Species Foundation.
The latest developments in hybrid rhododendrons will be discussed by Clint Smith, a partner in Benjamin's Rhododendron Nursery in Sumner, Washington, and Eleanor Philp from Trillium Lane Nursery in Fort Bragg, California. Scientific advances in disease research will be reviewed by Dr. Robert Raabe from the plant pathology lab at the University of California, Berkeley. A representative from Briggs Nursery in Olympia, Washington, will discuss the latest in tissue culture advancements. To make things perfectly clear about environmental conditions in the garden, Tom Mee of Mee Industries will speak about his fog making-systems that have been sold world-wide.
Former ARS president Fred Galle will take a closer look at his favorite topic - Azaleas. Two California garden designers with experience throughout the country, Mai Arbegast and Michael Barclay, will round out the program with talks on garden design and companion plants.

Four of the Bay Area's finest public gardens will be featured on the convention tours: The Botanical Garden at the University of California, Berkeley; The Filoli Center; and the John McLaren Memorial Rhododendron Dell and Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. In addition, there are two large nursery/ gardens, a winery and many exquisite private gardens to see - each with its own unique plantings and collections of rhododendrons.

Filoli Garden
Photo by Lynn Hunton

San Francisco Peninsula
At The Filoli Center in Woodside, docents will guide visitors through the groomed gardens that comprise this magnificent estate. The former home of Mr. and Mrs. William P. Roth, Filoli was given to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1975 by Lurline Matson Roth. A dozen gardeners and hundreds of volunteers care for this 654 acre estate. Reminiscent of the great estates of the British Isles and the Eastern United States, it is unique in the West. The 36,000 square foot home will be familiar to many as the setting for the television series, Dynasty. But it is as famous for its 16 acres of gardens where huge rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and ferns grow in the shelter of hundred-year-old, native, coast live oaks ( Quercus agrifolia ). Towering yews, grown from seed collected in Ireland, and brick walls frame numerous other garden "rooms" in the Italian Renaissance style. The present-day plantings of more than 20,000 plants annually are done with the original concept in mind but incorporate new and better strains of old favorites. The garden is divided into a number of separate areas with microclimates which allow for a wide range of plantings. The elegance and perfection of Filoli that so delights the visitor is expressed simply but eloquently on the sundial: "Time Began in a Garden."
Also on the peninsula tour will be stops at a wide variety of private gardens including the outstanding garden of Noel and Ernie Kolack that was featured in the fall issue of the ARS Journal .

Sonoma County
Another wonderful all-day trip to the country - this time heading north to Sonoma County for stops at two renowned rhododendron nursery/gardens, Enjoy Rhododendrons and Sonoma Horticultural Nursery. Both of these nurseries feature noteworthy gardens that were described in the fall issue of the ARS Journal . There's lots to see in the county's rural landscape - apple orchards, vineyards, redwood forests and dairy farms.
Along the Russian river, a stop will be made at Korbel Cellars. In 1862, long before electricity, automobiles and telecommunications, the Korbel family brought their old world skills to Sonoma County where they found rich sandy soil to plant the vineyards. The combination of early morning fog off the Pacific Ocean and long days of sunshine result in a climate perfect for producing some of the finest carefully harvested grapes. In 1985, Korbel Cellars was designated as one of the "68 best wineries of the world." At an informal tasting, visitors will have a chance to taste the bubbly.

Golden Gate Park rhododendrons
Golden Gate Park rhododendrons
Photo by Kevin Shea

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
In 1886, the City of San Francisco began changing a one-thousand plus acres of bleak wasteland into the park that "couldn't be built." It was William Hammond Hall who planted trees, grass and wild lupine to begin the slow process of turning this hostile environment into a magnificent park. Later John McLaren took over as park superintendent and began his 56-year whirlwind of activity planting the park. He maintained correspondence with botanists around the globe securing seeds from them until he had trees from almost every country in the world. Today grassy meadows, formal gardens, lakes, ponds and tree-shaded canyons comprise Golden Gate Park.
Visitors will have a chance to see the park from its first plantings at the Panhandle to the Great Highway at the Pacific Ocean. While touring through the park there is evidence everywhere of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department's priority to keep recreation in a beautiful park setting. Some of the highlights of the trip are the Huntington Falls at Stowe Lake, the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, the Buffalo Paddock, the Music Concourse, McLaren Lodge and the Conservatory of Flowers. There will be stops at the John McLaren Rhododendron Dell and Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.

John McLaren Rhododendron Dell
John McLaren Rhododendron Dell
Photo by Kevin Shea

John Mclaren Rhododendron Dell
John McLaren (1846-1943) was park superintendent of Golden Gate Park for more than 50 years. He loved many plants but none more than rhododendrons. Just before his death a 17-acre site was selected for the more than 170 species and hybrid rhododendrons he introduced to the park. Over the years the collection has grown and changed. In the last five years a vigorous replanting program has continued to improve the collection. With new introductions, the Dell is becoming more and more a place to delight the avid rhododendron fancier. To capitalize on San Francisco's benign climate, much frost-tender material such as vireyas, maddeniis and big leaf rhododendrons is being introduced. Companion materials have been selected for color, height and textural contrasts.
Not to be missed are examples of the Loderi grex, 'Fragrantissimum', over 100 R. burmanicum , several R. cinnabarinum x R. maddenii hybrids and beautiful specimens of 'Countess of Haddington'. Specimens of 'Forsterianum' may well be the loveliest of the maddenii hybrid collection. Despite the ravages of man and nature, the Dell remains quite spectacular each spring.

Strybing Arboretum And Botanical Gardens
In the rhododendron world, Strybing Arboretum is probably best known for introducing vireyas into California horticulture. In the sixties, many plants were brought here from Dr. Sleumer's expeditions to see if these tropical plants could survive out-of-doors. Many original hybrids can be found here. Strybing is filled with numerous other rhododendrons growing alongside more than 6,000 species in the 70 acre botanical garden. Spring is lavishly displayed in Strybing's native section which mimics the California countryside awash with poppies ( Eschscholzia californica ) and hundreds of other wild flowers.

East Bay Tour
An afternoon in the East Bay will begin with a stop at the Botanical Garden of the University of California at Berkeley, the fifth largest collection in the United States with 10,000 species and varieties of plants. Most of the plants here are "wild-collected," grown from seed or cuttings obtained from plants in natural populations. Each plant collection is laid out by geographical or ecological terrain. Not to be missed is the Asian section with its half-dozen Rhododendron grande that are more than 20 feet tall. These should be in full bloom in April. There is also Rhododendron protistum planted in 1932, which came from a Forrest Expedition to western China in the 20's. Many other subsections are represented there: Boothia , Griersoniana , Irrorata , Triflora and Pontica . There are also a few of Bob Scott's early hybrids. (See article on Bob Scott elsewhere in this issue.)
Nestled in the East Bay hills are several private gardens that will be visited, each with its unique typography for all kinds of rhododendrons. The home of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Riddell, overlooking the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, is a stop on this tour. Kay Riddell, a former president of California Chapter, is chairperson of this year's national convention.

R. 'Lake Merritt'
'Lake Merritt'
Photo by Paul Molinari

Marin County Excursion
For those who prefer a change of pace from the rhododendron garden tours, a special Bay Area excursion to Marin County is planned on Friday. Participants will travel over the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods to see California's towering redwoods. Then, off to Sausalito for lunch on your own and plenty of time for shopping in this scenic bayside village. Later in the afternoon, board the ferry for a trip back across the bay passing Angel Island, Alcatraz, Treasure Island and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

An Evening in San Francisco
Begin with dinner at one of "The City's" oldest, family-style restaurants in San Francisco's North Beach area. After dinner there are two choices for an evening on the town - a bus tour of San Francisco at night or a performance of Beach Blanket Babylon.
On the night tour, you will delight in San Francisco's many unique sights including Coit Tower, Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf, Ghiradelli Square, Twin Peaks and the newly lighted Palace of Fine Arts.
"Beach Blanket Babylon Goes Around the World" is the latest edition of San Francisco's zany comedy revue. It's been playing to sellout crowds for the last 16 years at the Club Fugazi. Because liquor is sold there, you must be 21 to be admitted.

Pre-Convention Tour
On Tuesday, April 9, Monterey Chapter will host a day-long tour on the Monterey Peninsula. A chartered bus will take you to Monte Toyon, the 35-year old "rhododendron project" of Frances and Maurice Sumner. Located in Aptos, in a stand of native redwoods, this garden has been lovingly tended. A great many of the plants are from seed from England. Many more are of their own hybrids - 'Mi Amor', 'Owen Pearce', 'Martha Wright' - that grew too big for their San Francisco home. At one time there were more than 800 rhododendrons here, unfortunately a 70's freeze and an 80's mud slide have lowered the total, but only slightly.
In Monterey, lunch will be at Cannery Row. Then it's off to La Mirada, a new public garden recently opened. An extension of the Monterey Museum of Art, the grounds include the Peden Rhododendron Garden. It should be at its peak in April with a diverse collection of 300 named varieties of rhododendrons including many maddeniis. Also of interest is an herb garden containing ornamental, cooking and medicinal herbs which is planted as a water-conserving replacement for an old lawn.

Post-Convention Tour
Following the convention there will be a 3-day, motor coach tour to the North Coast, April 15-17. Visitors will leave early Monday for a trip to Willits. There they will board the historic 100-year-old Skunk Train for a ride to the coast through the redwoods. Tuesday will be a full day of garden tours including the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden where an impressive species collection and hundreds of cultivars can be seen. Through a satellite agreement with the Rhododendron Species Foundation, Federal Way, Washington, a choice selection of tender species are grown here. Private gardens feature new hybrids, hybridizer Dr. Len Charvet's collection and the "developing garden" of a retired landscape architect. Also on the tour will be the garden of Peter Schick, a spectacular display of big leaf rhododendrons, vireyas, and maddeniis in the subseries Megacalyx. A stop will be made at Bruce and Eleanor Philp's private garden adjacent to the Trillium Lane Nursery. Wednesday morning will include two more garden tours. Lunch is on your own in the charming town of Mendocino. On this tour, you will see many of the well known Fort Bragg hybrids such as 'Noyo Chief, 'Ruby Bowman', 'Conchita', and 'Helen Druecker'.

Other Events
For more of what's happening "there" in Oakland - 1990 American League Championship A's, Golden State Warriors, Oakland Museum, Jack London's Waterfront, Knowland Park and Zoo, Paramount Theater of the Arts - write the Oakland Convention and Visitors Bureau, Oakland, California.
See you there in Oakland for "California '91 - The Rapture of Rhododendrons."