From the President
The quadrennial process by which the United States chooses a president, and ballots on other national, state and local leaders and issues, is in full swing. Political pundits offer up multitudinous opinions advocating many different points of view. The often frantic activity brings to mind a delightful quotation attributed to Mark Twain..."The researches of many commentators have already thrown much darkness on this subject, and it is probable that, if they continue, we shall soon know nothing at all about it."
The American Rhododendron Society also functions upon democratic principles (and with some of the same failings), and is dependent on its constituency in making decisions. Our best opportunity to serve all members depends in large part on the input we receive from those members. That sharing is more effective through individual knowledge of our organizational structure.
Therefore, as we begin the season of more frequent chapter meetings, allow me to offer some suggestions for program content on the above and other subjects. Though these suggestions are intended, in particular, for the new members, I suspect the more seasoned may find them useful and interesting as well. These subjects are perhaps best treated as a series of short programs preceding the main agenda.
The most important contact with the national organization for individual members is your district director. How is that person chosen ? Do you know we have 12 districts plus an at large district representing non-chapter members and chapters outside of North America? What are the permanent national committees, how are their chair people selected, and what do they do? Do you have some familiarity with the national bylaws and Board policies? What does the parent organization do for you beyond publishing this Journal? If well presented these need not be boring subjects, even for those without a strong interest in politics.
Other possible topics may be found in or suggested by the following.
Nomenclature: What is a cultivar, clone, clonal name, variety, rachis; what's the difference between indumentum and tomentum, or between a style, stamen and stigma; and so forth? We sometimes tend to forget each discipline has its own special language, and use these terms and others freely with a subconscious assumption that our listeners understand when in fact they do not. A discussion of frequently used terminology will help the newcomer feel he is truly being helped, rather than lectured in an unfamiliar tongue.
Species and hybrids: What's the difference? What is a naturally occurring hybrid? What determines the distinction between a hybrid and a species? Is that difference always readily apparent? What have been the sources of the various species introduced to cultivation in our gardens?
Rhododendron species classification: What is a series, or a sub-series? How do botanical classifiers arrive at the groupings and names within a series, and how are plants within a particular series related to one another? When and where did the classification system arise, and is it being modified? What are the primary characteristics which will allow one to make at least some preliminary identification of series membership? How does one key a species plant?
Planting and other cultural considerations: Here we can cover many things, including planting mediums, sitting of plants in terms of such things as sun tolerance, rapidity of growth and size, irrigation and fertilization considerations, the use of pesticides and so on. Also, a number of chapters and regions have developed lists of good doers for their area, the characteristics of which should be shared beyond simply printing a list.
Propagation: There are many different approaches to rooting cuttings. Rooting containers, various mediums, the use of hormones, bottom heat, and care of the plants after roots form make an excellent show and tell presentation. Growing rhododendrons from seed is another whole subject by itself, including seed sources, hybridizing, germinating, pricking out and growing on the seedlings. Grafting, with actual demonstrations, is a third subject falling within this category.
None of the above are new ideas nor is the list intended to be exhaustive. Every chapter, I am confident, has resources of expertise within its membership that can present this information. The aim should be to de-mystify that which often seems unfathomable to the newcomer. Furthermore, both the speaker and longer term members will find this a good refresher.
I find repeated references in chapter newsletters to making new members feel welcome, usually in the context of social periods. But the welcome should not end there for, if after having been greeted warmly a new member sits through a program sprinkled with terminology and references to things with which he or she is unfamiliar, the feeling of welcome soon fades. The benefits and rewards we receive from membership, after all, bear a close relationship to our ability for informed participation; without this one does not feel a part of the group.
The ARS loses hundreds of members to non-renewals each year. Of course some losses are unavoidable, but I think we drop other potentially good members through simply failing to be good teachers at the beginning.
If you haven't already, give this a try. I'll bet it will bring new life to your chapter!