JARS v48n2 - Rhododendron 'Burnaby Centennial'

Rhododendron 'Burnaby Centennial'
How Burnaby, B.C. Chose a New Floral Symbol
Jeanne Mitchell
Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

One evening in September 1984, five or six members of the Burnaby Beautification Committee were brainstorming about a project to honour the coming centennial (in 1992) of the city. "Why not a contest for a rhododendron for Burnaby?" said someone. Good idea, we all agreed. Little did we know the magnitude of the project we were about to begin.
Burnaby, British Columbia, had adopted the rhododendron as a floral emblem in August 1966 and developed two rhododendron gardens - Century Gardens at Deer Lake and plantings on Burnaby Mountain along Centennial Way. We discovered that the idea for a competition to develop a new variety of the civic flower was first conceived in 1967 by the Burnaby Parks and Recreation Commission but was never realized. We decided now was an opportune time to revitalize the plan, and undertook the competition to provide a new and unique rhododendron as a way to honour the city's 100th birthday.
The Burnaby Beautification Committee is comprised of interested citizens who generate beautification projects in many corners of the city. A subcommittee was struck in 1985 and enthusiastically began to organize competition rules and to discuss propagation of the winner for use by the city and eventually (through the nursery industry) by the public.
The first question asked was: What kind of plant do we want? As the official municipal symbol, we definitely wanted something unique and beautiful. It was to be planted in civic gardens and, we hoped, in many citizens' private gardens; therefore, it had to be hardy, have good form and foliage as well as a beautiful truss, and be easy to grow. In other words - perfect. We reworked the original rules and regulations and sent an initial letter of inquiry to the Vancouver Rhododendron Society. After fielding rigorous comments and questions from VRS members about our plans, we soon realized that this competition was different from those looking only for horticultural perfection or uniqueness. We had also the task of choosing a well rounded hybrid that would be approved not only by judges but also local politicians and citizens. Expert advice was needed to attain our goals. We therefore invited Clive Justice and Lillian Hodgson, both long-time and vastly experienced VRS/ARS members; Alec Downie, horticulturist, VanDusen Botanical Gardens; Dr. Gerald Straley, research scientist, UBC Botanical Gardens; and Marguerite Kypers of Mandeville Garden Centre to consult with committee members Lois Brown, Norbert Wuensche (VRS), Helen Reid, and myself and with Burnaby Parks and Recreation Department staff John Kirbyson, Design Supervisor, and Bill Bisset, Foreman of Horticulture. The Parks and Recreation Commission representative was Councillor Doreen Lawson, who was also an influential member of the Commission in 1966 when the rhododendron was chosen as the official symbol.
Cash prizes of $5,000 for the winning plant and $1,000 each for two honourable mentions were furnished by the Commission. 'Burnaby Centennial' was chosen as the proposed name for the winner. At our interesting and sometimes opinionated meetings, guidelines for judging criteria, plant features, entry requirements, trial plot operation, and rights reserved were formulated by the Committee.
Judges were chosen to combine expert knowledge with municipal and public input. They were: Lloyd Smith, pioneer nurseryman and rhododendron grower; Les Clay, then president of the Fraser Valley South Chapter ARS; Roy Forster, curator, VanDusen Botanical Gardens; Councillor Doreen Lawsen; Dennis Gaunt, Director of Parks, and Gordon Farrell, a member of the Committee representing the city (then municipality) of Burnaby.
All contestants were to provide four 1-year-old plants of each variety submitted together with a history of their parentage to the Burnaby parks nursery by September 1988. Desired plant features included known parentage, an annually flowering hybrid evergreen rhododendron with any colour of flower and producing vigorous annual growth, a habit of between 2 feet to 10 feet growth in 10 years and bud hardiness to 5F. ARS Hardiness H-4 USDA Zone 7. Luckily, southwestern British Columbia has a great climate for growing many varieties of rhododendrons and, naturally, many growers and hybridizers live nearby. Thus on the appointed day we received 25 varieties from five entrants - Jack Lofthouse, Ken Gibson, Vern and Gordon Finley, Carol Lockin (Mackie), and Gene Round. These plants were distributed to three trial plot locations: UBC Botanical Gardens, VanDusen Botanical Gardens, and the Burnaby Parks and Recreation Department nursery. They received care and attention sufficient to establish proper growth during the first growing season. In subsequent growing seasons plant maintenance deliberately approximated that of the average home gardener. Each location had slightly different exposure, climatic conditions, and maintenance routine. As many of you from the Pacific Northwest will recall, the winter of 1988 started early and was cold and windy. Some losses occurred but were not unexpected, although the chairperson developed a few gray hairs. In fact hardiness was one of the valuable qualities we wanted and it was certainly tested over the last three winters.
Another major concern of judges and entrants from the start of the program was the length of time available to evaluate the plants in time for the centennial deadline of spring 1992. Because of this, photographic and written observation records of the trial garden material and the source plants were kept for the judging committee by volunteers. The judges regularly inspected the trial gardens through the seasons using special judging sheets noting desired and undesirable features as well as reviewing the photographic and written records. All plant material was identified in a double blind manner.
The judges successfully completed their difficult task, and in May 1992 at the Burnaby Rhododendron Festival we proudly announced that long-time members of the VRS Vern and Gordon (Doc) Finley of Surrey, B.C. were the winners of the Rhododendron 'Burnaby Centennial' prize. John Lofthouse, whose plant developments are extremely well known, and Gene Round, also an accomplished grower, won Honorable Mentions.

R. 'Burnaby Centennial'
R. 'Burnaby Centennial'
Photo by Norbert Wuensche

The new R. 'Burnaby Centennial' is a 'Leona' x 'Etta Burrows' cross. The compact truss consists of 14 to 16 five-lobed flowers which are raspberry red in colour (RHS Colour Chart 52A) centered with lighter red stamen, style and black anthers. Foliage is pointed, medium in size and shiny dark green in colour.
The city of Burnaby has developed a garden within Century Gardens at Deer Lake Park to display each of the winning plants as well as a sample, with the generous permission of the competitors, of all the competition entries. This garden, which features the developments of some of the Pacific Northwest's accomplished rhododendron growers, will, we hope, continue to provide enjoyment for rhododendron lovers for years to come. It is also our hope that the city will continue to acquire newly developed varieties from local specialists so that the garden will evolve to provide a singular record of accomplishment.

Gordon and Vern Finley accepting prize 
for 'Burnaby Centennial'.
Gordon and Vern Finley accepting
prize for 'Burnaby Centennial'.

An offshoot of the competition which has developed its own life is the Burnaby Rhododendron Festival. We produced the first festival at Deer Lake Park in 1989 to publicize the competition, educate people about rhododendrons and encourage their planting in the city. We were so encouraged by the response that we are currently planning our fifth annual festival this coming May 1994, with a day of music, art, guided rhododendron and perennial walks in Century Gardens, nature and birding walks in the natural areas of the park, lectures, demonstration, plants and books to buy and other good things.
Finally the Committee has arranged for tissue culture propagation of R. 'Burnaby Centennial' which is currently underway. Plans are to make liner stock available to the nursery trades industry (hopefully in the coming year) so that the rest of our mandate can be completed - that of making our wonderful new plant available to the buying citizen in the local retail garden shop. Inquiries about this or the festival should be made to the Burnaby Beautification Committee, Parks and Recreation Commission, 4949 Canada Way, Burnaby, B.C. Canada V5G 1M2.
Thanks to the many advisers, plant observers, ARS members and festival participants the city of Burnaby now has a beautiful and unique floral emblem which has already been presented with pride to our sister cities and to the Queen Mother Elizabeth ( R. 'Elizabeth' was named for her in 1937) for her birthday.

Jeanne Mitchell, chair of the Burnaby Centennial Rhododendron Competition Committee, is a member of the Vancouver Chapter. She is business manager and specification writer for the DM Group Landscape Architects.

Norbert Wuensche, photographer for the cover photo of 'Burnaby Centennial', is a member of the Burnaby Beautification Committee. He is a member of the Vancouver Chapter and has been hybridizing as a hobby since 1973.