JARS v52n1 - Niagara '98 - Growing Rhododendrons On-The-Edge

Niagara '98 - Growing Rhododendrons On-The-Edge
ARS Annual Convention, Niagara Falls, Ontario, May 27-31, 1998
Nicholas Yarmoshuk
St. Catharines, Ontario

Lyall Crober
Queenston, Ontario

Bob Dickhout
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Peter Phelps
Grimsby, Ontario

Welcome to Niagara '98, to celebrate growing rhododendrons ON-THE-EDGE. The Rhododendron Society of Canada, Niagara Region, a chapter of one of the youngest districts of the American Rhododendron Society, is honoured to be the host for the ARS convention. Our members, and colleagues from other chapters, are looking forward to welcoming you to the 53rd Annual Convention of the American Rhododendron Society, May 27-31, 1998.

We have a wide variety of events for you to enjoy: speakers dealing with a variety of topics; a selection of interesting public and private gardens to visit; a large collection of not readily available hardy rhododendrons and azaleas to buy; a competitive truss show in which to display your blooms; old friends to meet and new ones to discover in a setting that is unique in eastern Canada.

1988 ARS Convention logo

The Setting

The Sheraton Fallsview Hotel and Conference Centre is a modern 20-story, 295-room structure that offers 30,000 square feet of meeting space. It is situated just 300 yards from the edge of the Horseshoe Falls, and affords a great view of the falls and surrounding area.

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls. The American and Canadian falls
as seen from the Sheraton Fallsview Hotel.
Photo courtesy of Niagara Parks Commission

The Niagara Peninsula offers a diversity of cultural experiences. The Niagara Region is an extended community of 16 municipalities each making its unique economic and cultural contribution to the area. Tender fruit such as cherries, peaches, apricots and nectarines, the more hardy pears, plums and, of course, ubiquitous apples are a feature of the region.

Also grown in the area are Vinifera grapes, from which prize winning wines of the Vintners Quality Alliance are produced. Approximately 80 percent of Canada's wine grapes are cultivated in the Niagara Peninsula.

Niagara's grape industry has over 6,500 hectares (16,000 acres) of growing area and the wineries are connected through a Niagara wine route. You will have opportunities to see these sights and to sample the nectar of the gods. This rural tranquility is complemented by the area's small town charm, sophisticated theatre, fine arts and excellent dining to reveal the breadth of cultural diversity and activity in the area.

The Niagara Peninsula is home to several theatrical stages. The most famous of these is the Shaw Festival, dedicated to the works of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. Located in historic Niagara-On-The-Lake, the festival is only minutes from Niagara Falls.

The Niagara Parks Commission was founded in 1885 with the goal of preserving and securing the radiance of the natural and historical beauty of the area. The Commission maintains an immaculate golf course, botanical gardens, a school of horticulture, a butterfly conservatory, all enhancing the fundamental uniqueness of the area.

The Niagara parkland stretches 54 scenic kilometers (33 miles) from Fort Erie to Niagara-On-The-Lake. The park contains many examples of the original Carolinian Forest. The grounds of the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens is home to one of North America's largest collection of free flying butterflies. Sir Winston Churchill was reported to have said that the Niagara Parkway is the loveliest drive in the world.

The Niagara Parks Commission maintains one of Canada's finest public golf courses. The Whirlpool Golf Course is challenging and invigorating to play. The lush fairways wander through the course revealing 18 immaculately groomed greens, creating a golfer's retreat. The Niagara Peninsula boasts of having 31 public golf courses.

The Niagara Peninsula is a region rich in historical adventures. Several historical battle sites have been preserved and enhanced as a part of our heritage. Historical battle forts provide on-site military displays and authentically dressed guards, while Niagara museums showcase collections of pictures, equipment and mementos, reflecting the history of the area.

The Niagara Falls Museum, built in 1827, is the oldest museum in North America. It features 26 galleries unveiling over 700,000 artifacts including Niagara Falls lore, Egyptian antiquities, dinosaurs and fossils. Lundy's Lane Historical Museum features displays on pioneers, early tourism, art glass, toys, Victorian parlour and travelling exhibits. The Willoughby Historical Museum is a former schoolhouse which presents its visitors with a variety of artifacts from early area settlers. The Apothecary Museum located in Niagara-on-the-Lake was formerly a drug store built in 1866. The museum fascinates its visitors with many unique walnut and butternut fixtures, crystal gasoliers and a rare collection of apothecary glass. Historic Fort Erie is a restored military structure from the war of 1812. The Niagara Historical Society Museum, in Niagara-On-The-Lake, is the first in Ontario built solely for use as an historical museum, and it displays over 20,000 artifacts from the United Empire Loyalists, the War of 1812 and the Victorian Age. Historic Fort George, also in Niagara-On-The-Lake, was built by the British in 1797. The fort is complete with officers' quarters, barracks and carpenter's shop which has been preserved to allow its visitors to take a walk back through time.

Approximately 400,000 people live in the Niagara Peninsula. They represent a variety of diverse ethnic backgrounds. This ethnic diversity extends the opportunity for Niagara residents and visitors to experience the taste of an array of international cuisine. The area provides a greater number of quality restaurants than many comparably sized cities. The region offers acclaimed local cuisine, classic European tradition, afternoon tea, lively pub and wine bars and of course convenient franchise establishments. Several wineries have first rate restaurants adjacent to their vineyards, where creative chefs prepare savoury delights.

Niagara Falls is located at a distance from the equator that is comparable to that of Chicago, Detroit and Boston. Situated between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, the Niagara Peninsula's continental climate is moderated by the Great Lakes. This provides daytime high temperatures in late May that range from the mid 70s (F) to mid 80s (F) and nighttime temperatures that range from the low 50s (F) to the mid 60s (F). Niagara Falls, located on the Niagara River which joins Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, can be reached conveniently by automobile, rail and air. By automobile the falls and the city are located 30 minutes north of Buffalo, four hours east of Cleveland, about five hours east of Detroit, and nine hours northwest of New York City.

AMTRAK provides daily service from New York City. Neither Niagara Falls, New York, nor Niagara Falls, Ontario, are served directly by air. However, very convenient national and international air services are available from Buffalo. Visitors from across the Atlantic will find it convenient to travel to Toronto, which is approximately two hours by automobile from Niagara Falls. Niagara Air Bus operates van service from airports in Buffalo and Toronto to Niagara Falls.

The Program

Our program offers something for everyone. For the rhododendron grower we offer a wide range of sites and environments: from sites in full sun with no shade protection, to shade gardens where sun infrequently penetrates the tree canopy; from sites where soil is well drained sandy loam, where plants can be planted directly in the turned soil with little specialized preparation, to sites with clay that provides a sticky gumbo in the spring and rock-like consistency in the heat of summer, requiring raised beds and the addition of vast amounts of organic material; from sites located on city lots of 12,000 square feet to 5-acre private country estates and a 15-acre woodland garden; from sites where rhododendrons and azaleas have been growing for more than 50 years, to sites that have seen serious plantings only in the last five years. The owners of these sites are prepared to share their successes and their challenges with you; they rarely recognize failure. Furthermore, the use of sites in relation to climate and wind patterns will be discussed by an international authority on the subject who conducts research and grows a variety of plants in Newfoundland and Iceland. He also happens to be an authority on plant hardiness.

For the breeder interested in scientific advancements, we offer the Breeders' Roundtable; four speakers whose work is at the cutting edge of knowledge in the science of plant genetics. These students of the genus are drawn from laboratories on both coasts of North America, from the continent's heartland and from Finland. Of course, challenges from knowledgeable members' personal experiences will provide lively, informed discussion.

For the breeder interested in traditional methods of plant breeding, the work of dedicated and unheralded Canadian hybridizers will be presented by a panel of five individuals, each an authority on the work of hybridizers in a specific Canadian setting. For the collector, an array of rhododendrons and azaleas, hybridized, grown and tested in Canadian sites, will be available. Many of the cultivars at the sale may be seen as relatively large plants growing in a garden on a tour, and hopefully in bloom. Furthermore, many of the hybridizers and growers of these plants, or those who are intimately knowledgeable in the respective areas, will describe their experiences with these plants and will be available to answer your questions.

For the lover of horticulture and gardens, the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens in the Niagara Falls area and the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington provide world recognized sites to examine and appreciate a wide range of plant material, in addition to rhododendrons and azaleas. The history of rhododendron growing in southern Ontario is well illustrated in the plants at Woodland Nursery in Mississauga and Guelph University's Horticultural Research Institute of Ontario at Vineland. The fine collaboration between private citizens, breeders and public officials is well demonstrated in the splendid public Rhododendron Gardens in Mississauga.

Guelph Horticultural
Research Institute of Ontario
R. 'Woodlot', Guelph Horticultural Research Institute
of Ontario, Vineland, Ontario.
Photo courtesy of Al Smith archives

For those interested in ecology, preservation of the environment or the natural history of southern Ontario, the program offers the research of Dr. D.W. Larson who has studied the ecology of the Niagara Escarpment and who has found living plants (on cliff faces) that are over 1,500 years old, trees that have survived the onslaught of human habitation and "development."

The program also offers an excellent, riveting presentation by Mr. John Riley of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists who has a specialist's knowledge of the flora and fauna of the Niagara Escarpment and of the Carolinian Forest. He is famous for his erudite and interesting illustrated talks. This will be an excellent way to spend an evening learning about Niagara's unique natural history.

Adaptation of plants to new environments is an area of interest to many rhododendron and azalea lovers. Iceland with only 13 indigenous plant species is home to a plant geneticist who is introducing new species into that environment. Rhododendrons are not native to Ontario - although there are those who say that a few colonies of Rhododendron maximum have been found in the Simcoe area, Ontario's tobacco growing area. Clearly, adaptation of plants to a foreign environment is of interest to those growing rhododendrons ON-THE-EDGE in Ontario.

The Speakers

The speakers may be conveniently listed under three headings: devoted hybridizers and growers; geneticists who are working at the cutting edge of knowledge in genetic engineering applied to ornamentals; ecologists who are absorbed with the introduction of new species into the environment and who study plant adaptation in the environment. All have an interest in providing information relevant to growing rhododendrons ON-THE-EDGE.

Our keynote speaker at the opening dinner on Wednesday night is Dr. Peter Tigerstedt . Dr. Tigerstedt is a geneticist with an international reputation who has served as an ecological consultant to over 35 countries. He described his work in a recent article in the Journal (1). In Niagara Falls he will provide more details of this work, provide information about new directions he is pursuing and will set the stage for the program that will evolve from Thursday morning through to noon on Sunday.

(R. japonicum x R. luteum)
Deciduous azalea ( R. japonicum x R. luteum ),
selected by Peter Tigerstedt, Helsinki, Finland
Photo by Peter Tigerstedt

On Thursday morning four speakers will describe the work of hybridizers in Niagara and southern Ontario. Brian Schram is an avid horticulturalist, grower and curator of Al Smith's rhododendron breeding program. With Mary Schram, Brian developed and owns The Briary, a 4-acre woodland with a large variety of rhododendrons and other Ericaceae. Dave Hinton is a rhododendron breeder and grower. Dave has served as a past president of the Rhododendron Society of Canada, is a very active member of the Toronto Chapter of ARS District 12. He started to grow rhododendrons from seed and to hybridize rhododendrons shortly after becoming a member of the ARS in 1973. The vast majority of Dave's rhododendron hybridizing has been based on R. brachycarpum ssp. tigerstedtii and R. smirnowii . He will provide us with details of his work. Barry Porteous is an avid amateur hybridizer and director of the Muskoka Institute of Botanical and Horticultural Research, founding chair of the Georgian Bay Rhododendron Society, past president of the North American Rock Garden Society and director of the North American Heather Society. Barry is an authority on the work of the late Dr. Joseph Brueckner whose work he described in the Journal in 1990 (2). Marjorie Hancock is a grower and naturalist and operator of Woodland Nursery in Mississauga, Ontario. The nursery, the grounds, the woods, the hybrids and the landscaping are the legacy of Leslie Hancock, who started to work with rhododendrons in Mississauga in 1939.

On Thursday afternoon four speakers provide a broader range of ideas. John Weagle will discuss hybridizing programs in eastern Canada. Horticulturalist, plant breeder and lecturer, he is an authority on rhododendron and azalea hybridizing in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia and especially on the work of Captain Dick Steele. John specializes in breeding evergreen azaleas for cool summer areas and Taliensia elepidotes for fine foliage and effect. Dr. Tony Shaw , professor of meteorology and climatology, Department of Geography, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, is an authority on the climate of the Niagara Region and the climate's effects on rhododendrons and viticulture. He will describe the special climatic features of this region and how they differ from those of the Toronto area. Dr. Alexander Robertson is an environmental scientist, professor, author and broadcaster. He is on the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Memorial University of Newfoundland. "Sandy" is an authority on effects of wind on plant hardiness, forest growth in Newfoundland and Iceland - especially as it relates to a) the irrelevance of plant hardiness zonation; and b) surprising examples of the remarkable growth and biodiversity of beautiful climate-proof landscape designs in the harsh environments of Newfoundland and Iceland. He is a frequent speaker on national public radio and has given countless interviews on the subject of adaptation of plants to harsh environments. Dr. Virginia Hildebrandt is principal scientist at Hildebrandt Plant Laboratory, Cambridge, Ontario. She researches tissue culture and plant propagation with emphasis on Rhododendron , Kalmia , Hosta , orchids and woody perennials. She propagated through tissue culture, many of the 33 "Niagara" varieties to be offered at the plant sale. Mr. Leslie Clay is a plantsman with 18 years of experience as propagator of rhododendrons through tissue culture. He is past president, Western Region International Association of Plant Propagators, technical advisor to Claydian Micropropagators Inc., and operates Les Clay & Sons Nursery. Les and Virginia will engage in a point-counterpoint discussion on the different techniques they use in propagating rhododendrons through tissue culture.

On Thursday evening Dr. Thorsteinn Tomasson , director of the Agricultural Research Institute of Iceland, will speak on plant adaptation in hostile environments. He graduated from Aberdeen University, Scotland, with a degree in agricultural botany and did postgraduate studies at the Agricultural University of Sweden in the field of plant breeding. His research work has centered upon genetic studies and plant breeding work mainly on grasses and small grains for Icelandic conditions. He has worked on plant introduction and adaptation breeding of grasses, legumes and other species and problems of seed production of plant material for use in soil conservation and land reclamation. Dr. Tomasson has conducted research on the genecology of the indigenous birches and recently released a commercial variety of the pubescent birch. He has a special interest in rhododendrons as an introduced species and notes that a recent Rhododendron and Azalea Society has been formed in Iceland. We appreciate that adaptation of plants to a hostile environment is a special interest in Iceland since the area has only 13 indigenous plant species

On Friday evening Mr. John Riley , the Director of Conservation and Science for the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (FON), will present an illustrated talk. The FON is a federation of 91 member groups and 15,000 individuals whose goal is the conservation and protection of Ontario's natural heritage. He has worked as botanist for the Royal Ontario Museum, where his research focused on the flora and wetlands of northern Ontario; and as geologist with the Ontario Geological Survey, through which he conducted research on the peat lands of Ontario. For many years, John was the regional ecologist for the Ontario, Ministry of Natural Resources, responsible for natural heritage programs and policies for much of southern Ontario. He has written widely on the flora and wetlands of Ontario, and on landscape-scale natural-heritage planning. As an introduction for us to southern Ontario, he will be speaking on the flora, fauna and geology of the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve, one of the outstanding natural legacies of Ontario.

Also on Friday evening a very exciting talk about plant adaptation in a hostile environment will be presented by Dr. Douglas Larson , director of Guelph University's Cliff Ecology Research Group, a world authority on cliff-face ecology, who studies plants that grow on vertical cliffs. In the process he has discovered ancient "forests" of cedars that have presented a paradox: cedar is supposed to grow fast and die young. Yet Larson's team has found examples of cliff-face cedars with growth rates so slow that in some years they lay down only two new cells. They have found that growth rates are directly related to temperatures in the previous year. His work has developed a record of climate change for the past 1,400 years. Other interesting findings relate to the way trees develop root systems in hostile environments and how they absorb nutrients in these environments. But we will let him describe this work in his own words and dynamic style.


Eight tours have been organized. On Wednesday afternoon, the early birds will have a choice of seeing one of two world renowned botanical gardens, Tours A and B.

Tour A takes you to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, a little more than an hour's drive from your convention hotel headquarters. The tour will take the scenic route through the Niagara Peninsula's orchards and vineyards by old Highway 8, then via the Skyway Bridge over Hamilton harbour to the RBG. Your conducted tour includes visits to the Rock Garden, the Rhododendron and Azalea Garden, the Laking (herbaceous perennial) Garden, and the Arboretum. RBG is the legacy of dreams of earthly paradise that inspired the creators of England's first botanic gardens more than three centuries ago. This jewel lies cradled in the great sweep of the Niagara Escarpment around the Western tip of Lake Ontario. More than 2,700 acres, Royal Botanical Gardens is a living museum, a rare Carolinian Forest, the world's largest lilac collection, a garden of curative secrets, a wilderness, a wetland and an important centre for plant research. Established in 1929 and granted a Royal Charter by King George V a year later, RBG has blossomed into one of North America's largest and one of the world's most admired botanical gardens.

Tea House at the Royal Botanical

Niagara in the spring, Tea House at the Royal Botanical Gardens.
Photo courtesy of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Burlington, Ontario

The six-acre amphitheatrical Rock Garden is a network of waterfalls and ponds, home to rare trees and shrubs, as well as 125,000 spring flowering bulbs. The Rock Gardens' changing treasures can be enjoyed from the terrace of the Tea House restaurant or the many picturesque walkways and rock stairs.

Hugging the northern edge of the Carolinian zone, RBG's sanctuaries shelter many plants associated with the exotic South. Rare redbuds, blue beech, sassafras and other southern species thrive on south facing slopes. In all, nearly 1,000 wild plant species thrive along the 30-mile trail network. Cootes Paradise, celebrated in the last century as the marshy home to innumerable waterfowl, salmon and otter is now part of a major restoration project that will ensure a healthy ecosystem for generations to come. Here, in the middle of the most densely populated part of Canada, are free-ranging deer, fox, muskrat and coyotes. A paradise for birds and bird watchers, RBG offers tantalizing glimpses of vireos, swallows and scarlet tanagers. The wetlands promise rails, ducks, geese and two species of the awesome heron.

Tour B is a conducted tour of the world famous Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens including the greenhouses in Queen Victoria Park. Also included is a visit to the new Butterfly Conservatory with over 2,000 butterflies (over 50 different species) and the "Great Gorge Adventure," an opportunity to see something of the plant ecology close to the base of the escarpment. The tour will-give a good overall view of the Niagara Falls area, and ends at Niagara Parks' Floral Clock and Rhododendron Garden before returning to the convention hotel. The rhododendron plantings were established in the Queenston/Lewiston bridge area with plants contributed by the Niagara Chapter. The first planting of approximately 40 plants was made in the fall of 1993 with plants donated by Jack Looye of Rhodo Land, a new rhododendron nursery in Niagara-On-The-Lake. The Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens with its School of Horticulture is a living museum. The 100-acre site is home to some 2,300 rose varieties planted to reveal a Chinese dragon pattern, and a large arboretum of several hundred trees from the beech to the magnolia, the mulberry to the yew. The new 11,000-square-foot Butterfly House is home to over 2,000 "floating flowers" where there is also a butterfly emergence area. See butterflies as they emerge from their chrysalids. The interior of the conservatory has a wide variety of foliage, so that the butterflies have a source of food in the plants that bloom. There is a 600-foot network of paths and a waterfall.

Tour C on Thursday is designed for those who would prefer to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the Niagara Peninsula. This is the Welland Canal and Local Niagara Winery tour. For non-rhodoholics, this tour starts with the Welland Canal which is the major shipping route between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. The Canal is part of the St. Lawrence Seaway providing access for ocean vessels to the upper Great Lakes. We will stop at the Lock 3 complex which has a viewing platform and an audio-visual presentation. The tour proceeds to Port Dalhousie, the original entrance to the Canal from Lake Ontario. This quaint town allows interesting sights and allows for shopping in its many antique shops. There is a guided nature walk along the beach and pier, before lunch at a lakeside restaurant. After lunch at a local Niagara winery, the wine making process will be shown and tasting of Niagara's Vintners Quality Assurance wines will be available. The trip back to the convention hotel will include a stop at a local pottery gallery.

Three tours are offered on Friday, one is a morning tour and two are all day tours.

Tour D , a half day tour, features three small rhododendron gardens and a visit to the Guelph University Horticulture Research Institute of Ontario at Vineland (HRIO). This latter site was the subject of a story in the last issue of the Journal (3). Tour D starts with Lyall and Betty Crober's garden in Queenston, moves on to the Yarmoshuks' small garden in St. Catharines, to Lyall and Anna Mae Fretz's in Vineland, ending at HRIO where rhododendron development in the Niagara Region began. These small gardens contain a wide variety of rhododendrons and azaleas, each different yet each spectacular in their own way.

The Crobers' first rhododendrons were planted at this location in 1971, one year before their house was built. Approximately 35 one-foot size seedlings were set out in unprepared soil and watered only occasionally. Water was not available at the site and had to be transported in cans a distance of seven miles. Many plants died the first year due to neglect. Only three remain of this original planting, but they have withstood the rigorous test of time and one is now 11 feet tall.

The site is ideal for growing rhododendrons. Situated in Queenston at the base of the Niagara Escarpment, there is more than adequate shade from the south in the summer. In winter, plants receive limited sunlight. Trees and hedges provide good wind protection and the escarpment shelters the plants from the harsh west and north winds. The coldest temperature recorded in the garden has been -28°C (-18°F). In recent years the winter lows have been of the order of -15°C to-20°C (5°F to -4°F).

While the site is climatically ideal for growing rhododendrons, for the most part, the soil is heavy clay, shallow and rocky. The quality of the soil varies across the site, and in some areas the plants have done well. To add insult to injury, there are two large black walnut trees on each side of this 100-foot wide lot; a butternut is situated in the middle. Naturally the soil is best where the walnuts have established themselves. The lot is about 400 feet deep with the latter half being on a decided slope at the foot of the escarpment. This is where most of the more than 200 lepidotes and elepidotes are located. In addition there are many evergreens and deciduous azaleas.

Lyall Crober garden, Rhododendron Garden
Lyall Crober garden, Rhododendron Garden,
with red and yellow Japanese maples, Cercis canadensis .
Photo by Bob Dickout

Varieties that have performed well over the years are 'Holden', 'Besse Howells', 'Sham's Ruby', 'Ice Cube', 'Lodestar', 'Janet Blair', 'David Gable', 'Francesca', 'Dexter's Champagne'*, 'Pearce's American Beauty', 'Ken Janeck', 'Doctor Joseph Rock , 'Mary Yates', 'Independence Day', 'Calsap', 'Wyandanch Pink', 'Dora Amateis', 'Western's Pink Diamond',, and several of Weldon Delp's lepidotes. 'Atroflo' is definitely not bud hardy but 'Windsor Lad' flowers quite well some years. The garden also contains a wide variety of Lyall's seedlings and plants provided by Al Smith and other local hybridizers.

The Yarmoshuks' garden is on a 100' x 125' plot in downtown St. Catharines and backs onto a golf course. The garden is in full-sun and contains an eclectic mixture of about 300 deciduous and evergreen azaleas, lepidotes and elepidotes. A number of crosses from the 1982 ARS Seed Exchange are now 15 years old. Notably, ('Janet Blair' x 'Odee Wright') has produced a number of interesting cream coloured seedlings that show very nice plant form and excellent bud set, but the flowers are not hardy below -15°C (5°F). A R. nakaharai seedling provides a lovely compact splash of bright red colour. 'Hancock's Pink Pompon'* and the azaleas R. kaempferi and R. yedoense var. poukhanense , obtained from Woodland Nurseries in 1973, are among the oldest plants on the site. Several of Al Smith's and Weldon Delp's crosses are represented among the plants. In the summer of 1994, several hundred naturally seeded evergreen azalea seedlings appeared in the area under R. kaempferi . One hundred of these are expected to come into bloom in May, 1998.

Lyall Fretz's garden, approximately 200' x 400', is a gem in the Village of Vineland. Set among a mature stand of pines, with strategically placed oaks, and sheltered by various evergreens, Lyall's elepidotes are the envy of the area. In addition, he has developed a very fine deciduous azalea and lepidote collection. Lyall's hybrids have earned many Best-in-Show awards at the annual Rhododendron Society of Canada truss shows, of which, 'Fretz's Number 9'* will be available at the plant sale.

R. 'Nahanni'
'Nahanni': Lepidote
( R. racemosum x R. lapponicum )
in Great Slave area. Cross by
Dr. Joseph Brueckner.
Photo by Barrie Porteous

Tour E takes us to Oakville and Mississauga. The tour travels to Oakville via the Lakeshore route with the first stop at Old Oakville for a walk around small rhodo gardens including the garden of St. Jude's Church. The next stop is the Mississauga Rhododendron Gardens, one of the finest civic rhodo gardens in Canada. Also included is the extensive and beautiful Brueckner garden featuring crosses of the late Dr. Joe Brueckner, one of Canada's foremost hybridizers (4). The last stop is Woodlands Nurseries featuring rhodo development by Canada's pioneer in rhododendron and azalea culture, the late Leslie Hancock.

Hancock Woodlands is a beautiful four-acre woods located in the heart of a residential area of Mississauga. Maturing rhododendrons, azaleas and mountain laurel ecologically share space with native flowers, beneath a tall canopy of ancient pine, oak, beech and hemlock. Begun by Leslie and Dorothy Hancock in 1931, the 10-acre property has become a unique complex of propagating nursery, landscaped home grounds, and wooded sanctuary for native and naturalized plants, birds and animals, now completely surrounded by the urban development of the city of Mississauga, just west of Toronto.

In many ways, Leslie Hancock is the father of rhododendron horticulture in this portion of southern Ontario. His early source of rhododendrons was from growers in Holland. From these early plants he continued to create hardy strains suitable for the local climate. In the decades after World War II, Leslie Hancock's reputation as a naturalistic landscaper grew as did that of his nursery and landscaped gardens. This allowed him to introduce rhododendrons wherever there was a possibility for their survival. The progeny of his earliest crosses such as 'Jolly Red Giant'*, 'Dorothy Macklin'*, 'Fundy' and his later work with lepidotes, 'Hancock's Pink Pompon'*, 'Little Boy Blue'*, 'Evening Sky'*, have shown themselves to be very suitable for this environment.

The challenge of mastering the propagation of rhododendrons and azaleas soon took precedence over landscape contracting and eventually Woodland Nurseries was devoting itself to full time plant production. Leslie Hancock was honoured formally with such awards as the Trillium Award of the Ontario Nurseryman's Association, the Maple Leaf Award of the International Shade Tree Conference, and the Award of Merit from the International Plant Propagators Society.

By 1971 interest in rhododendrons had grown among a number of Canadians to the extent that they formed the Rhododendron Society of Canada. Leslie Hancock served as the Bulletin editor and was a major contributor in the early years. He soon became known affectionately as "Mr. Rhododendron"; many of those currently active in Chapter 12 of the American Rhododendron Society owe their introduction to rhododendrons to Leslie's kind encouragement. In 1984, the Rhododendron Society of Canada created the Leslie Hancock Memorial Award. This is awarded annually to a Society member in recognition and appreciation of generous and meritorious service and enthusiasm in promoting the growth of the Society.

Since Leslie Hancock's death in 1977, his daughter, Marjorie, has been devoted, along with her brothers and other members of the family, to pursuing Leslie Hancock's original ideals in producing fine garden plants and encouraging their use in the finest of landscape settings.

Evergreen azalea R. kaempferi,
Woodland Nursery, Mississauga, Ontario
Evergreen azalea R. kaempferi , Woodland Nursery,
Mississauga, Ontario.
Photographer unknown

Tour F takes us through the Niagara Peninsula and by a scenic route over the Niagara Escarpment to the beautiful gardens of Ralph and Carol Hansen in the Caledon Hills. Five acres of gardens surrounded by 65 acres of forest contain something for everyone. The Hansens' garden is situated north west of Toronto, one climatic zone north of Niagara. Temperatures in this area are usually five degrees centigrade (almost 10°F) colder than those in Niagara. The garden area comprises about 5 acres all surrounded by 65 acres of evergreen and deciduous forest. The garden area includes the house, lawns, greenhouses, pond, and a walled garden in the remnants of the foundations of a 120-year-old barn. The location and arrangements of the various gardens are such that there are reasonable vistas and a need to walk about to see it all. Under the mature trees, benches are situated for pleasant viewing.

R. 'Homebush' and 'Calsap'
'Homebush' and 'Calsap'
Hansens' Rhododendron Woods
Caledon Hills, Ontario.
Photo by Ralph Hansen

All the gardens are a melange of plants with one or two genera as the feature. For instance there are areas that are called woodland, rose, rhododendron, peony, herbaceous perennial, including a free form rockery, scree, and stone wall which use alpines as the main feature. The rhododendron area has an eclectic collection of 400 plants derived from a wide range of sources.

The walled garden in the barn foundations is interesting in that it provides a warmer micro-climate than the other areas. Besides alpines, and woodlands, the Hansens favour clematis and other vines and they have a large collection of day lilies. We will have a boxed lunch at the Hansens before we travel to the fine suburban garden of the Birketts.

Over the last 15 years, Richard Birkett has developed a very interesting shade garden on a 100' x 150' plot in the heart of Oakville. Richard has approximately 50 lepidotes and deciduous azaleas growing in a woodland created with hemlock, various forms of Japanese maple, an empress tree, a fringe tree, a purple locust, 10 varieties of magnolia, and a weeping variegated willow. Over the years he has planted over 1,000 bulbs which include various varieties of allium and tulip. He has numerous varieties of hosta, many Japanese tree peonies, a Japanese pond, a rock garden and a lath house in the form of a gazebo for growing seedlings. Stone paths connect various parts of the garden.

After viewing the Birketts' garden we will return to Niagara Falls by the Lakeshore route. At 8 p.m. we will have the pleasure of hearing John Riley's and Douglas Larson's illustrated talks about Carolinian Canada, the Niagara Escarpment and ancient, cliff-side forests.

R. 'Pride of Dorchester'
'Pride of Dorchester', elepidote
( R. yakushimanum 'Koichiro Wada'
x 'Vinebrooke'), cross by Al Smith,
grown by Brian Schram at The Briary,
Brian and Mary Schram's garden,
Fenwick, Ontario.
Photo by Bob Dickout

Tour G is the second of two tours that feature small Niagara rhododendron gardens. This half day tour includes the gardens of Jim and Janice Bell and Mike and Marian Little in Fonthill, the Briary in Fenwick and the Al Smith Memorial Garden at Brock University. Each garden offers a different setting of the many varieties of rhododendrons grown in the Niagara Peninsula.

The Bells have a beautiful manicured, formal home garden where many of the rhododendrons are more than 20 years old. Among the many Ironclads are examples of Al Smith's seedlings and excellent mature examples of 'Blue Tit'. In addition to the rhododendrons and azaleas, the Bells, have a magnificent display of primula and spring bulbs with magnolia, Cornus florida , and strategically located Cercis canadensis and oak.

The Littles have a unique 3-acre property in a hollow in Fonthill which actually is at the edge of an esker. Their house, built into the side of the hill, has a passive solar heating system with an unheated greenhouse on a southern exposure. This provides ideal conditions for growing rhododendrons and azaleas "under glass." The Littles are growing the 3,000 small plants propagated by Virginia Hildebrandt which will be offered at the convention's Plant Sale.

The Littles started growing rhododendrons in 1985 and have a fine collection of over 2,000 plants growing naturally on the property, all derived from Weldon Delp, Al Smith and their own peripatetic search for interesting cultivars. In addition they have a collection of rhododendron species. Also, there are several Franklinia growing on the premises, as well as Magnolia hypoluca , M. sieboldii and M. macrophyllum var. ashei .

The Briary, owned and developed by Brian and Mary Schram, was founded in 1984 when the Schrams discovered a 2½-acre parcel of land containing a pond and a creek that they thought would be a ideal spot to grow rhododendrons and other species rare to the area. The Schrams' plant collection includes a large collection of varieties of Japanese maples, a Carolina silver bell, full-sized and dwarf evergreens and spring flowering bulbs. Brian has been growing rhododendrons and azaleas since the mid 1970s and has invariably carried away the major awards at the annual Rhododendron Society of Canada truss show. Brian has had a very close relationship with Al Smith and Weldon Delp. The more than 1,000 plants that the Schrams have grown have derived in part from that association but also from Brian's own hybridizing activities and seed acquisition from various sources. Many of the rhododendrons that will be offered at the plant sale will be found at the Briary.

R. 'Our Friend'
'Our Friend', elepidote ('Scintillation' open pollinated).
Cross by Al Smith, selected and grown by Brian Schram,
The Briary, Fenwick, Ontario.
Photo by Bob Dickout

The Al Smith Memorial Rhododendron Garden at Brock University contains approximately 100 plants. Members of the Niagara Region Chapter have developed the plantings and provided cultivars that reflect the hybridizing work of Al Smith. Brock University is also home to a unique collection of 10 outdoor art sculptures from the Lutz Teutloff Gallery in Cologne, Germany. These major works of modern sculpture symbolize the relationship between art, nature and science. Visitors will see how an engaged idealist can bring art to people outside a museum.

Tour H offers a visit to Edwards Gardens in Toronto and Dave Hilton's Rhododendron Woods in Orono. View the CN Tower and the Skydome on the way to Edwards Gardens, one of Metro Toronto's finest civic gardens with a rhododendron and azalea woodland developed and maintained with the help of the Toronto Chapter of District 12 of the ARS.

Dave Hinton's Rhododendron Woods is a 5-acre country garden, 2 kilometers from the village of Orono, about an hour's drive north and east of Toronto in climatic zone 5 (US Zone 4). The coldest temperature experienced in this garden in the last 20 years was -36°C (-32°F) on January 16, 1994. The usual coldest temperature is of the order of -28°C (-20°F) . Dave will talk about his many hybrids developed for this more northern area, a woodland garden truly ON-THE-EDGE.

Dave Hinton's azalea seedlings in
Rhododendron Woods, Orono, Ontario
Dave Hinton's azalea seedlings in
Rhododendron Woods, Orono, Ontario.
Photo by Dave Hinton

Rhododendron Woods was bought by Dave and his late wife Sandra in the fall of 1976. It is a rolling piece of property with a flood plain, giving a generally high water table. This allows plants to grow without artificial watering. All plants growing here are dependent on only what nature gives. When Dave and Sandra moved in only an acre and a half around the house was looked after and the rest of the property had red pine and white spruce about a metre (3 feet) in height among grass a metre and a half high (4 feet). This was gradually reclaimed over the years and now the trees are continually being thinned.

Rhododendron Woods has been open to the public in peak bloom season for the past 11 years and has been featured many times for various fund raisers and on other Society garden tours. In the last five years Dave has put in many herbaceous perennial borders which include collections of Rodgersia , Ligularia , Hosta , Eremurus , Iris and winter hardy cacti. Dave is now working on collecting any magnolia that will survive in his area. Plants are allowed to self seed and magnolia and rhododendron seedlings are seen popping up in various areas.

The rhododendron collection consists mainly of plants grown from Dave's hybridizing and from the seed exchange, as most commercial hybrids available in the general rhododendron market would just not flower in the Orono area. The plants are grown in the existing soil with sulphur being the only amendment, to lower the pH from the natural 7.5 to 6.0 and mulching with a layer of newspaper and other material to hide the newspaper. The blooming season lasts from the first week in May when R. dauricum starts to flower to mid August when Dave's hybrids of R. arborescence , R. prunifolium and R. bakeri (now R. cumberlandense ) flower. The vast majority of Dave's rhododendrons are hybrids of R. brachycarpum spp. tigerstedtii and R. smirnowii as these have proven to be very hardy and withstand the exposure and summer dry periods. Dave continues to hybridize rhododendrons but is now running out of space, so most seed is given to the ARS Seed Exchange. We will have a box lunch at the Hinton gardens. Our trip back to Niagara Falls will take us through the northern part of Metro Toronto.

Tour I will take you to the Niagara Escarpment and a Carolinian Forest. The first stop on this all day tour is a lush Carolinian woodland in the picturesque Effingham Valley where we will be led by an experienced naturalist along the trail, while strains of music will float through the leaves. We will move on to a new Carolinian Forest at Cave Springs at the base of the escarpment where the plantation can be observed close-up. Lunch will be served at the Walters Estates Winery on the Beamsville Bench with an opportunity to tour the winery. After lunch the tour moves on to the Wainfleet wetlands to view the flora and fauna with our guides explaining the natural history and biology of the area.

Carolinian Canada is a very significant landscape, stretching south from the Rouge River Valley in Toronto to Middle Island in Lake Erie. Often known as the "banana belt," this area supports an amazing diversity of wildlife and natural habitats. A relatively warm southern climate has resulted in the presence of many distinctive species, many of which are found nowhere else in Canada.

This landscape represents the northern extreme of the eastern deciduous forest region, which stretches as far south as the Carolinas. In Ontario it is a landscape of natural diversity with a range of habitats from wetlands to upland woodlands, and also includes pockets of prairie, savannah and other distinctive vegetation. Found here are many of Canada's rare, threatened, and endangered plant species. They include sassafras, tulip tree, pawpaw, black gum, Kentucky coffee tree and the cucumber tree. A list of 200 rare species exist only within the Carolinian zone. These include green dragon, creeping fragile fern, swamp rose mallow, Virginia bluebells and oswego tea. Niagara has several excellent representative Carolinian areas and Tour I will let you experience two of these.

Plant Sale

Members of the Convention Organizing Committee have been preparing the plant sale for the past three years. The locally developed and selected cultivars have been propagated through tissue culture and a total of 3,000 plants are now being grown at the Littles' greenhouse. The sale will open on Wednesday night after Dr. Tigerstedt's talk and will remain open until early Sunday afternoon during hours to be announced at the convention. Varieties that will be available will be described in the spring issue of the Journal and a final list will be provided to delegates with their registration materials.

Breeder's Roundtable

The Breeder's Roundtable will mark its 25th anniversary as a convention feature. Dr. August Kehr, who founded the event, will serve as chair. He has organized a distinguished group of geneticists and breeders who will talk about current state of knowledge and the future in breeding of rhododendrons. One goal of the Roundtable is to have a discussion about a potential program of moving chromosomes into new combinations by selfing plants that have a very high number of interspecific chromosomes.

Dr. August Kehr is a retired research scientist who worked at the United States Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, Maryland. He is a past president of the American Rhododendron Society. A plant geneticist, his early work on genetic tumours in plants was supported by the American Cancer Society. Most recently he has worked on induction of polyploidy in rhododendrons and magnolias by seedling treatment.

Dr. Robert Griesbach is a plant geneticist and research scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, Maryland. In recent years Dr. Griesbach has become an avid grower of rhododendrons. He will speak on "What's New in Genetics and Plant Breeding."

Dr. Steve McCulloch is a plant propagator and horticulturalist with 15 years experience in use of tissue culture techniques. During this time he has been a member of the Olympia Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society and has served that group in various capacities including that of president. He has a strong interest in new, marketable, hardy rhododendrons developed through polyploidy from tissue culture. He will speak on "Developing Polyploidy from Tissue Culture."

Dr. Harold Pellett is a professor at the Landscape Arboretum at the University of Minnesota. His research emphasizes breeding, genetics, and adaptability of landscape plant materials. It includes breeding of cold hardy deciduous azaleas, viburnums, red maple, honeysuckle, and other woody plants; propagation of difficult-to-propagate species; and inheritance of cold acclimation and relationship of the acclimation/deacclimation process to environmental conditions. He has also researched and published extensively on cultural practices concerning landscape plants and the relationship of a micro-environment to the growth of woody plants. His topic in the Roundtable will be "Breeding for Hardiness in Azaleas."

Dr. Peter Tigerstedt , who is the keynote speaker at the opening dinner on Wednesday night, and researcher in residence at the convention, will also speak at the Roundtable on the topic, "Breeding for Hardiness in Rhododendrons."

Closing Banquet

The highlight of the closing banquet on Saturday night will be the two speakers, Mr. Barrie Porteous and Dr. Alexander (Sandy) Robertson . In addition to being very competent in their respective fields these gentlemen are interesting, dynamic and entertaining speakers whose irreverent remarks about their experiences in the world of horticulture and silviculture will delight the professional and amateur rhododendron grower as well as all non-rhodoholic delegates.

* Name is not registered.

End Notes
1.  Peter M.A. Tigerstedt and Marjatta Uosukainen. Breeding Cold-hardy Rhododendrons. Journal American Rhododendron Society, pp. 185-189, Vol. 50, Number 4, Fall 1996.
2.  Barrie Porteous. Rhododendrons in a Cold Climate. Journal American Rhododendron Society, pp. 78-83, Vol. 44, Number 2, Spring 1990.
3.  Robert A. Fleming et al. Azaleas and Rhododendrons at Guelph University, Ontario. Journal American Rhododendron Society, pp. 195-196, Vol. 51, Number 4, Fall, 1997.
4.  Op.cit.