JARS v52n3 - Mirrors on the Past, Windows to the Future: 1999 Annual Convention

Mirrors on the Past, Windows to the Future: 1999 Annual Convention
April 27 - May 3, 1999
Kristi O'Donnell
Greenbank, Washington

At the end of the last century, E.H. Wilson, the first modern plant collector, began his trips of discovery and plant introductions in China. Now, exactly 100 years later, we look back on the "Golden Age" of plant collecting and look forward to the continuation of what some have called the "Second Golden Age." Asia is again open, this time rightfully taking part in or leading the way to new discoveries and introductions..

To Our convention, "100 Years of Rhododendrons", will highlight the great adventures of the past, those occurring now, a history of the use of the rhododendron introductions, and what the future might hold.

The convention site is Bellevue, Washington - a floating bridge and a few miles east of Seattle - and is being hosted by ARS District 2: Cascade, Komo Kulshan, Pilchuck, Seattle and Whidbey Island chapters.

In the next several ARS Journals, we invite you to read about the public and private garden tours and the exciting schedule of speakers touching on modern hybridizing, plant explorers of today and yesterday, the history of hybrids, local and far away species and companion plants.

Today, join us on a tour of some of the well known public gardens in the Seattle area - a rhododendron Mecca.

Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle

Since its establishment in 1934, the Washington Park Arboretum (WPA) has been an invaluable cultural treasure not only for Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, but also nationally and internationally. A temperate climate allows WPA to grow and exhibit a wider variety of plants than almost any other non-tropical area of the United States. Its international significance as a conservation repository and display stems from its almost 4,800 documented taxa from around the world.

The 200 plus acres of the WPA comprise the largest public facility north of San Francisco (Strybing), including the gardens in Vancouver, B.C. It is recognized internationally for its collection of Japanese maples, the largest collection in the United States, in addition to hollies, firs, camellias, magnolias and maples. Four points of interest to rhododendron enthusiasts include: Azalea Way, Loderi Valley, Rhododendron Glen and the Northwest Rhododendron Hybridizers Bed.

The Washington Park Arboretum,
The Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle.
Photo courtesy of the Washington Park Arboretum

Azalea Way, originally a trail for snaking logs to Lake Washington, was selected by the Olmsted brothers in 1936 to become a grass walkway for strolling and viewing flowering Japanese cherries, azaleas and rhododendrons. The original design called for color patterns reminiscent of the famed British designer, Gertrude Jekyll.

Both Loderi Valley and Rhododendron Glen, the two prominent valleys on the eastern side of the arboretum, contain large mature specimens of fragrant 'Loderi King George' and sister seedlings.

The Northwest Rhododendron Hybridizers Bed, currently under renovation, documents the accomplishments of Pacific Northwest hybridizers such as Halfdan Lem, Lester Brandt, Endre Ostbo and modern hybridizers, Elsie Watson, Frank Fujioka, Ned Brockenbrough and Joe Davis to name a few.

Kubota Garden, South Seattle

The Kubota Garden lies on 20 acres in South Seattle. Replete with meditation ponds, impressive waterfalls, woody areas and groomed gardens, it represents decades of work by the Japanese gardener, Fujitaro Kubota, his family, the Seattle Parks Department and Kubota Garden Foundation and volunteers.

Kubota was self taught as a gardener, but his reputation as a landscape designer soon took on such prestigious assignments as designing the gardens on the campus of Seattle University, the Rainier Club and the Japanese Garden at the Bloedel Reserve. The garden was designated a Historical Landmark in 1981 and was later purchased by the City of Seattle Parks Department.

Sculptural plantings of conifers drape over the water's edge. Rhododendrons reflect in the still waters. Walkways lead you up man-made slopes to hidden vistas, peering over blossomed branches of cherries and camellias. Serenity enfolds you in this urban surprise garden.

The Kubota Garden,
South Seattle
The Kubota Garden, South Seattle.
Photo courtesy of the Kubota Garden

Bellevue Botanical Gardens

Located east of Seattle, the Bellevue Botanical Gardens is endowed with heavily forested areas, open lawns, several wetlands, fantastic perennial borders, rock gardens and Yao Japanese Garden. This area, a USDA Zone 7, is influenced by maritime air masses from the Pacific Ocean, the westerly Olympic Mountains and Cascade Mountain Range to the east.

The Bellevue Botanical Gardens,
Rock Garden
The Bellevue Botanical Gardens, Rock Garden.
Photo courtesy of the Bellevue Botanical Gardens

The Bellevue Botanical Gardens Heritage Rhododendron Collection began with Cal and Harriet Shorts who moved to Wilburton Hill in 1947 to build their country home. By 1950, a new home was constructed and, needing landscaping, inspired the owners to take up gardening.

The Shorts purchased plants from the Endre Ostbo Nursery in Bellevue and, upon his recommendation, visited Mr. Carl English, designer of the Chittendon Government Locks Rhododendron Gardens. From seeds obtained during this visit, Cal Short began raising rhododendrons in his small glass house. A later trip to renowned hybridizer Halfdan Lem resulted in more seeds, which Cal grew on for their collection. This historic collection of rhododendrons is a wonderful part of the Bellevue Botanical Gardens today, featuring the only named clone of the grouping 'Cal's Harriet'*, a lovely, almost double peach blossom.

Meerkerk Gardens

Located on scenic Whidbey Island, Meerkerk Gardens is a 53-acre woodland preserve featuring 10 acres of display and educational gardens amid a 43-acre forest reserve. Inspired by the Washington State flower, Rhododendron macrophyllum , and Max's travels in Asia, the Meerkerks began creating their gardens in 1961. Today the Meerkerk collection exhibits nearly 2,000 rhododendrons along with magnolias, cherries, viburnums and companion plantings of groundcovers, spring bulbs and perennials.

The display gardens showcase the latest hybrids in the International Test Garden, with hybrids representing growers from the United States and Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan and Finland.

The Meerkerk Test Garden,
Whidbey Island
The Meerkerk Test Garden, Whidbey Island.
Photo by Kristi O'Donnell

The original plantings of founders Ann and Max Meerkerk in their 5-acre "secret garden" demonstrate Ann's artistic eye as a painter and weaver, utilizing exfoliating bark, foliage texture, ground covers and color progression. Indumentum, particularly favored by Max, is well represented on excellent forms of R. bureavii , arboreum ssp. cinnamomeum , rex , rex ssp. fictolacteum and campanulatum .

Intrigued by Lionel de Rothschild's Exbury Gardens in England, the Meerkerk collection hosts fine specimens of R. degronianum ssp. yakushimanum , azaleas, 'Albatross' and 'Crest'. Influenced by Rothschild's use of R. augustinii , mature cloud forms of lavender grace the woodland path accented by white flowering crabapples, towering R. calophytum hybrids and bluebells scampering from the woodland edge.

The Meerkerk Asian Garden features exotic species of rhododendrons propagated from seeds collected in China, Tibet, Yunnan and Bhutan by modern day plant explorer Warren Berg. Striking big-leaf specimens are interplanted with the mature collection acquired by the Meerkerks in the 1960s and '70s.

The Hall Garden, originally landscaped for the 1985 ARS Conference, displays exceptional 30- to 40-year-old specimens including 'Pink Walloper', R. degronianum ssp. yakushimanum Exbury form, and the Meerkerk hybrid, 'Maroon Bells'.

The Meerkerk Nursery is propagating the Meerkerk Collection and is introducing several Meerkerk hybrids in 1999, including, 'Whidbey Island' ( R. niveum x R. rex ), 'Mary's Favorite', 'Maroon Bells' and 'Meerkerk Magic'.

Cared for in trust by the Seattle Rhododendron Society and the dedicated volunteers of ARS District 2, Meerkerk Gardens is a private non-profit garden open to the public.

* Name is not registered.