JARS v53n1 - Mirrors on the Past...Windows to the Future: One Hundred Years of Rhododendrons

Mirrors on the Past...Windows to the Future: One Hundred Years of Rhododendrons
1999 ARS Annual Convention Hosted by the Seattle Rhododendron Society and ARS District Two Chapters
Laura Kentala
Kirkland, Washington

Chip Muller
Seattle, Washington

Kristi O'Donnell
Greenbank, Washington

One Hundred Years Of Rhododendrons

It's the turn of century, and of the millennium! This year's international ARS meeting will be the last of the twentieth century - a time to look back to celebrate our progress and our roots; and a time to look forward into the next century. Hence our theme: "Mirrors on the Past...Windows to the Future: One Hundred Years of Rhododendrons."

Of course, rhododendrons have been recognized for many more than 100 years, as so well presented in the Royal Horticulture Society's The Rhododendron Story: 200 Years of Plant Hunting and Garden Cultivation . Actually, rhododendron history goes back even farther. Rhododendron hirsutum and R. ferrugineum were described by Linnaeus in 1753, and R. hirsutum has been in cultivation since 1656! At the end of the eighteenth century, 12 species of rhododendrons had been described and 10 were in cultivation . By the end of the nineteenth century, thanks to the great explorers Robert Fortune, J. D. Hooker, Augustine Henry and others, 280 rhododendrons had been described, but only 45 of them were in cultivation. These early explorations set the stage for the second phase: a "Golden Age" of rhododendrons. This phase began one hundred years ago, in 1899.

In late 1899, E. H. Wilson reached the home of Dr. Augustine Henry in Simao (Szemao), southwestern Yunnan, to learn the location of the dove tree ( Davidia involucrata ) at the behest of Veitch and Sons Nursery. This trip marked the beginning of the modern era of the expert plant collector, according to E. H. M. Cox. Wilson went on to discover and introduce many superb plants, including Davidia , Lilium regale , and rhododendrons R. sutchuenense , R. orbiculare , R. calophytum and R. williamsianum , from his trips to China.

What has happened in the last 100 years? Following the paths, successes and hardships of explorers and plant collectors is well (but often not well enough!) documented. George Forrest, Reginald Farrer, Frank Kingdon-Ward, T. T. Yu, Joseph Rock, Frank Ludlow and George Sherriff contributed greatly to our knowledge of rhododendrons during this "Golden Age" which lasted up to the Second World War. Then, with borders to China and many of the Himalayan areas closed, exploration was much more sporadic and localized. The 1950s through the 1970s were a time of hybridizing, eventual decay of many larger estate gardens, increase in smaller gardens with different needs for rhododendrons and examination and classification of rhododendron herbarium specimens.

The 1980s to the present have brought refreshed energy to all endeavors of rhododendron lovers. China and Tibet once more welcomed visitors, collaborations between Chinese and Western universities brought new plant exploration and collecting trips, the genus was again assessed and a new classification presented and hybridizers set their sights on the new challenges demanded by the owners of small gardens.

R. albiflorum, Lillian Basin, WA R. macrophyllum, Little Quilcene River,
R. albiflorum ,
Lillian Basin, Washington.
Photo by Dennis Hendrickson
R. macrophyllum ,
Little Quilcene River, Washington.
Photo by Dennis Hendrickson

Mirrors on the Past...Windows to the Future

Our convention's theme "One Hundred Years of Rhododendrons" is carried in several venues. Throughout, we have focused on learning from the past century to attempt a prediction of the next century.

WEDNESDAY: The Latest News and Views on Species.

First, be sure to register for the Fifth International Rhododendron Species Symposium (IRSS) in which the latest classification techniques and recent field studies by scientists and explorers from the U.K., U.S.A. and China will be highlighted (see accompanying article on page 21). Then, hear Dr. David Chamberlain of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, at his address to the ARS and IRSS on Wednesday night. Dr. Chamberlain is one of the prime movers in the universally accepted re-classification of the genus Rhododendron , modified again in the last three years as a result of new findings in the field and adopted in the 1998 Rhododendron Handbook . Dr. Chamberlain will discuss the impacts and ramifications of this change and bring to light new findings that are sure to be of interest to all devotees of the genus.

THURSDAY: A Bit of History After a Day of Tours.

On Thursday night, following the Annual Meeting, we begin our theme symposium, "Mirrors on the Past...Windows to the Future" with Alleyne Cook's presentation. Mr. Cook was responsible for the highly successful transplanting of mature rhododendrons into Windsor Great Park from Tower Court and Exbury. As a former employee of Sunningdale (formerly Standish and Noble) Nursery, he has a unique and personal perspective on the change from the era of great estate gardens in Britain to the current era of many more and smaller gardens.

FRIDAY: Lectures.

Our theme is picked up immediately on Friday morning with talks by Gwen Bell and Frank Fujioka. Gwen has wonderful stories of the early rhododendron hybridizers of the Northwest, and how their various styles (both personal and hybridizing) affected the following generations of rhododendron enthusiasts. Frank, an outstanding hybridizer with a view toward the future, will predict where hybridizing efforts will lead in the next decades. Since Friday's talks are each given twice, you may choose a sequence or mix-and-match according to your tastes. The hybridizers/hybridizing talks are in one room, companion plant experts (Art Dome, Steve Doonan, Judith Jones) in another, and species explorers/enthusiasts (Dennis Hendrickson, Hank Helm, Steve Hootman) in a third.

SATURDAY: One Hundred Years Symposium, Special Lectures and Workshop.

On Saturday morning, the main theme of the convention is highlighted in the completion of the "One Hundred Years of Rhododendrons" Symposium begun Thursday night. Each lecture is especially tailored to address the theme, in showing where we've been and where we're going. Kenneth Cox, a third-generation plant explorer, is uniquely suited to give us a perspective on "One Hundred Years of Rhododendron Exploration." Mike Calnan, Head of Gardens for the National Trust of Great Britain, has a more than 100-year vision into the past and will turn that vision to the future of gardens. Hank Schannen has been studying rhododendron hybrids and hybridizers for years, and will give us his perspective on the past and future of hybridizing. This symposium will leave us with a sense of place and accomplishments at the end of this century and vision and challenges for the next.

On Saturday afternoon you have a great opportunity to hear and meet two of the best gardening speakers in the country: Sharon Collman and Ann Lovejoy. Sharon is inarguably the most knowledgeable expert on rhododendron diseases and pests, and certainly the one with the best sense of humor woven into her talks. Then, hear Ann Lovejoy, horticultural writer, an icon of Northwest gardening whose reputation is moving well beyond our rainy climate. For many years Ann cringed at the poorly-placed, overgrown rhododendrons found too frequently hiding the fronts of small Seattle houses, and rarely mentioned our favorite plant in her early books! Now, she is promoting the best uses and best varieties of rhododendrons as an integral part of the garden. We can learn a lot from her, and so can the gardening public whom we've invited to Ann's and Sharon's talks. So, if you see any in the audience without an ARS convention badge, chat about rhododendrons, and talk up the benefits of our Society. We hope to sign up new ARS members on Saturday!

Following the presentations by Ann and Sharon, we are proud to present the first of two hands-on workshops. The Propagation Workshop features top local propagators who will let you in on their secrets of success. Please mark your registration form for this free event, for our planning needs.

Saturday night is the banquet and awards ceremony. Don't miss it! A state-of-the-art photographic presentation created on computer by Bill Heller will amaze you with its beauty and grace.

SUNDAY: Hybridizers Gather Round while Species Workshop ID's.

On our final morning, the Northwest Hybridizers' Group will host the "The First International Symposium for the Genetic Advancement of the Genus Rhododendron ." The roundtable discussion will feature a distinguished panel of world famous rhododendron hybridizing experts. Topics will include: hybridizing plants from differing climates through the hybridizers' long distance co-operatives, a discussion on the use of "new" and "forgotten" species, personal experiences with dominant and recessive genes and sterility and its effect on hybridizing. Additionally, the Northwest Hybridizers' Group invites species enthusiasts for the roundtable open discussion on the superiority of hybrids or species and the virtues of naturally occurring hybrids.

And, for those who want to learn how to distinguish among rhododendrons (whether species or hybrids), Ken Cox will lead you through the indumentum to a clearer understanding, during the Species Identification Workshop. Please check the box on the registration form if you plan to attend.

Convention Tours

Tuesday through Thursday: Tours of Public and Private Pacific Northwest Gardens Capture the Present Moment in History. Washington, the Evergreen State, also has as its state flower, Rhododendron macrophyllum . These natural features provide the opportunity for Washington gardeners to work with nature in creating our own interpretations, through "woodland gardens."


Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden, Anderson Garden and Imrie Garden. (This tour will be repeated on Thursday, Tour J.)

The Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden, located south of Seattle, is the home of the largest species collection in the United States. Encompassing 23 acres, the RSBG tour will showcase exotic specimens planted in a woodland setting. In addition to the two garden tours which include the RSBG, there will be an all day tour on Thursday (Tour S) with staff available to discuss species rhododendrons, their culture and history. The RSBG propagation facilities and Weyerhaeuser Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection will be a part of the full day tour as well.

The John and Doreen Anderson Garden was developed in 1962 by Bob and Betty Anderson. Originally rooted in Summit, New Jersey, Bob and Betty Anderson purchased a five-acre hay field with a vista of Mt. Rainier and began their rhododendron gardens anew. Bob's background as a landscape architect and nurseryman, along with 30 years of Bob and Betty's hard work, transformed the hay field into a showcase garden. Encompassing several thousand rhododendrons and azaleas, species and hybrids, framed by evergreen and flowering trees, the Anderson Garden is a must see. Today, the garden is cared for by the next generation, John and Doreen Anderson.

Anderson garden, Enumclaw, WA
The Anderson garden, an Enumclaw landmark, growing in
beauty since 1962, with Mt. Rainier in the background.

Stuart Imrie refers to his gardens as "a hobby that has gone wild!" Hundreds of rhododendrons in a three-acre paradise are Stuart's garden companions. Thousands of rhododendron seedlings create his retail nursery, Lake Tapps Rhododendrons. Fifteen years of collecting, planting and hybridizing has created a well known and beautiful springtime attraction.


McPherson, Smith and Thompson Gardens. (This tour will be repeated on Thursday, Tour L.)

Wednesday's tour transports you to the north of Seattle, past vistas of the Cascade Mountain range. The first stop is at "Wayne's Enchanted Rhododendron World," a five-acre "wild" woodland garden, located in Arlington, Wash. A mile of nature trails winds through fashioned microclimates of a rain forest, bog, fish pond and alpine garden. Wayne began his garden in 1988 and has successfully transformed the entire property into an enchanting experience viewing 700 species rhododendrons, over 2,000 hybrids and 130 named varieties of Japanese maples.

Rex and Jeanine Smith garden,
Woodinville, WA
Rex and Jeanine Smith's woodland garden with
rhododendrons 'Dora Amateis', 'Ruby Hart'
and 'Maricee'.

Next on the itinerary is a visit to the woodland gardens of Rex and Jeanine Smith. Featured in the 1996 Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, this exquisite Woodinville, Wash., garden has been selected to be part of the book, Master of the Victory Garden by Victory Garden Television's Jim Wilson. Jeanine's interest in landscape design and Rex's upbringing on a Montana farm provided the impetus and manpower to create an evolving masterpiece. The canvas of native plants became the background to a stunning, living painting of thousands of rhododendrons, including over 100 species, collaged among towering fir, flowering cherry and perennial groundcovers and borders.

For the last 27 years, Diane and Paul Thompson have been clearing and sculpting their garden from the original one acre of woods. As a landscape designer, Diane has incorporated specimen trees, rhododendrons, companion shrubs and perennials as elements of a collector's garden. Selections of maple, magnolia and dogwood, viburnum and shrub roses (to name just a sampling) fill Diane's criteria for color, fragrance and year-round interest. The "rhododendron walk" is the most recent project undertaken at the Thompson garden.

Thompson garden, Bothel, WA
Diane Thompson's artistic eye is evident in the pond
and entry landscape at their home in Bothel, Wash.


Bellevue Botanical Garden, George and Loop Gardens. (This tour will be repeated on Thursday, Tour K.)

The east side tour begins with a guaranteed inspiration from the Bellevue Botanical Gardens. Nationally recognized for its perennial borders, the garden was developed from estate garden plantings of rhododendrons. (See ARS Journal Summer '98 for details.) In addition to mature rhododendrons and the spellbinding perennial boarder, you will be treated to an intimate Japanese garden, newly constructed alpine rock garden and fuchsia collection.

The Pacific Northwest is famous for its vast forests, so woodland gardens evolve. Colleen and Bob George's two-acre woodland collector's garden combines their original collection of 85 plants with specimens obtained from their trips around the world. Plants, many started from seed, represent gardens in New Zealand, Tasmania, Australia, Scotland, England and Ireland. Bob shares: "What has been interesting is that, over the past couple of years, we have started to see and enjoy the blooms of these collected seeds and plants and see just how close or how different they are compared to the seed source from which they came."

Located in the North Fork area of the Snolqualmie Valley, the Loop Garden is a woodland garden created to suit the microclimate of this foothills region. Winter temperatures are generally 10 degrees lower that those in Seattle and Bellevue area, dictating limitations on certain species and hybrids. In view of Mt. Si, this landscape includes remnants of old-growth trees which are surrounded by beds housing over 600 rhododendrons.

The creekside landscape incorporates native plantings which are augmented by moisture loving companions. Mary Loop's comments reflect many of our thoughts: "Like all gardeners, we have sore backs and knees, grubby hands and clothing, but great appreciation for the joy that the garden brings to our lives."

For the folks who would rather cultivate books, enjoy a "Sea Breeze" that is not a rhododendron or shop for something other than plants, consider one of the sightseeing tours being offered.


Seattle City Cruise.

Experience the flavor of Seattle aboard a Seattle City Cruise to view Puget Sound's Elliot Bay and views of the Olympic Mountain Range. The Hiram Chittenden Locks, built early in the century, were as important for Seattle and Puget Sound as the Panama Canal was for the Western Hemisphere. They link Elliot Bay, a Puget Sound port for ships from around the world, with Lake Union and Lake Washington. These two lakes are frequented by work boats and pleasure boats of every description. As you pass through the locks, you will learn how they operate. Cruising in Elliot Bay, you will be fascinated by the maritime activity while you watch the Seattle skyline unfold. For spectacular views look west to the islands of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. To the south is Mt. Rainier's stunning mass of glaciers.

Seattle's Elliott Bay
Mt. Rainier, at 14,411 feet, is the
dramatic backdrop to Seattle's Elliott Bay.
Photo courtesy of Seattle-King County
Convention & Visitors Bureau.


Opening Day of Boating Season.

Take a cruise on Lake Washington to view the Opening Day Boat Parade - a Seattle tradition of long standing! Our "Boat Cruise with Live Jazz" gives you an opportunity to be part of this festive day! On opening day of the boating season, thousands of crafts fill the waterways of this international port city. Usually, Seattle is surrounded by water. On Opening Day, Seattle is surrounded by boats. This cruise is open to the public and is arranged by a local jazz station. A popular local jazz musician will perform and a lunch buffet of Northwest favorites will be provided.

Seattle's Pioneer Square
Historic Pioneer Square is Seattle's oldest
residential area, now a major visitor attraction
with restaurants, galleries and lively clubs.
Photo courtesy of Seattle-King County
Convention & Visitors Bureau.

If you'd rather be on land than sea, visit Seattle's historical landmarks:


Seattle City Highlights with Museum of Flight.

You will learn why Seattle has been named one of the nation's most livable cities! Our friendly and informative guides will give you background on the area, point out interesting historical landmarks, as well as give insider tips on special shopping and sightseeing areas. A drive over one of Seattle's two floating bridges will provide views of beautiful Lake Washington and its surrounding homes. Included in this tour is historic Pioneer Square, location of Seattle's top art galleries; the International District, heart of Seattle's Asian community; and a short stop at Seattle's renowned Pike Place Market, an exciting array of color, aroma and sounds! Last but not least, a stop at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field highlights the greatest moments in aviation history!

Seattle's Pike Place Market
Seattle's Pike Place Market is world-famous for its
fresh seafood and produce, and its lively arts and
crafts scene.
Photo courtesy of Seattle-King County
Convention & Visitors Bureau.


Mt. St. Helens.

Visit the site of the 1980 eruption and the rate of growth which has occurred in 19 years! The new Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center offers a spectacular view of the mountain with fantastic interpretive exhibits. Time is allotted for walking, sightseeing and photography.

(For descriptions of the Hybridizer's Tour, Seattle Public Gardens Tour and Whidbey Island Gardens Tour, refer to the last three issues of the Journal.)

Helpful Tips

The maritime climate of mist, fog and rain is what makes the Pacific Northwest a hospitable climate for growing rhododendrons. During the spring season, you may expect moderate temperatures: 40-50°F/5-10°C. It is usually best to layer your clothing so you can change with the weather.

Wear comfortable walking shoes that will hold up to the moisture. Wool socks will keep your feet warm even when wet. Rain gear is good to have on hand. While the Seattle region is known for periods of rain, sunshine breaks abound. Hats and sunscreen for bright touring days are recommended.

The fascinating speakers, open discussions and fun, blossom-filled tours are guaranteed to mark this time in history, while you visit the Seattle region for the 1999 ARS Annual Convention, "Mirrors on the Past...Windows to the Future: One Hundred Years of Rhododendrons."

Argent, G., Bond, J., Chamberlain, D., Cox, P., Hardy, A. The Rhododendron Handbook . 1998. The Royal Horticultural Society, London; 352 pp.
Cox, E. H. M. Plant Hunting in China . 1945, Oldboume, London; 230 pp.
Davidian, H. H. The Rhododendron Species, Vol. 1 The Lepidotes . 1982, Timber Press, Beaverton, OR; p. 29.
ibid; p. 30.
Postan, C. (Ed.) The Rhododendron Story . 1996, RHS, London; 224 pp.
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. The Genus Rhododendron . 1996, RBG Edinburgh; 181 pp.