JARS v53n2 - In Memoriam: Clara Burns

In Memoriam: Clara Burns
Brendan Earls

On Nov. 11, 1998, Clara burns passed away. Clara was an ardent admirer of the genus Rhododendron and a Supporting Member of the New York Chapter of the ARS. From 1961 to 1993, Clara was intimately involved with not only the ARS but also the Friends of Planting Fields Arboretum.

Clara's husband, Sid, became president of the New York Chapter in 1961. The technique Sid employed to increase membership in the Society was to design and construct an elaborate information booth and display garden at the International Flower Show at the New York Coliseum in New York City. It was Clara's task to man the booth, answer questions and encourage people to join the Society. She almost single-handedly manned the booth during the day for the 10 days of the show. Clara's enthusiasm helped recruit a majority of these new members. Over the ensuing 12 to 15 years the Society grew from about 50 to 700 members. There was a time when virtually all the members of the New York Chapter were signed up by Clara.

Clara and Sid's interest in gardens and rhododendrons in the early 1980s led to her and Sid's becoming concerned about the fine rhododendron gardens and other collections at Planting Fields Arboretum on Long Island. This magnificent private estate garden was sold to the state for one dollar and became the responsibility of New York State Parks and Recreation. Funding by New York State was being squeezed, and it looked as though the garden would have to close to the public. Sid and Clara, with the help of a few concerned friends, organized the support group, the Friends of Planting Fields Arboretum. The Friends was organized as a fund raising and publicity support group for Planting Fields. Without the monies donated and collected by this small group of concerned people, the tropical plants on display in the greenhouses and Camellia House would have perished during that first harsh winter. It was the end of the New York State budget year and there were no funds available for heating oil.

The gardens at Planting Fields were an eclectic selection of rhododendrons and plants from around the world. The thoughtful selection of planting material demonstrates Mr. William R. Coe's interest in the genus Rhododendron . I am sure these plantings helped attract the Burns to become the remarkable supporters that did so much for this magnificent estate through the years.

Clara's passing ends an epic period in the history of rhododendrons on Long Island. Not only was she directly responsible for so much of what we see today in the ARS, but she assisted in so many projects without thought of receiving praise or thanks.