Down the Trivia Trail with 'Sir Charles Lemon'
Vancouver, British Columbia
For one of Vancouver Chapter's early shows all this correspondent could find in bloom in the garden (and it had only just opened the day previous) was an almost full truss of Rhododendron 'Sir Charles Lemon'. One of our knowledgeable members commented on seeing my lone entry: "Sir Charles, eh, he was a friend of J. C. Williams, wasn't he?" "No, I replied without thinking. He was a friend of Sir Joseph Hooker." After completing the entry details, I hurried home to check out my off-hand reply; luckily, I found I was right.
J. G. Millais (Lieutenant Commander) in his monumental two-volume compilation and inspection report, Rhododendrons and Their Various Hybrids , notes that Sir Charles, the man, was indeed "an intimate friend of Sir Joseph Hooker." Prior to 1832, the year when he became chairman of Cornwall's first Flower Show Society, Sir Charles Lemon, Baronet and M.P., established a garden, Carclew, on the west side of the mouth of the Carnon River midway between Truro and Falmouth in Cornwall. He is considered one of the fathers of modern Cornish gardening, being the first to point out the advantages of the Cornish climate for experimenting with "exotic" plants.
Caerhays Castle, to the east of Carclew, was derelict until 1853 when Michael Williams (grandfather? of J. C. Williams) bought it and began the restoration of castle and park. Thirty plus years later in 1889, J. C. Williams took over the garden. J. C.'s early passion for daffodils was supplanted by rhodos that began in 1905/06 with the Caerhays' plantings of Ernest Wilson's 1900 Chinese collection - a sort of test garden for the Veitch Nursery that had sent Wilson out to China.
On Dec. 5, 1851, some fifty years before, Carclew Gardens had received a shipment of Hooker rhododendrons from Kew. These undoubtedly included Rhododendron arboreum , as there were four types in the Kew list ( The Rhododendron Story , RHS, 1996). However, Millais in his Rhododendrons and Their Various Hybrids recounts: "Var. 'Sir Charles Lemon'. The original plant of this fine form R. arboreum is at Carclew. It is 27 yds. round [drip line dia. or spread] and 30ft. high . It is a tall growing plant with fine large dark leaves with an orange brown pubescence to underside. The flowers are a good size and pure white in colour. It is regarded as one of the best forms of the species. The late Mr. Charles Daubuz of Killiow remembers this plant coming as a seedling to Carclew 1 . It came from seed sent by Sir J. Hooker from India. Recently Mr. P. D. Williams 2 discovered a large plant of this variety with lilac-mauve flowers in Miss Mangles' garden at Littleworth [Beauty of]. It may be a common plant in Sikkim [it isn't, CLJ]."
Writing in The Rhododendron Story , Lionel De Rothschild comments on this 19th century rhododendron as follows: "...it is welI to remember that Nature can produce the occasional fine hybrid too and that Carclew boasts one of the finest in 'Sir Charles Lemon' which my grandfather (Rhododendron Yearbook , 1934) thought was probably a hybrid between campanulatum and arboreum subsp. cinnamomeum . It delights me every year."
On the Rhododendron Roots Tour, 1996, April 25th was sunny. In the afternoon we visited Caerhays and were shown around the rhododendron collection on the hillside above and behind the castle by the present owner Francis Julian Willams and head gardener since 1956, Philip Tregunna. F. Julian Williams is the great grandson of J. C. Williams. Yes, Caerhays' 'Sir Charles Lemon' was still there in all its magnificence, having grown a little beyond its 1947 height of 20 feet (6 m) some 10 feet (3 m) more or less as reported in the RHS yearbook. We missed seeing the 'Sir Charles Lemon' at Carclew as we dallied among Wilson's augustinii and so had no time for a swing into the Falmouth area on our way back to our hotel in St. Ives on the Irish Sea side. Next day it was too far back to Carclew on the Channel side. In the other Cornwall gardens on the Rhododendron Roots Tour, Heligan, Lamorran, Trebahn, Glendurgan and Penjerric we saw many large arboreum in full bloom with falls of red, pink and white. Several of the latter were the "form" or hybrid 'Sir Charles Lemon'. It is indeed the aristocrat of the arboreums . This correspondent's 'Sir Charles Lemon' was a gift, some thirty years ago, from early Vancouver Chapter members Bill and Sharon Flavelle, late of Austin Road in Coquitlam and who now live on the Saanich Peninsula near Sidney. It began blooming five years ago; 1996 was its best year with over twenty-five trusses on a just over 10-foot-high (3 m) tree.
1 This reference to the late Mr. Daubuz was repeated in notes by J. C. Williams in the Rhododendron Society Notes , Vol. II:IV. Writing in 1923: "Probably the finest specimen (Rhododendron) of any kind is 'Sir Charles Lemon' at Carclew on account of its great size, of remarkable refinement of flower, which is a good white, and of the unusual beauty of the foliage...The late Mr. Daubuz always said that this plant came out of a sowing of Indian seed, and it has every appearance of being a good form of the Indian arboreum , which is endless in variation."
2 P. D. Williams was a cousin of J. C. Williams. P. D. also lived in Cornwall assembling a great collection exotic trees and shrubs including rhododendrons at his garden at Lanarth, St. Keverne (Near Helson) on the south coast of Cornwall, some 50 km east of Land's End. Caerhays is some 40 km farther east of Land's End. P. D. Williams is responsible for finding and introducing the heath, Erica carnea var. 'St. Keverne'.
Clive Justice, a member of the Vancouver Chapter, is a landscape architect.