JARS v54n4 - Arboretum Dedicates Puget Sound Rhododendron Hybrid Garden

Arboretum Dedicates Puget Sound Rhododendron Hybrid Garden
Sonja Nelson
Mount Vernon, Washington

Members of the ARS and representatives of the Washington Park Arboretum gathered under sunny skies on May 14 for the joyful task of dedicating the new Puget Sound Rhododendron Hybrid Garden at the arboretum. Rhododendrons have long served as a common bond between the two groups. Puget Sound hybridizers have invariably been members of the ARS, and the arboretum has collected and displayed local hybrids since the 1980s. The new garden reflects the extraordinary achievements of Puget Sound hybridizers and the arboretum's desire to showcase the local creations that form a part of its larger Rhododendron Collection.

Dedication of Rhododendron Hybrid Garden
John Behnke, past president of the Washington Park Arboretum Foundation Board
of Directors; Dr. John Wott, director of the arboretum; Mary Pinkham, arboretum volunteer
who spearheaded the garden project; and Lynn Watts, president of the ARS.
Photo by Sonja Nelson

The dedication was held during the Spring Show of the Seattle Rhododendron Society (Seattle Chapter of the ARS), which holds its show and monthly meetings at the arboretum and has been involved in the planning of the new garden. Lynn Watts, president of the ARS and a member of the Seattle Chapter, represented the ARS, and Dr. John Wott, director of the Washington Park Arboretum, represented the arboretum in the festivities. As kind words were exchanged by both in a formal dedication, behind them the hybrids 'El Camino' and 'Karen Triplett', both creations of Puget Sound hybridizers, formed a floriferous backdrop for the event.

The new Puget Sound Rhododendron Hybrid Garden has its roots in an earlier attempt to display a much larger group of hybrids - hybrids produced by American breeders from coast to coast, including Charles Dexter and Tony Shammarello from the East Coast. This early garden, on the same site as the current one, was begun under the arboretum's director Brian O. Mulligan and curator Joseph A. Witt in 1979. Although begun with great enthusiasm, budget restraints at the arboretum resulted in gradual deterioration of the display garden. The early history of the project is discussed in the Summer 1997 issue of the Journal in the article "American Hybrids at Washington Park Arboretum: Old Collection Gives Way to New." In 1996, a new mission statement for the arboretum included a new hybrid display garden focused on Puget Sound hybrids.

The Pacific Northwest has been a center for rhododendron hybridizing since the 1940s with thousands of new cultivars produced. The new garden focuses on those plants produced in the Puget Sound region from the time of Halfdan Lem to today's hybridizers, encompassing nearly 100 hybridizers.

Plantings in the new display garden are divided into three time periods: Early Era (late 1940s through 1960s), Middle Era (1970s and 1980s), Contemporary Era (1990s to present). The Early Era includes hybrids of Halfdan Lem, Endre Ostbo, Lester Brandt, William Whitney, and Hjalmar Larson. Their common passion resulted in friendships and the informal group called the "Rum Dum Club." During this period breeding goals tended to be general - creating plants attractive to gardeners, especially ones with big trusses. But one specific goal also tantalized these breeders - a rhododendron with a yellow flower. Two yellows produced during this period were 'Lem's Cameo' and 'Hotei'.

R. 'Lem's Cameo' in Washington Park Arboretum
R. 'Lem's Cameo' is a live example of the principles
of plant parenthood at the new hybrid garden.
Photo by Sonja Nelson

During the Middle Era, better yellows and apricot-peach flower colors were sought, along with interesting leaf colors, shapes and textures. Added to the breeding programs were Rhododendron degronianum ssp. yakushimanum , R. bureavii , and R. pseudochrysanthum . Many "yak" hybrids were created, with compact form.

During the Contemporary Era, the goal for good plant form and texture continues. Rhododendron proteoides has been added to many hybridizers' breeding programs because of its compact form and interesting texture. Some hybridizers are also experimenting with R. macabeanum , with its large, dramatic leaves. A new emphasis has been placed on cold hardiness, and several hybridizers work with East Coast hybridizers to achieve this goal. Other goals are better white-flowered hybrids, unusual flower shapes, and early and late bloomers.

The new Puget Sound Rhododendron Hybrid Garden will not only provide a visual feast for visitors to the arboretum but will display the progression of rhododendron hybridizing in the Puget Sound area - an activity that shows no signs of stopping.

Sonja Nelson is editor of the ARS Journal and a member of the Komo Kulshan Chapter.

Area South of Steps Early Bed 'Molly Ann' Contemporary Bed
'Jade' 'Ann Carey' 'Noble Mountain' 'Cranberry Lace'
'Jane Henny' 'Carlene' 'Peste's Fire Light' 'Elsie Watson'
'Diane Titcomb' 'Creamy Chiffon' 'Puget Sound' 'Ginny Gee'
'Guardian Fir' 'Halfdan Lem' 'Robert Korn' 'Golfer'
'Lem's Stormcloud' 'Lem's Tangerine' 'Unique Marmalade' 'Mount Clearview'
'Markeeta's Prize' 'Rose Haines' 'Yaku Incense' 'Paprika Spiced'
'Red Walloper'* 'Skookumchuck' 'Yellow Hammer' 'Pridenjoy'
'Thor' 'Yellow Pages' 'Black Sport'* 'Starbright Champagne'
'Lily #2* 'Brigadoon' 'Centennial Celebration' 'Vibrant Violet'
Olympic Lady Group 'Colonel Coen' 'Fred Peste' 'Whidbey Island'
'Lem's Monarch' 'El Camino' 'Grace Seabrook' 'Dan Laxdall'
'Point Defiance' 'Karen Triplett' 'Hotei' 'Forever Yours'
'Vulcan's Flame' 'Martha Isaacson' (azaleodendron) 'Ken Janeck' 'Golden Genie'
Walloper Group 'Skookum' 'Marley Hedges' 'Midnight Mystique'
'Whitney Dwarf Red'* 'Newcomb's Sweetheart' 'Nancy Evans'
Roman Memorial
(ancestral tree of 'Lem's Cameo')
'Ole Speaks'* 'Pink Jeans'
'Anna' Middle Bed 'Phyllis Korn' 'Ruby Hart'
R. decorum 'Bambino' 'Robert Korn'* 'Teddy Bear'
R dichroanthum ssp. dichroanthum 'Blue Boy' 'Vulcan's Flame' 'Wee Bee'
The Honourable Jean Marie de Montague' 'Chief Joseph' 'Yaku Sunrise'
'Dido' 'Golden Wit' 'Yellow Wolf'
'Lem's Cameo' 'Horizon Dawn'
'Jennie Dosser'
'Leo Friedman' * Name not registered