A Treasury of Art and Artifact Revealed in J. G. Millais' Two Volumes:
Rhododendrons and The Various Hybrids, Part I
Clive L. Justice, FCSLA
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
John Everett Millais, 1829-1896, knighted in 1885, was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of English Victorian painters. Adherents insisted that "truth to nature" (1) was a basic tenant of their art. Accuracy in the depiction of nature in the paintings of landscapes to be painted out of doors rather than in the artist's studio was an element in the Pre-Raphaelite style. In 1855, John Everett Millais married Euphemia (Effie) Ruskin a year after her arranged marriage to John Ruskin was annulled (non-consummation by JR). Their son John Guille was born in 1865.
John Guille Millais was an artist and natural history author. After graduation from Trinity College Cambridge he spent seven years (1886-1892) in the 72nd Highlanders as 1st Lieutenant. He travelled extensively in pursuit of his bird and animal shooting, natural history writing and illustration. Of particular interest were his North American travels that included Newfoundland, Canada, and western North America, including Alaska. This travel led to his publication in1915 of American Big Game and Newfoundland and its Untrodden Ways . All told, with the two volume biography of his father (2) John G. Millais wrote a dozen books and illustrated a number others with his bird and animal drawings.
Trusses of hybrids
'Hugh Wormold' at top, 'Mrs Lindsay Smith'
at right and 'Rosamund Millais' at left. All by M. Koster and Sons of
Boskoop, before 1922. Watercolour painting by Winnifred Walker,
a plate in Millais (1924).
John Guille Millais lived at Compton's Brow in Horsham, Sussex, where he assembled a museum of 3,000 stuffed birds as well as tending an extensive garden. One of his neighbors was Lord Edmund Loder of Leonardslee. John Guide Millais was an avid do-it-yourself gardener as he advocated in Chapter I, "Love of Gardening and Gardens"', of his first elephant sized folio, a 12-inch wide by 15-inch high by 2-inch thick volume: titled Rhododendrons , (3) in which he wrote:
In the formation of the garden and its surroundings…it is much better that he who will always live there should create his own even if he does make the most colossal errors. In time by the study of others gardens he can correct most of the mistakes, and will appreciate any success he may achieve in far greater proportion than if it had been created by others. The very essence of the enjoyment of gardens is to do things yourself…One point, too often missed, that is of importance is that the owner should introduce into his garden his own individuality…Gardens have always exercised great power in the civilizing of nations and the moral tone of the individual, for the natural beauty of flowers and trees is enobling in the same manner as "Art is the expression of the soul." (4)
Millais concludes the chapter in the 1917 book that he had begun writing in 1914 at the start of WWI:
The genus Rhododendron (sic) has been sadly neglected by writers and there are only a very few books on the subject…There are Rhododendrons for all aspects as there are Rhododendrons for all seasons, and for their placing with other floral beauties is the object of this book to explain. (5)
John C. and Daphne (Fann) Millais' daughter Rosamond standing beside R. 'Loderi' in the
Millais garden, Compton Brow, Horsham, Sussex. (The spelling of "Rosamond" was
changed to "Rosamund" in the registration of the rhododendron 'Rosamund Millais'.) From a
8x6 inch black and white collotype (artotype). No photographer is credited so is probably
the author. Rosamond's dress may indicate a pre-1914 photograph.
A plate from Millais (1924) painted by Winnifred Walker. Top truss
R. 'Goldsworth Yellow' (W. C. Slocock), R. 'Pamela Fielding' in the
middle and R. 'Earle of Athlone' at bottom, both by C. B. van Ness
and Sons. Pamela Fielding may have been a granddaughter or relative
of the Victorian painter Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding (1787-
1855) of Worthing, Sussex. The Earl of Athlone was a distant relative
of George III. He married Princess Alice, a grand-daughter of Queen
Victoria. He was Governor General of Canada 1940-1946.
Winnifred Walker's painting of three of van Nes and Sons'
rhododendron hybrids growing at Compton's Brow in 1922. R.
'Unknown Warrior' at top was van Nes (V.N.) #117 before naming.
In middle V.N. #102 and at bottom a van Nes seedling. Neither
were named. However, V.N. #139 was named 'Compton's Brow'
(pink). V.N. #93D was named 'Daphne Millais' (spotted pink) and
V.N. #186D was named 'Geoffroy Millais' (white), while Koster
and Sons' K. #163 was named 'Rosamund Millais' and K. #168
'Raoul Millais', (salmon).
This article includes reproductions of some of the beautiful paintings of gardens and photographs of rhododendrons that appear in the two volumes of Millais' monumental work. Watercolour paintings by the Misses: Beatrice Parsons, E. F. Brennand, Winnifred Walker and Lillian Snelling along with those of Archibald Thorburn. As well there will be relevant explanatory captions and comments of a historical nature with trivia items emanating from the writing on the two volumes (530 pages).
To begin, one such trivia item that has a western North America-Canada connection is in Chapter 3 of the 1917 volume; it lists and describes the species alphabetically. Millais description and his encounter with Rhododendron albiflorum is recorded as follows:
… R. albiflorum was discovered early in the last century by Mr. Dummond (6) in the wooded alpine regions of the Rocky Mountains, N. America. Seeds were sent to Dr. Graham in Edinburgh, and the first plants raised from them flowered in Scotland in 1837. This somewhat unattractive species grows in vast thickets just above timberline and amongst the highest firs, in common with another common shrub Cladothamnus pyrolaeflorus . It is seldom found below 4,000 feet, on all the highest mountains of Washington, U.S.A., and British Columbia; also in less quantity farther to the south as far as Montana.
I have seen thousands of acres covered with this shrub in the Rockies and the Selkirks, on either side of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Even when in bloom it is not attractive, owing to its sparse flowers and scant foliage, while its dense habit and its difficulty of breaking through the masses of resilient and intertwining boughs have caused it to be known throughout the north-west as "Miner's Curse." In its true home the snow seldom disappears before early July and again hides the ground in late September. As a garden plant it is not attractive. (7)
From an 8x6 inch collotype in Millais (1924) of part of the author's garden, captioned
"Grouping for Colour and Foliage Effect at Compton's Brow." Large background shrub
at left is Ilex aquìfolium and could be a variegated form while the non rhododendron at
right is Mahonia bealeyi . The paved pathway of mortared crazy paving includes
discarded grinding stone slabs for milling grain.
The Hardy Hybrids
In Millais' Rhododendrons (1917) are listed the 697 named hardy hybrid rhododendrons that could be obtained and were raised by British and continental nurseryman. Eighty years later some of these hybrids that occurred in Millais' 1917 list (probably compiled in the years just before the Great War in 1914-18) appear in the revised edition of Greer's Guidebook to Available Rhododendrons , 1988. There are forty-six hybrids or 6.5% of Millais' 1917 list of close to 700. These rhododendrons that can still be found in gardens and are still being grown for sale in many Pacific Northwest rhododendron nurseries are:
|'Boule de Neige'||'Broughtonii'|
|'Broughtonii Aureum' (azaleodendron)||'Catawbiense Album'*|
|'Charles Dickens'||'Charles Thorold'|
|'Chevalier Felix de Sauvage'||'Chionoides'|
|'Duchess of York'||'Duke of York'|
|'Everestianum'||'Fastuosum Flore Pleno'|
|'Gomer Waterer'||'Hélène Schiffner'|
|'H. W. Sargent'||'Ignatius Sargent'|
|'J. G. Millais'||'John Walter'|
|'John Waterer'||'Lady Clemantine Mitford'|
|'Lady de Rothschild'||'Lady Grey Egerton'*|
|'Lord Roberts'*||'Madame Carvalho'|
|'Madame Masson'||'Madame Wagner'|
|'Marshioness of Lansdowne'||'Michael Waterer'|
|'Mrs Charles S. Sargent'||'Mrs Davies Evans'|
|'Mrs E. C. Stirling'||'Mrs R. S. Holford'|
|'Mrs T. H. Lowinsky'||'Multimaculatum'|
|'Old Port'||'Parsons' Gloriosum'|
|Penelope Group||'Pink Pearl'|
|'President Lincoln'||'Prince Camille de Rohan'|
|* Still growing in the writer's garden.|
Between 1917 and 1924, when the Second Series edition of Millais' Rhododendrons was published, there was a flood of crosses made and previous pre-war crosses flowered and were named and introduced. This is when many of the Loderis were named and introduced along with the war- remembered Dutch hybrids such as 'Earl of Athlone', 'Unknown Warrior', 'Brittania', and 'Armistice Day', and the crosses using the newly introduced species by Wilson, Kingdon-Ward and George Forrest.
In the 1924 edition from the chapter "New Hybrid Rhododendrons" the newly named hybrids appear under the names of the garden or hybridist that originated the cross. Some were not available in the Pacific Northwest until after the Second World War, for instance 'Brittania' or 'Earl of Athlone'. Some never did become available. Of the twenty or so crosses that were made and named by Richard Gill & Sons of Penyrn, Cornwall (listed in Millais 1924), one has made it into Greer's 1988 "availables." It is the white flowered 'Norman Gill'.
What is perhaps more interesting from a historical and art illustration standpoint is that which surrounds Richard Gill's cross of Rhododendron barbatum X R. arboreum . Gill, as Millais relates, had made the cross ten years earlier naming it 'Penelope' in 1922. However, today we would call it Penelope Group, for Millais wrote: "They [the flowers] are all soft pink, rose, salmon, salmon-red or scarlet, generally in well formed trusses, considerably larger than both parents." J.G. was able to make this statement from his own observations:
The Spring of 1923 was a remarkable one for the Home Counties, for there was practically no frost from late January until April 9th. During this mild period early rhododendrons flowered as well as in Cornwall, and we in Sussex had quite a show of early species and hybrids. Gill's R. barbatum X R. arboreum was the conspicuous hybrid of this period, and made a brave show in the gardens of Tilgate, Tilgate Forest Lodge, Borde Hill [Stephenson- Clarke], Wakehurst Place [G.W.E. Loder], South Lodge, Leonardslee [Sir Edmund Loder]. And Compton's Brow [J. G. Millais]. These hybrids have no washy or blush-pink trusses, which is a common detriment of R. arboreum. (8)
Millais must have been so taken with the flowers of the Penelope Group that he had the water colorist Winnifred Walker paint a group of three of the trusses. They were titled R. ARBOREUM x R. BARBATUM (Three forms) and appeared in Rhododendrons Second Series, 1924 .
Watercolour drawings by Miss Eunice Brennand of rhododendron
species that have recently (1915) flowered at Caerhays Castle and
Lanarth. Center top: R. cinnabarinum roylei ; top left: R. augustinii ;
top right: R. maculiferum ; middle: R. arboreum var. zeylanicum ;
bottom left: R. boothii ; and bottom right: R. tricocladum . From a
plate in Millais (1917). The sizes relative each is incorrect so the
composition of the plants is artistic not botanical.
in Millais (1917). Watercolor portrait
by Winnifred Walker of three rhododendron hybrids at
Compton's Brow: 'Mrs John Millais', synonym for 'Mrs J. C.
Millais' (A. Waterer) at head; left cheek J. Waterer unnamed
seedling; and the right cheek of the portrait is 'Nellie Mozer',
now 'Nellie Moser', from Moser et Fils, Versailles, France.
Very little is known of this multi-colored French hybrid.
However, it is not the clematis of the same name.
R. Bodartianum, Dropmore
From a half-tone plate in Millais (1917) of a photograph of R. 'Bodartianum', the
anglicized spelling of R. 'Boddaertianum'. It is a van Noutte of Anvers, Belgium,
hybrid of R. campylocarpum x R. arboreum made in the mid 19th century and
also named 'Cloire d'Anvers' for the French market. This plant was photographed
at Dropmore, Buckinghampshire. Avaries and pergolas characterize this
Chinoiserie phase of English garden making.
Treasure Chest of Rhododendron History
Lieutenant Commander (RNR) John Guille Millias of Compton Brow, Horsham, Sussex died in late 1931. Rhododendron Society member Mr. P. D. Williams of Lanarth, St. Keverne, Cornwall, wrote a low key obituary in the
Rhododendron Society Notes
for him. J. G. had joined this rhododendron "old boys" society in 1915. Williams wrote:
His friendship with the late Sir Edmund Loder (10) attracted him to rhododendrons. Some of his friends express surprise at his courage in undertaking his great work on this subject but Millais always keen to investigate and describe the unknown gave us a book [actually two] brimful of most interesting and valuable information. (11)
If size is the criterion, J.G. Millias' two books: Rhododendrons and The Various Hybrids and Rhododendrons and The Various Hybrids Second Series 12 are indeed great. In the book business they are in elephant folio format: 16 inches high and 12 inches wide with the two together taking up 5 inches of shelf space standing. Today's average tabloid newspaper has a page that is 1 inch narrower but the same height. Together the Millias' tomes weigh in at about 14 lbs.
So much for size, and weight of these maroon linen covered books. What about the contents?
The short answer is they are treasure chests and mines of written and visual information on the genus Rhododendron and it progeny, some superb black and white collotype photographs of gardens and plants, water color paintings, lithographed color portraits of species and hybrids along with some of George Forrest's photographs in China. About half of each book is devoted to listing and describing the species in alphabetical order. It was before Stevenson's classification of the genus members into series that didn't appear until 1937. Rhododendron falconeri has a page and a half–three 16-inch long full columns devoted to this J D. Hooker introduction. Millais visited just about every falconeri in England and gives its measurements as well as listing every cross made of it to date in the 1917 copy. However, R. macrophyllum doesn't appear in the 1917 tome but R. californicum does, hinting that the former is a californicum variant. Rhododendron macrophyllum "neglect" again!
I have done a bit of mining and treasure hunting for the benefit of readers of the Journal in these two great, unique three quarters of a century old books. For this issue of the Journal I have chosen eight illustrations to describe and comment on in the context of the Millais books. More illustrations will be included in future issues of the Journal.
1 A phrase coined from the Victorian art critic's description of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: "They…should go to nature in all singleness of heart/and walk with her laboriously and trustingly, having no other thoughts but how to penetrate her meaning, and remember her instruction; rejecting nothing, scorning nothing, believing all things to be good and rejoicing always in the truth." From Cook and Wedderburn, Works of John Ruskin (39 vols) as quoted in Staley Allen, The Pre-Raphaelite Landscape , Yale University Press, 2001.
2 John Guile Millais, The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais 2 vols, 1899.
3 Full title: Rhododendrons in which is set forth an account of all species of the genus Rhododendron (including Azaleas) and their various hybrids , Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1917. A companion volume titled Rhododendrons and the various hybrids subtitled Second Series was published 7 years later in 1924. There were only 550 copies of each published. The 1924 volume is cross referenced to the 1917 volume; otherwise there is little duplication of material content.
4 Ibid. (1917). The quote at the end is probably another one of Ruskin's.
5 Ibid. Strangely, except in some of the garden paintings and one or two of the superb black and white photographs along with Chapter 1, "Modern Shrub Gardening - Plants for Various Areas of Great Britain," in the 1924 volume there are few if any plants other than rhododendrons mentioned. Millais' two volumes are indeed almost exclusively on the genus.
6 Thomas Drummond was the botanist with the second Franklin expedition 1825-27 led by Surgeon Naturalist John Richardson. On June 17th 1827 they met up with plant collector David Douglas at Hudson Bay Companies Cumberland House who was on his way back to England via Hudson Bay from the Pacific Northwest. Douglas' Journal pages 272-274.
7 Millais (1917), page 111.
8 Millais(1924), page52.
9 Rhododendron Society Notes, Vol II, PartV, 1929-1931, page 327.
10 Lord Edmund Loder of Leonardslee, Sussex, originator of R. hybrid 'Loder's White' and R. grex Loderi Group.
11 Op cit.
12 The first volume was published in 1917. The writer has copy No. 250 of the 550 published while the identical looking Second Series book was published in 1924 and the writer possesses copy No. 390 of the 550 published.
How Millais Organized the Volumes
In Millais' 1917 volume of Rhododendrons and The Various Hybrids , there is a section titled "Rhododendron Species and Hybrids" that lists and describes the rhododendron species alphabetically with a description of the plant, where and when found in the wild as well as affinities and distinctiveness from others in the genus. These take up more than half of the pages in this large volume. The alphabetical listings of the species also list and describe the then named and known hybrids of each of the species listed. One species in particular that is of interest is Rhododendron arboreum . It was one of, if not the first of the "Indian-Himalayan" rhododendron species to be introduced to the UK between 1810-1820 and before Joseph Hooker's Sikkim rhododendrons came onto the scene in 1848.
In Millais (1917), there are fifteen 4-inch wide columns of 10 point text each column 10 inches long for Rhododendron arboreum . It requires concentration and close attention to read all of the 12 plus feet of text Millais (JGM) devoted to R. arboreum . Putting aside the introduction dates of the various varieties of arboreums - red, pink and white flowering - this "safari" will delve into the hybrids of arboreum and one in particular that JGM describes as:
What R. Loder's White is to May, R. Bodartianum is to April. There is no other early white to compare with it. It is perfectly hardy…makes its growth late and has a very large truss of perfectly formed white flowers set off by intensely dark green foliage which stand wind or sun better than most arboreum hybrids…When fully grown, R. Bodartianum makes a small tree up to 25 ft. in height…Leaves are 7 ½ in. long, 2 in. across, elongated lanceolate…1 in. petiole. Flowers in a large terminal semi-spherical truss…bearing 25 white blooms, heavily spotted with black on the interior of the highest 5 lobes of the corolla…calyx very small, stamens 10.
JGM goes on to say, "The exact origin of this magnificent rhododendron is not known, and it may have originated in the Sikkim forests as a natural hybrid."** It seems that this bold statement by JGM was a bit far from the truth as was the spelling of the name 'Bodartianum'. The origin was known; it was from the van Houtte nursery in Anvers, Belgium. One of van Houtte's propagators was named Boddaeart so the rhododendron was named 'Boddaertianum' when L. van Houtte introduced it in 1863. As the van Houtte nursery*** supplied both the English and the French markets there was another name for it - 'Gloire d' Anvers'. Perhaps the name Boddaert was anglicized to Bodart to disguise its continental origin. Most likely, however, was that JGM heard the name pronounced only and he never saw it listed. We must remember he was writing almost fifty years after the plant had been introduced.
There is still confusion about the parentage of R. x 'Boddaertianum'. Van Gelderden and Hoey Smith in Rhododendron Portraits , Leach in Rhododendrons of the World and JGM give the parentage as: R. campanulatum ssp. campanulatum X R . arboreum ssp., or just R. campanulatum X R. arboreum . Salley and Greer in Rhododendron Hybrids give the parentage of R. 'Boddaertianum' as R. arboreum (white) X R. ponticum (white). They describe the flower as having a crimson ray and dark purple spots in the throat, not black spots (JGM and Leach) and describe the truss as having 18 up to 22 florets (flowers) not twenty-five as JGM counted. This nitpicker believes Salley and Greer have the wrong hybrid. The clue may lie in the French name they give it: 'Croix d' Anvers'. To some there may be glory on the cross, but I speculate 'Gloire d' Anvers' and 'Croix d' Anvers' are two different rhododendrons.
*Millais, J. G., Rhododendrons and The Various Hybrids , Longmans, Green and Company, London, 1917, pages 121,122. R. 'Bodartianum' is pictured in black and white between pages 128 and 129.
** Ibid. ,121.
***Perhaps the most famous L. van Houtte plant creation is the bridal wreath spirea, Spiraea x vanhouttei .
Clive Justice, a member of the Vancouver Chapter, is a retired landscape architect who recently earned a Ph.D. in garden and plant history at Burnaby's Simon Fraser University. His dissertation, The English Garden Legacy in Western Canadian (Coast and Prairie) Ornamental Gardens 1888-1999, has a section on rhododendrons.