JARS v57n3 - In Memoriam: William Moynier

In Memoriam: William Moynier
George Klump and Carl Deul

The passing of William Moynier on Valentine's Day of 2003 left a large hole in the Southern California Chapter of the ARS. In fact, one could say that it left a large hole in the entire group of vireya rhododendrons - a group of rhododendrons in which Bill had been vitally interested and with which he worked closely for nearly thirty-five years. There are many crosses which Bill hybridized that are now part of the standard vireya repertoire. Bill's rhododendron life is so closely tied to the Southern California Chapter that it is worth an overall perspective with respect to the Chapter.

Bill began experimenting with broadleaf rhododendrons (our term for elepidotes) in the late 1960s and made a number of crosses some of which are still in the garden at his home. He became acquainted with Peter Sullivan around 1969, too, and visited with Mr. Sullivan at Strybing in San Francisco. It was this contact which inspired Bill to begin his work with the vireya rhododendron. Mr. Sullivan gave Bill a number of vireyas to take back down to Southern California to work with and to see how they would fare in that climate. However, equally important, if not more so, to Bill was the deep Christian friendship which developed over the years between them.

It was during the early '70s that Carl Deul and Ted Van Veen were discussing rhododendrons, and it was Ted who informed Carl of several others in Southern California whom he knew were working with rhododendrons. One in particular was Bill Moynier. Carl and Bill met soon after and hit it off immediately, especially when they learned that both of them were aerospace electronics engineers and both worked at Hughes Aircraft in El Segundo.

Bill and Carl were eager to begin a new chapter of the ARS. Ted Van Veen offered to come down from Oregon and to bring Hadley Osborne, then the president of the California Chapter and the director of Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Concerted efforts brought forth the birth of the Southern California Chapter of the ARS.

There was (and still is) a negative bias about growing rhododendrons in Southern California. Julius Nuccio had found through many years of experience that the heavy clay Oregon root ball was detrimental to the plant given Southern California's water conditions. Ted encouraged Bill and Carl to do as was done in many places in the South: grow rhododendrons in raised beds using organic soil mixes. Bill began that practice, since he lived in a heavy adobe clay area, and his flowers, both lepidote and elepidote, grew beautifully.

There is a very large horticultural group in the Los Angeles area and they heard about the success Bill and Carl were having with rhododendrons. In the beginning Carl made the presentations. Later, Bill spoke to many local horticultural groups, giving talks often illustrated with slides and bringing in plants and trusses of flowers from his garden. Carl recalled one time, when they had made one of these presentations. After they had finished speaking, the president of the plant society then asked, "This is all well and nice, but do you really feel rhododendrons will grow here?" Carl was somewhat nonplused, needless to say (while Bill had to restrain himself to keep a poker face at the rather silly remark) and indicated that all of the plants on the table were at least eight years old raised by Bill Moynier from seed in his garden at his west Los Angeles home. Bill and Carl offered the lady a chance to come up to the table to feel the leaves and trusses to see for herself that these were real and not plastic or silk simulations! This was indicative of the general reluctance to believe that rhododendrons could be grown in Southern California. Even if the plant was carnivorous and bit off a leg, most people would not believe this.

In the first ten years of the chapter, a feature article was written for Sunset magazine and many cultural bulletins were distributed to local nurseries. However, management of these establishments still would not push them, despite Bill's obviously productive efforts, since most nurseries did not want to assume responsibility for plants they felt were unsuited to the subtropical climate of coastal Southern California. Bill and Carl (in the early years mostly Carl) gave many talks to different chapters of the California Association of Nurserymen who viewed them as upstarts who probably did not know nearly as much about rhododendrons as they did. Nevertheless, Bill persevered!

Bill was a very interesting plant hybridizer. He didn't want to believe in any genetic rules per se and chose rather to rely on the Lord to decide how a plant would turn out. After Carl's daughter and son were born, Bill gave them the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, a series of children's books based on firm religious values. Bill and his wife, Bette, were like that. Among his very first hybrids was a beautiful plant he called 'Narnia', a bi-colored flower much like that of 'George Budgin', but which lasts longer. Being interested in the 'Narnia' series, it was from this source that he took some of the names he used for his early hybridizing efforts.

As time went on Bill began using some California place names: San Gabriel, San Miguel, Santa Lucia, and others. In more recent times Bill decided to use names of the Channel Islands just off the California coast and indicated to a few of us in conversation in the autumn of 2002 that he thought he would start in the south with Point Loma (which is actually a peninsula section of San Diego), and work north: Point Arguello, San Clemente (also a coastal city as well as an island), Anacapa, going up the California Channel Island chain. Bill's 'Anacapa' hybrid grows to about 5 feet and possesses a red flower. Just before this time Bill elected to use some names from his family. 'Sarah Meejean' and 'Jenna Soojean' are named after two granddaughters, the daughters of his daughter-in-law, Jeanhee. 'Sarah Meejean' is a beautiful watermelon colored vireya which is fragrant and grows to about 4 feet in height, while 'Jenna Soojean' grows to about 3 feet and, while it does not have fragrance, does produce a lovely pink-white bicolored flower. 'Jeanhee', the mother of these two granddaughters, usually grows to about 4 feet and, as Bill once described it, the flower is fragrant and is "orangey red" in color. 'Alexa' is a hybrid named after another daughter-in-law and it grows to about 4 feet and produces a yellow flower. In the spring 2003 issue of this Journal you will find the last vireyas Bill registered which include 'Chumash Brave', a complicated cross, 'Point Arguello', 'Point Loma' and 'San Clemente'.

Bill and his wife, Bette, ran a nursery for several years called Vireya Specialties Nursery. Between 1980 and 1990 Bill grew the plants there at home, while Bette mailed them not only all over the United States but abroad as well. As Bill approached retirement from work, he found himself getting busier. When he actually retired, he found that he was really too busy to handle the nursery any longer! This seems to reinforce the popular knowledge that when we retire thinking we will at long last have some free time to ourselves, life becomes even busier. Bill was in fact scheduled to deliver an illustrated lecture at the recent conference in Hilo last February. Bill passed away on the very day he was to present the lecture in Hawaii. I can see Bill now at our Southern California Chapter meetings coming up after the program to the plant table and saying in his quiet self-effacing way, "Now this was a little hybrid I had high hopes for, but the color turned out to be a little disappointing. Now this one..."