JARS v59n4 - In Memoriam: Lawrence J. Pierce

In Memoriam: Lawrence J. Pierce
Gwen Bell

Lawrence J. Pierce will be remembered in so many ways and by so many people. The Seattle Rhododendron Society remembers him as a president who encouraged gardeners from all walks of life to join together in the culture of rhododendrons and the fun of gardening. He was an outstanding communicator. Lawrence and his wife, Isabel, shared the beauty and peacefulness of their garden, gifts of plants and flowers and their lovely home for occasional meetings. It is probable that his interest in gardening was inspired by Isabel's love for flowers. That interest soon centered upon the family of the colorful and, sometimes grand, rhododendrons.
Who can forget the night when he walked around his living room holding up a small truss of flowers? He declared it a Lem hybrid and asked members to identify it. With a twinkle in his eye, he told us that Halfdan Lem made a cross between Kalmia latifolia and Rhododendron williamsianum . Lawrence indicated that the alien-looking truss had been dubbed "Nosuchianum." There are some who dispute the cross and, perhaps, only a DNA test can convince the old-timers that it is, or is not, a legitimate cross.
It was educational to visit the Pierce garden of almost four acres, for there were species rhododendrons to see, flourishing old English hybrids and the newest hybrid rhododendrons from avid hybridizers Lem, Brandt, Ostbo, Whitney and Sifferman. Lawrence and Isabel Pierce tended them all. After the death of Halfdan Lem, the original plant of 'Lem's Cameo' was installed in the Pierce garden.
Some years ago Dr. John Commons of New Zealand remarked after a visit to the garden of Lawrence Pierce in West Seattle that the Pierce garden had a magnificent collection of rhododendrons. "Of particular interest is the closeness of planting without appearing to be over-crowded. I found this very encouraging. Mr. Pierce says they grow very close together in nature, so why not in gardens. Dr. Yeates says you should be able to ride a horse around each bush. So the opinions of experts can vary and most of us haven't got a horse!"
Gardening enthusiasts met some of the world's rhododendron experts through the hospitality of the Pierces, men such as K. Wada, Hideo Suzuki, Peter Cox and H.H. Davidian.
Dr. E.C. (Ned) Brockenbrough tells us of a journey made by the Pierces, the Brockenbroughs, the Simons and Britt and Jean Smith to Scotland. They were escorted through beautiful gardens by Mr. Davidian. It was a special occasion when they reached the Royal Botanic Garden at Edinburgh to hear Mr. Davidian announce that he was naming a species Rhododendron piercei .
There was the time that Lawrence found a young unlabeled rhodo growing in a pot, sitting on a bench in Lester Brandt's greenhouse. He reasoned that if that plant had been placed in the greenhouse, it might be special. He purchased the rhododendron and a few years later it bloomed an unusual orange-red color. Ned Brockenbrough remarked that the color resembled that of the rose 'Tropicana'. Then and there Lawrence declared it Rhododendron 'Tropicana'. Ned took pollen from it and crossed it with 'Hotei'. He carried a flat of young seedlings from that cross to an SRS meeting and gave them away. 'Paprika Spiced', 'Pineapple Delight' and 'Apricot Fantasy' have been selected and registered from that group of tiny rhododendron plants.
Such was Lawrence Pierce's generosity that if the Seattle rhododendron shows appeared to be short of entries, a call went out to Lawrence asking for trusses and plants. He would hire a truck, scavenge his warm garden for flowers and sometimes it did appear that he "saved the day."
In 1982 a Gold Medal was presented to him by the American Rhododendron Society rewarding him for his years of service to the Society. He, also, felt great satisfaction in helping to found the Rhododendron Species Foundation. A library has been established at the Rhododendron Species Botanic Garden in his name.
On his 100th birthday, there was a birthday party. Lawrence greeted each guest by name, made a short speech and obviously enjoyed the fun and the memories. He said repeatedly that though his son was now the legal owner of the garden, he was still the "head gardener." In fact, it has been said that he fled quite often to the garden to escape the attentions of the many ladies who lived in Horizon House.
Lawrence Pierce lived to be 104 years old. A short time before his death his son, Jack, and three or four friends were relaxing around a coffee table when Lawrence was asked, "How can you always be so happy?" The reply, "I've never had time to be angry." Such a long life must be due in part to the respect and affection from family and friends and the healthful life of a dedicated gardener who looked forward to each coming spring.