The Vancouver Rhododendron Society, The First 50 Years, Part II
Clive L. Justice, PhD, FCSLA, LMBCSLA, GMARS, LMIDS
Vancouver, British Columbia
Part I appeared in the Summer 2007 issue of the Journal.
By 1990 Vancouver Rhododendron Society (VRS) was now one of nine chapters that made up District I with five chapters on Vancouver Island and four chapters in the Lower Mainland. Richard Mossakowski became president. He and Heather were the first to establish a rhodo garden in Lion's Bay. It is more of a mountain promontory garden than the later Ronsley's creekside garden, lower down in the Lion's Bay community. The first event of the year saw the revision of the Show Classes for Division I (the species) in accordance with the Chamberlain/Cullen/Sleumer ordering of the species replacing the Balfourian system. Class I: Greenhouse and Conservatory grown species (mainly, but not confined to vireyas and maddenias). Class 2: Trusses or sprays of garden grown plants in the
sections: 1 Pogonanthum, 8 Hymenanthes, 1 Pentanthera, 1 Tsutsusi and one for all other species and genera. This revision was worked out by the VRS species study group chaired by Garth Wedemire, with Bob and Joan Bunn, Glen Patterson and Alleyne Cook.
In 1990 Ruth and Rex Merritt and Mike (Margaret) Trembath received Bronze Medals from the VRS. The Merritt's had served the society for many years, Rex as membership chair and Ruth as meeting refreshments convener. One of the largest resurgences in VRS memberships came in Rex's watch. Dr. Mike Trembath, a long-time VRS Chapter member from the South Surrey Bluffs, had assisted and chaired many of our shows before transferring her affections to become a charter member of the Fraser South Chapter. Her hybridizing efforts resulted in the registration of the late flowering rich “yallar” with a red center hybrid she named 'Lionheart'.
In part to test out the new classification, the VRS first ever-early show was held at the UBC Botanical Gardens, David Lam Centre, organized by Tom Tatum. Glen Patterson and the Finley's, Vern and Doc, took all the trophies. VRS members helped to host the mid October ARS Western Fall Regional Conference at Chateau Whistler. Les Clay was Conference Chairman, VRS members Tom and Meg Brown organized the speakers while the Bengoughs, Joan and Len, handled registrations. In the November newsletter Les wrote that the venue and chateau really impressed the US ARS members who attended. As the Canadian dollar was in the US70 cent range at the time it was a bargain for anyone coming from south of 49. For the locals from the Lower Mainland and the Island it was a surprise to have to pay CAD 7.50 for a Scotch and water at the Chateau Whistler bar; and well over $100 for a night's stay. The writer made his debut as Archibald Menzies and his discovery of R. macrophyllum .
In 1991 Richard continued as VRS president. Gerry Emerson wrote an article on tissue culture of rhodos that appeared in February and March VRS newsletter. The April issue listed just over 300 VRS members if you counted husband and wives as two members and included three or four Vancouver area libraries that took the newsletter. The second VRS early show was a great success: Vern Finley took the Milton Wildfong Cup for the best species in show with R. albrechtii , Doug Kitt, the Weesjes Cup for the best hybrid truss of PJM Group, and Frank Dorsey took the Tom Tatum Cup for the most aggregate points. Frank won in thirteen classes with Meg and Tom Brown a second with seven winning entries in as many classes.
It was also a great year for rhodos both trusses and plants for the main May show. Susan Baker won the Park and Tilford Trophy (Silver Tray) for the most points in Division 7: Plants in Containers. She must have entered all the rhodos from her roof deck in the show, with six plant entries in the eight classes. In Division 4: Hybrid Rhododendrons, Harold Fearing's, the Crabb's, and Les Clay's entries took first, second and third in that order. Ed and Lilli Anne Hemminger's R. yakushimanum , Exbury, plant won The E. J. Trayling Trophy for best plant in show and the Baker-McGarva-Hart Trophy for best species plant. The “yak” must have been a smasher.
1991 saw the chapter award Bronze Medals to Claire Bennet and Arthur Rempel together and to Susan Baker. Clare and Arthur made their home in Burnaby and received their award for service in various capacities to the chapter. Their neighbour's recipe for oatmeal cookies that appeared on the refreshments table under Claire's care at VRS meetings was printed in the May 1990 newsletter (Vol. 22-5, Frank Dorsey, Ed.). Susan Baker, an architect, and her partner have a townhouse in False Creek's Southside and grows all her rhodos in mostly wooden container tubs and on their townhouse roof deck. Susan was one of if not the first to prove that a roof garden featuring mostly rhododendrons was feasible in Vancouver. Modern watering technology and Vancouver's benign climate helped too. However, it was not her roof of rhododendrons alone that won her the Bronze Medal, but also her service to VRS as show chairman and a board member in the '80s. Her VRS newsletter article "Roof Top Living with Rhododendrons" was reprinted in the Fall 1988 issue, Vol. 28, No. 4, of the ARS Journal.
In 1992 Diane Kehoe became president of the Vancouver Rhododendron Society. She and John Eastman garden along the dyke in Delta just past Ladner Village. Frank Dorsey and Ray Talbot produced a May show at Vandusen that ranked as one of the finest, most professional and largest the chapter had ever held. It was well attended, with the plant sales grossing $10,000 plus gaining a 40% share to VRS. There were twenty-four different species entered in the their respective classes; single entries in each class predominated and became winners while multiple yakushimanum and kiusianum entries vied for first, second, third and honourable mention. Jack Lofthouse's 'Pink Petticoats' took all positions in Class 8-bicolour. 'The Honourable Jean Marie de Montague' took the first two places with 'Vulcan' third in Class 14a, light red truss, and 'Trilby' took all positions in class 15a, blotched dark red truss. Bonsai-man Roger Low took all in the plant Bonsai Classes 7a and c, while vying with Frank Dorsey to place in Class 3. Roger's bonsai azaleas got him the Park and Tilford Silver Tray Trophy, but Harold Fearing trumped all by winning the William M. Stephens Trophy for the highest aggregate in Division 1 (species) and the Wally Zeglat Trophy for highest aggregate in Division 5 (hybrids). Harold won the best in both worlds.
VRS/ARS annual membership dues became CAD30 with several money saving options for multi-year memberships. Long-time VRS member Margaret Charlton whose wild garden, a treasury of plants, is well beyond the end of the road on the Indian Arm toe of Mt. Seymour in North Vancouver was honoured by the chapter with a Bronze Medal for her services as program director, board member, show chairman, and show judge, etc., over many years. Diane Kehoe continued as president in 1993 followed by Joan Bengough who with Len garden in Surrey. Bob Talbolt wrote in the newsletter of a fine plant garden, Colten Fishacre, that he visited in Devon near Dartmouth. Karen Shuster wrote of a garden dedicated to Ernest "Chinese" Wilson, the turn of the 20th century English/American plant collector, that she visited in the Cotswold town of Chipping Cambden.
Rex Merritt announced in the April 1994 newsletter that Joe and Joanne Ronsley had moved from Montreal to their hideaway home in Lions Bay. Harold Fearing again won the highest aggregate in the species and hybrids getting to keep the Stephens and Zeglat Trophies in the 1994 May show. It was a good year for evergreen and deciduous azaleas, with Finley's and Fearing's taking the lion's share of firsts and seconds in the deciduous classes. Jennifer Lamb was VRS newsletter publisher since September 1993, but by September of '94 she was looking for someone else to take it on. She remained editor until June 1995 when Jannet Primmet out in Fort Langley took on the editorship. Joan Bengough continued as VRS president.
Dot Gibson wrote a report that ran in the February and May newsletters on the October 1994 Down Under Rhodo and Wildflower Tour that VRS and MARS members took. The tour took in the Third International Rhododendron Convention in Burnie, Tasmania, the Silver Jubilee 25th Anniversary meeting of the New Zealand Rhododendron Association in Napier, with on the way and after wild flower and rhodo venues that included Singapore (Orchids), Perth (Western Australian wildflowers), Victoria, Australia (rhodos), Auckland (Kauri) and New Plymouth (Paced). Stay-at-homes enjoyed a late April visit to Victoria squired by Ray Talbot to tour gardens selected by Bill Dale, Sidney's rhodo photographer and George Fraser chronicler.
At the show Dr. Bobby Ogden took the P&T Trophy for the highest aggregate in the plants (Division 1000), the Wally Zeglat Trophy and the B.C. Nursery Trades Trophy for the highest aggregate in Truss Divisions 2200 to 2500 and the Best Truss 'Olin O. Dobbs' in these same divisions. Joan Rich took the Harold Johnson Trophy for her mega truss 'Point Defiance', while Rota Otto took the Claydian Cup for best-blotched, 'Sappho'. The George Fraser Cup went to Karen Shuster for her spectacular azaleodendron 'Valley Sunrise' (R. occidentale X 'Purple Splendour' by Tichnor). Karen also exhibited another azaleodendron, fragrant 'Martha Isaacson' (PNW native R. occidentale crossed with 'Mrs. Donald Graham'). It was made in the early 1950s by Endre Ostbo, a Seattle hybridizer. The Patio Plant Trophy went to roof gardener Susan Baker for her species white-flowered R. kiusianum and her own trophy for a 'Fragrantissimum' along with the E. J. Trayling Trophy for best species plant: R. strigillosum . What was unusual about this mid-May show was a truss of our native R. macrophyllum that was exhibited by Meg and Tom Brown and won them the Ted and Mary Greig Trophy for best species truss. This was probably a first and only time for a VRS show or for that matter any of the District 1 chapter shows where our native macrophyllum has been shown and won. R. macrophyllum is a reliable mid June bloomer at the three locations where it occurs in the wild in B.C.
One of the big District 1 events of 1995 was the Western Regional Conference held in October and hosted by the MARS and the other up island chapters. Many VRS members attended with Martie Irwin reporting in the newsletter on the tours (Gibson's, et al.) and Arlene Darby on the proceedings that included the presentation of the ARS Silver Medal to Nanaimo Chapter ex VRS Chapter member Dr. Bob Rhodes. It was the second Silver for District 1.
1996 and 1997 volumes 28 and 29 were two of the best banner years for the desktop published VRS newsletter. Under the guidance of Frank Dorsey and Ray Talbot, the newsletter committee, with editor Janet Plummet produced sixteen rhodo information packed issues. Carolyn Finley was president for these two years that saw the ARS annual meeting in Oban, Scotland in '96 and in Vancouver the next year. The ARS membership was 170 households.
In 1997 it again became the turn of Vancouver to host the ARS Annual Convention. Past President Joan Bengough was conference convener and Steve Finlay registrar. Joe Ronsley was VRS program chair and had Steve Hootman, Curator of the Rhododendron Species Foundation in Tacoma, as the speaker at the February meeting, and in March Chip Muller came up from Seattle and spoke on "Rhododendron Exploration in Southeast Tibet - In the Footsteps of Frank Kingdon Ward." Frank Dorsey, Ray Talbot and Clive Justice were commended for writing feature articles for the '96 and '97 VRS newsletters, Ray for his "What's Blooming This Month in My Garden" articles (did you know we had snow in March, 1997?), Frank with articles on "in-the-same-family" and companion plants for rhododendrons kalmia, primula, et al., and Clive's "Garden Path and Trivia Notes" on natives macrophyllum and occidentale and on arboreum .
In her convention postscript in the June VRS newsletter Joan Bengough thanked all those that had made it such a success. It turned out that an almost all ladies band had orchestrated one of the best conventions in ARS history. Ladies involved included old-timers Vern Finley and Mike Trembath on the truss show, President Carolyn Finlay as convention chair, Margaret Charlton and Charlie on garden tours, Jacquie Lehto on registration packages, Carol Dancer on speakers, Kathie Leishman on displays, Janet Primmett on table decorations, Arlene Darby and Joan McGivern on table favours and photo gifts, Nagaire Coe on tourist information packages, and Susan Baker on tour signage along with her prize tubbed 'Fragrantissimum' that came open full out to become a convention showpiece. There were of course several old guys to help out including Glen Patterson, Joe Ronsley, Frank Dorsey, Len Bengough, Roger Low, and Harold Fearing with Bruce Macdonald, Director of the UBC Botanical Gardens who gave the welcoming address. Speakers and tours being the essence of an ARS Annual, the May 1997 event had a rich mix of both.
One of the principal convention speakers, Lady Anne Berry of Hackfalls Arboretum in New Zealand, gives a full and vivid three-page description of the Vancouver Convention in the ARS Journal, Vol. 52, No 1, Winter 1998 issue on pages 39-41. She wrote about the pre- and post-conference garden tours; Margaret and Charlie Sales Indian Arm garden got special mention, as well as the conference program and the speakers. There was a full account of Jack Toovey's Tour to Tofino and Ucluelet on the island's west coast. It must of rained a bit during some of the conference for there is a picture at the beginning of her ARS Journal piece of a hooded Peter Warton leading Anne Berry and Hideo Suzuki, both with umbrellas, on a tour of the "matchless" UBC Botanical Gardens rhododendron collection. The Ronsleys, Joe and Joan, hosted her prior to the conference at their Home in Lions Bay while their neighbours, Mary Coomber Miles and Victor, hosted the RHS Director Chris Brickell and his wife Jeanette.
When Harold Fearing became president in 1998, he created a bit of a hoofaraw when he wrote in an article in the March VRS newsletter titled "Budget Alert" where he brought to the attention of the membership that falling profits from plant sales and increasing costs of the speaker budget and Vandusen rentals and newsletter distribution would soon jeopardize the savings of the society. Replies to this financial wakeup call in the May VRS newsletter from past presidents and treasurers did little to clear the air; however, it did open the eyes of the members to the realities and the need for new and innovative ways of fund raising, instituting a monthly meeting raffle to help pay the rent for the meeting room, newsletter advertising, member sales at monthly meetings that all go toward keeping the cash-flow coming. Less costly early and late show venues and reducing the annual guest speaker roster from 7 to 6 all helped to reduce costs.
Joe Ronsley was elected president in 1999 and saw in the Millennium when a change of name for the newsletter to the Indumentum occurred with Volume 32 of the VRS publication that had been started by Lillian Hodgson in 1969 when Vancouver had been a "wholly owned" chapter of the ARS. Lill died in 2003 but she did see the newsletter with the new Indumentum masthead when Doug and Karen Justice took on the joint editorship. After a year as a desktop publication mailed out to the members, it went on-line as part of the UBC Botanical Gardens website (Doug is Curator and assistant Director of the UBC Botanical Gardens). The Indumentum issues in full colour can now be downloaded from the UBC Botanical Gardens website. No more costly mailing, it allowed individual VRS members to download to their personal computers and print out their own copies of each issue. VRS had joined the computer age.
In 1999 the VRS was generous in awarding ARS Bronze Medals to three of its most deserving long time members: bonsai artist and Kurume azalea expert Roger Low; forester, photographer and keen plantsman Glen Patterson; and rhododendron show division, and hybrid classification expert and many times show chair Karen Shuster. At the end of the century what had started as a ten member chapter of the ARS progressed to become the Vancouver Rhododendron Society and saw the spawning over the years of sister societies in the Fraser Valley, White Rock and on Vancouver Island. Comprising ARS District 1, these nine chapters had one of the largest ARS memberships in the thirteen ARS Districts. The VRS had honoured twenty-four of its members with the ARS Bronze Medal, the ARS had honoured Vancouver with two Silver medals to Harold Johnson and Jack Lofthouse and two Gold medals to Alleyne Cook and Clive Justice, who both had been in it from the very start.