QBARS - v7n1 The Initial Progress of the American Rhododendron Society Rock Garden

The Initial Progress of the A.R.S. Rock Garden
By John G. Bacher

Rock Garden in Trial Garden 
at Crystal Lake Springs Island, Portland, Oregon
Fig. 14.  The initial work on the A.R.S. rock section at the Trial Garden at Crystal Lake
Springs Island, Portland, Oregon.
Bacher photo

The north-end of the Island on which the A.R.S. Test Garden is located is quite a steep bank from 10 to 15 feet high and over 200 feet long. At one point the land drops directly into the lake but for most of its length there is a shelf about 2 feet above the lake and between 20 to 40 feet wide. A side path will be cut down the bank to this lower level to afford a better view of the rock garden when finished. (Fig. 13)
President Sersanous called a meeting of the Test Garden Committee near the middle of July and it was at that time that the subject of a Rock Garden was discussed and considered essential for the growing of the high mountain species of which there are so many members to be found in the rhododendron group. The President and all the members of the Trial Garden Committee were present with the exception of the writer who had a previous engagement in Juneau, Alaska (more about that later). However, the committee was unanimous in its decision to develop the west 100 feet of the North-end as a Rock Garden leaving the East-end for future expansion. So upon returning from the Alaska jaunt the task of creating a rhododendron Rock Garden was studied with zeal. At the first Fall meeting of the Society the subject was discussed and acclaimed by all to be a highly desirable feature for our Trial Garden.
The area designated for this project was heavily wooded and thick with underbrush, willows and evergreen blackberry. A few trees were removed, the rest de-branched to let in more light. Three week-ends were spent in this preliminary clearing process before any actual work could be done on the rockery.
Being responsible for the creation of this rockery it seemed to me very desirable that this be a garden of the best rocks obtainable in the region regardless of the distance one must go for them. Oregon is blessed by the presence of many extinct volcanoes and therefore it is the lava beds that furnish the most exotic type of rock formations. These lava beds of many acres truly offer an unlimited assortment of forms, colors and types, and as the surface is extremely rugged, the rocks hard and cutting like carborundum it is also no easy matter to carry each rock by hand to the truck. As the project was a volunteer affair no funds of the Society were allotted, and truck service as well as manual labor are donated for the good of the cause. Our first jaunt for rocks took us to the lava beds on the Santiam Pass Highway some 140 miles away from Portland. Mr. Cecil Smith and his truck, Mr. Wm. Murphy and myself brought back almost seven tons of this rock.
The following week-end Mrs. M. E. Klahn donated two loads of large, heavy Oregon City type rocks, also a porous type. These were all 100 to 500 pounders, which were a real chore to handle. With the assistance of S. W. Williams, C. T. Hansen and Guy Johnson we spent a hard day loading and delivering these rocks across town to our Garden. Another sojourn for rocks took us to Green Mountain, near Battle Ground, Wash. With friend Cecil Smith and his truck, Guy Johnson, C. T. Hansen, W. E. Whitney of Camas and Ben Lancaster we succeeded in getting an excellent type of different rock for our project.
On the next week-end a real start was made on the rockery, but it must be mentioned that our President saw fit to provide us with two loads of gravel for drainage, 4 loads of silt sand and 10 bales of peat moss. This provision of basic materials for successful construction is a great help for speedy work. The laying of rocks proceeded rapidly if not easily and after one small area was finished a start at planting was made immediately for when work of this sort is initiated there is an urge by all concerned to know how it will look when planted. Some of the rhododendron species collected by Mr. Sersanous were used in this initial planting.
The next two Saturdays were spent on the promontory of the rockery using the large Oregon City Rocks and with the assistance of the usual crew, C. T. Hansen, Guy Johnson, Wm. Murphy, Bob Bovee, Howard Slonecker, M. Reddaway, W. E. Whitney and our President, C. I. Sersanous and myself we made fine progress but ran short of our goal in completing this section as we ran out of rock. What we have accomplished to date is a small portion of the contemplated rockery. This is a large project and when finished its planting will depend largely upon the generous nature of our members.
In referring again to my trip to Alaska, on the 20th of July the writer was climbing Mt. Richard near Juneau getting first hand acquaintance with the smallest rhododendron native to that region. It is also, possibly the lowest growing of all rhododendrons known to date as its creeping habit over the rocks in these mountains above timberline is a bare inch in height. It is studded with tiny pink to white flowers barely a quarter of an inch across and it is a close companion with Silene acaulis . There is considerable resemblance of color between these two plants however; the little rhododendron is much looser in foliage structure than the Silene . Three days later while leisurely climbing on Mt. Juneau, across the valley from Mt. Richards, the writer saw even a greater number of these beautiful creeping rhododendrons or Alaska azaleas.
The botanical name for this little rhododendron is Loiseleuria procumbens or creeping Azalea procumbens . Botanists do not consider it a rhododendron at all even though it is in the Ericaceae plant family, the same as rhododendrons.