(The following account tells of one man's conversion from novice to passionate advocate of the rhododendron mystery).
As I drove home after the close of last month's meeting (March 2002) I was beset by a barrage of emotions. I felt perplexed, bewildered, and dumbfounded.
Our speaker at the March meeting was Norman Todd and his presentation was titled "The Basics of Rhododendron Cultivation". Norm's presentation was informative, uncomplicated, and given with that touch of humour that only Norm can muster, holding the novice as well as the knowledgeable listener in rapt attention. A quality presentation that we've come to expect from Norman Todd. But it wasn't Norm's oration that caused my emotional upheaval.
During the after-meeting cup of tea I was approached by two members, at different times, both of whom said how much they had enjoyed Norman's talk. Both individuals stated that they have been members of the Cowichan Valley Rhododendron Society for 3 or 4 years, and, from Norm's talk, had finally gotten answers to questions they have had on rhododendron cultivation. I was speechless. At that moment I realized that there is a complete lack of understanding of what the American Rhododendron Society is about, and what the Society offers.
It was a late winter's evening and I was reading the latest Island Grower when I came across an advertisement promoting the Cowichan Valley Rhododendron Society; at the bottom was the name of the contact person, Charlie Raymond, and his phone number. So it was on the evening of March 14th, 1995 that Sandy and I attended our first meeting. It would not be too much of a stretch to say that I didn't know the difference between a rhododendron and a carrot, when we entered the Duncan Legion Hall. But we had sold the farm and with no more animals to shepherd, I needed direction. Oh, and did I find direction! The speaker that evening was, once again, Norm Todd, and his topic was 'Propagating Rhododendrons from Cuttings'. Sandy and I quickly came to realize that the CVRS was not just a tea and cookie club that showed pretty picture slide shows. This society was part of a world wide cultural thread. We became ARS members that night. With more questions than we knew how to ask, we approached the people with the answers: Norm Todd, Dave Dougan, Roger and Anne Slaby, Al and Liz Murray, Fred Collins, Peter Kearns, Bob and Jean Rhodes; the knowledge on Vancouver Island is voluminous and second to none. The club's library carries the knowledge of Davidian, Cox, Greer, and Van Veen. The American Rhododendron Society's journal, issued quarterly, appeals to the beginner and to the botanist alike, with articles from fertilizing, pruning, disbudding, mulching, and propagating to genetic studies, and plant hunting expeditions. The journal is always up to date, partly due to the continued support of the ARS towards rhododendron research.
With continued fervour, Sandy and I expanded our resource base by joining the Victoria chapter as associate members. This step brought us into contact with Evelyn Weesjes, recipient of the ARS gold medal, and her husband Nick, members of the propagating group, Ken Webb, Gordon Pirie, and John Hawkins, botanist Joe Harvey and plants-women Carmen Varcoe and Agnes Lynn. Reaching out further has taken us to the Nanaimo chapter and Chris Southwick, the granddaughter of Ted and Mary Greig, the MARS chapter with Ken and Dot Gibson and grower Terry Richmond, to North Island's Harry Wright and his Haida Gold Nursery, and grower Paul Wurz of Campbell River. Attending annual A.R.S. spring conventions and fall conferences has exposed us to a seemingly endless variety of speakers and workshops. Our own conference in the fall of 2000 brought not only knowledgeable speakers, but also over 200 rhododendron enthusiasts from across North America into our own backyard.
Our latest step in the search for information on the genus rhododendron has been via the computer and the internet. Not only does the American Rhododendron Society have a web site but another excellent site holds a rhododendron forum. Now, at the touch of a button, I am able to air questions around the world. Within minutes answers come flooding in from Diane Pertson of Qualicum, Bill Spohn of Vancouver, John Weagle of Nova Scotia, Harold Greer of Eugene, Ken Cox of Glendoick in Scotland, Jose Almandoz of Spain, and Tony Blyth of Auckland, New Zealand, plus a host of others around the world.
But all the sources of information listed above by no means preclude the need to have people like Norman Todd or Clint Smith speak at our monthly meetings. Whether a new member or a charter member, there is always more to learn. Do not confine yourself to a limited and narrow focus. You may feel that some of the established members of rhododendron societies project a visage of a surly curmudgeon but nothing could be further from the truth. Show a little interest and enthusiasm and it will be returned tenfold.
As I read over what I have written, I learn something new about myself. When I get caught up in a topic I'm passionate about, I can become incredibly long-winded - so I'll end here by misquoting something I once read. "when a man comes to believe that he knows all there is to know on a subject, he'd best find a new hobby, because he has lost interest."
Reprinted from the Cowichan Valley Rhododendron Society newsletter April 2002.