by Alan Campbell - November 2002
We need to take a stand. We must voice our concerns. Take decisive action. Whether you are retired, self employed, or employed within a business connected to the forest industry, we must all illustrate in some way, our objection to the American soft wood tariffs. So now everyone raise your fists into the air and chant with me “we will not buy American rhododendron hybrids.” There now, with this done, and the American Commerce Department now slightly atremble, how do we maintain our fascination with the genus rhododendron? Importing from Europe and Britain is still an option, but I propose a more homegrown approach.
Over the last couple of years the focus of my propagating attempts has been towards the rhododendron hybrids which have been, and still are being developed here on Vancouver Island. My research to this point has unearthed slightly over 100 hybrids and selected forms of species in this category. I have to admit that I have given some latitude to who is a Vancouver Island hybridizer. Dr. Bob Rhodes is included on my list though his work began on the mainland in Maple Ridge and moved to Gabriola Island where he and Jean still reside in their garden called Steepsides. Also included are hybrids grown from seed, selected, assessed, named and registered by Evelyn and Nick Weesjes at their garden, Towner Crest, on the Saanich peninsula. These crosses were actually done by Hjalmar Larson of Tacoma, Washington who then passed the seed to Evelyn and Nick. Hybrids such as ‘Dave Dougan’, ‘Bill Dale’, and ‘Nellie Timmerman’. Also the R. strigillosum hybrids ‘Malahat’, grown, named, and registered by Evelyn, and ‘Clayoquot Warrior’, also grown by Evelyn, named and registered by Ken Gibson.
Canadians have an amazing ability to be unassuming and seem to shy away from self-promotion; and while such modesty is not a bad trait, it may be the main reason why a majority of the plants on my list are relatively unknown. As an example I give you Ernie Lythgoe, a carpenter and Industrial Arts teacher at Oak Bay High School in Victoria, who grew and hybridized rhododendrons for the pure pleasure and enjoyment he received from the experience. Ernie felt no need, nor did he give any consideration, to register or even name his plants – he just took the plants which he cared for and gave them away to the people he cared for. So far I have only found one of Ernie’s plants. It grows in Norm Todd’s garden, and Norm has named it after his friend ‘Lythgoe’s Legacy’. To me a touch of melancholy surrounds the loss of Mr. Lythgoe’s hybridizing achievements. Within the gardening circles of Victoria a few Island hybrids have garnered some popularity. Dr. Stuart Holland’s ‘Transit Gold’ is well known, but other hybrids of his making are becoming lost to time. ‘Mary’s Favourite’ is the best known hybrid from Albert de Mezey, his ‘Jean Todd’, ‘Shirley Smith’, and ‘Peggy Abkhazi’ are less familiar. The Weesjes garden, Towner Crest, has produced a hybrid of the same name and a sister seedling that has become ‘Nick’s Choice’. The University of Victoria’s Finnerty Garden has become a suitable repository for the many introductions of Dr. Herman Vaartnou. The majority of his inductions into the rhododendron world may be selected forms of species and open pollinated hybrids but this has in no way hindered ‘Princess Abkhazi’ from becoming one of the marquee plants for the American Rhododendron Society convention to be held in Victoria in 2005.
How many members of the Cowichan Valley Rhododendron Society are aware of the work done by two of our very own members? Rhododendron ‘Cowichan’, is a R. williamsianum hybrid selected, named, and registered by Peter Kearns. Peter’s R. forestii hybrid called ‘Viddy’; and also ‘Cecily Enid’, a hybrid from R. vernicosum, are two more excellent plants. Fred Collins adds ‘Orient’ and ‘Super Lady’ to the roster of “must have” Vancouver Island hybrids, and waiting in the wings are more as yet unnamed hybrids from Fred and Peter. Bill Dale has educated us all well on George Fraser and his importance on the rhododendron world stage. I will not reiterate Bill’s work on George Fraser here but just say that the man from Ucluelet pioneered the cultivation of rhododendrons on Vancouver Island.
The international rhododendron community cannot remain oblivious to the hybrids coming from Vancouver Island, certainly not when the hybrids of Dr. Bob Rhodes catch their eye. ‘Haida Gold’ and ‘Bob’s Blue’ are probably Rhodes’s most widely recognized plants. The R. augustinii hybrid ‘Jean’s Favourite’ has marked its place in the trade, but ‘Bob’s Favourite’ has yet to crash the gates. There has to be a story around that puzzle. From the large, fragrant ‘Lillian Hodgson’ to the rock garden sized ‘Nathaniel’, from the elepidote ‘Jean Rhodes’ to the lepidote ‘Gabriel Blue’ there is a Rhodes hybrid to suit every taste, need, and situation. . Rhodes’s ‘Captain Bob’, with its distinctive foliage is quickly becoming one of my favourite reds. Now a question to pique the reader’s interest. Why and how did ‘Bob’s Yellow’ become ‘Haida Gold’?
Judith Walker, of the North Island chapter, was one of the featured speakers at our ARS Western Regional Conference held in the Cowichan Valley in September of 2000. Ms. Walker spoke of her friendship with Mary Greig and of the book that she has penned on the life of Ted and Mary Greig and their Royston Nursery. Fifty years ago the Greigs and their Royston Nursery were prominent within rhododendron circles and according to Judith Walker, their Royston Nursery contributed up to 10% of all the rhododendrons sold in North America. Of the many Greig hybrids, probably the best known will be ‘Buchanan Simpson’ and ‘Harry Carter’. I would like to take a little time to discuss the Royston hybrids.
Much has been said and written on the ‘Loderi’ and ‘Naomi’ family of hybrids. One only need view in full flower, the ‘Loderi King George’ in Daphne Jackson’s garden and the ‘Naomi Exbury’ in Dave Dougan’s garden to realize that these are superb plants. The colonial Royston R. auriculatum hybrids can stand shoulder to shoulder with these British aristocrats, and perhaps even surpass them on some points. If the pretentious pomposity of the trusses on the noblesse hybrids come to be overpowering, then the more laid back, lax trusses of the Royston ‘auriculatum’ hybrids will seem like a breath of fresh air. Fragrance is just as much a part of the ‘Royston’ group as is the ‘Loderi’s’ with ‘Royston Regency’ perhaps being the most fragrant. Large foliage also adorns the ‘Royston’ plants, traits handed down from R. auriculatum and R. hemsleyanum in the case of ‘Royston Radiance’ and ‘Royston Frost’. Greater variety in colour is where the Royston plants leap ahead of the ‘Loderi’ and ‘Naomi’ plants.
The ‘Loderi’ group (fortunei x griffithianum) and the ‘Naomi’ group (‘Aurora’ x fortunei) are what is called a grex. A grex is a group of plants grown from seed obtained from the seed capsule of the successful cross. Usually plants of the same grex will only produce plants of the same colour, varying only in shade and intensity. The ‘Royston’ hybrids are of a variety of crosses. ‘Royston Peach’, ‘Royston Yellow’, and ‘Royston Orange’ are from R.auriculatum x ‘Fabia’. The Greig hybrid ‘Last Rose’ (R.discolor x ‘Talley Ho’) was crossed with R.auriculatum to produce ‘Royston Rose’ and ‘Royston Opaline’. A final cross of R.. auriculatum x R.kyawi produced ‘Royston Festival’. Now if this is not enough to germinate an appeal then add the Roystons’ ability to bud up younger than the ‘Loderi’s’ and the ‘Naomi’s’, plus the ‘Roystons’ flower much later, from late July into August.
Any person who enters the realm of the rhododendron eventually is introduced to the name Halfdan Lem. From his nursery in Seattle, Washington, Halfdan Lem produced a prodigious number of hybrids. There is one juncture where the works of Halfdan Lem and Ted and Mary Greig meet and it involves the species R.bureavii. Mr. Lem selected a form of the species R.bureavii, since become known as ‘Lem’s Form’, from which he produced a number of hybrids. ‘Hansel’ and ‘Gretel’ are the most well known and are a ‘Fabia’ cross. The Greigs also selected a form of R.bureavii, now known as the ‘Greig Form’,to use in their hybridizing. Those in ‘the know’ who have had the opportunity to compare the two forms of R.bureavii proclaim the ‘Greig Form, as the choicest plant. In the 1930s Thompson’s Nursery in Oregon received cuttings of ‘Grieg Form’ and called it “…the most superior form…”, and shortly before his death Bruce Briggs of Briggs Nursery concurred. Royston Nursery also produced a R.bureavii x ‘Fabia’ which also has received kudos as being the most outstanding of this cross. Ken Gibson of Tofino has supplied many cuttings to the University of British Columbia from his plant of the yet unnamed Greig ‘R.bureavii x Fabia’ hybrid.
Up island in the Comox Valley lives Harry Wright, owner of Haida Gold Nurseries and Past President of the North Island chapter of the ARS. Over the last ten years Harry has been quietly developing his own hybrids and in 2000 he registered a group of his plants the ‘Courtenay Royalty’ hybrids. Now registered are ‘Courtenay King’, ‘Courtenay Queen’, ‘Courtenay Princess’, ‘Courtenay Duke’, and ‘Courtenay Lady’. We will now have to be patient as Briggs Nursery in Olympia Washington propagates these plants and gets them into the trade before we can see them growing in our gardens. We will wait a little longer still for the hybrids that Harry still has under assessment. As an aside, another one of Harry Wright’s projects has been to put together a book listing all the named rhododendron plants that are growing in District 1 of the ARS, in whose garden they are growing, and where the gardens are situated.
Botanist Dr. Joe Harvey of the Victoria chapter of the ARS retired to the west coast from Halifax where he had been a member of the Rhododendron Society of Canada, in District 12 of the ARS. Joe Harvey’s hybridizing is focused on rhododendrons with indumentum, and has selected forms of R.yakushimanum, R.pronum, R.taliense, R.degronianum, R.protiodes, R.pachysanthum, and R.pseudochrysanthum as the basis for his work. His hybrid ‘The Porcupine’ (R.degronianum x R.makinoi) is all the rage in the Maritimes. Joe is also a collector of seed and a strong promoter of the ARS seed exchange. Hybridizers not only hold to strict criteria of what characteristics their hybrids must exhibit but are also very particular in the choice of species forms to use in their hybrid development. Some selected forms of species may be so outstanding that names will be applied to them, as in the Greig form of R.pseudochrysanthum called ‘Chancellor’s Choice’ and Vaartnou’s ‘Mother Julia’, a selected form of R.vernicosum. A species form may also become identifiable due to a growers preference and selection, as with Greig’s form of R.auriculatum and Rhodes’s form of R.morii.
Few propagators are bringing the Vancouver Island plants forward to be recognized, but those plants that are familiar to the public owe much of their notoriety to Les Clay. Les has done his part in bringing the Vancouver Island plants into the public eye, but he cannot nor should he have to do it alone. It may be said that the reason these plants are not registered, or even named for that matter, is because the hybridizeer deemed his work unworthy. I disagree. The assessment and evaluation of a hybrid for registration may take up to 10 years, and as you may have noted, the majority of the hybridizers that I have mentioned are deceased, leaving their work unfinished. As members of the different chapters of the ARS, one of our mandates is to … “conduct scientific and educational activities, supervise test gardens, register new varieties, and maintain a variety check list…” I feel that we, as members of the Vancouver Island chapters of the ARS have a responsibility to grasp the unfinished work of these island hybridizers and strive to complete it, and to promote propagation and cultivation of their hybrids.
I wish to remind the reader, once again, that the list of hybrids and hybridizers I have compiled includes only those which I have uncovered through research during the last two years. There must yet be more to be revealed. And what about the enthusiasts that have yet to begin hybridizing: Ken Webb, John Hawkins, Allan Murray, Ward Porter, Craig Clarke, John Deniseger, Terry Richmind, Paul Wurz… ?
Reprinted from Cowichan Valley Rhododendron Society newsletter May 2002