How I Became a Rhodoholic
I guess I'm a rhodoholic, at least that's what my friends say. I became afflicted when I moved to the Seattle area back in 1956. I came from the dry, cold side of Washington State where I had never seen anything like Rhododendrons. It seemed like every home in Seattle had at least one if not more Rhododendrons. I was fascinated with the bright, showy flowers of these evergreen shrubs.
The most popular Rhododendron was 'The Honorable Jean Marie de Montague' (most people just called it Jean Marie). I couldn't stop there, I got a 'Blue Peter', then 'Taurus', and 'Nancy Evans' and 'Trude Webster' and the varieties seemed endless and I wanted them all. Then I noticed that the species Rhododendrons had interesting leaf shapes and a fuzzy coating underleaf called indumentum and sometimes a coating on the top side called tomentum. So I had to have R. pachysanthum and R. bureavii, and R. pseudochrysanthum.
I was obviously hooked! I joined the American Rhododendron Society and started attending the meetings of the local chapter in Seattle. That just added to my affliction as I got to know others with like interests. Ther was so much to learn, so I had to get books about Rhododendron culture. The book that was recommended was Harold Greer’s Guidebook to Available Rhododendrons. Then I discovered Peter Cox had published a whole series of books on cultivation of Rhododendrons and I got them all.
My association with The Seattle Rhododendron Society (SRS) included volunteering to help maintain their Rhododendron Garden on Whidbey Island, Meerkerk Rhododendron Garden. This is a 51 acre garden that was bequeathed to the SRS with the purpose of allowing the public to observe and learn about Rhododendrons and companion plants. I eventually quit my job at Boeing to become the fulltime manager of Meerkerk. Mrs. Meerkerk had planted many hybrid and species Rhododendrons, but the gardens had not been adequately maintained for many years and needed some tender loving care. The goal was to make it a test and display garden to attract people interested in Rhododendrons, both local and tourists. My wife Mary and I set about clearing the wild brambles and weeds that had all but taken over.
My interests gravitated toward hybridizing and my job at Meerkerk provided the many sources of pollen to accomplish that role. I started growing my own hybrids and evaluating them for quality, hardiness, and susceptibly as a garden plant.
After 6 years at Meerkerk, Mary and I decided we needed a place of our own and found and purchased a 15 acre wooded lot not far from Meerkerk. We now have a home and garden of our own where we can continue exploring the virtues of the genus Rhododendron. I hope this affliction never ends because there is so much to learn.