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Rhododendron and
Azalea News

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Summer/Fall 2010  Vol. 13  No. 2
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Gardens

The Cecil and Molly Smith Garden

The Cecil and Molly Smith Garden positively reflects the lives of a couple that generously left a legacy for future generations to enjoy with their woodland garden.  This truly is a beautiful story and well worth while to share and for you to remember to visit when you are in the Portland, Oregon area.  A little history is in order.

Cecil and 'Molly' Smith were the founders and developers of what has become the internationally renowned Cecil and Molly Smith Garden.  Cecil started collecting rhododendrons in the late 40s at their first home adjacent to the present-day Garden property near Newberg.  Cecil was a grass seed grower by trade...and originally owned much of the surrounding land.  He became an early member of the American Rhododendron Society in 1947...several years before he owned the garden site.  In 1951 they obtained the garden property, finished their new house and started the garden.  The area had been logged in 1915, but by 1951 had reestablished its growth of Douglas fir and native plants.

finds genus Rhododendron with pleasure...

 

Cecil had grown up at Champoeg in the Willamette Valley and treasured the native plants.  He also became interested in discovering the best genus Rhododendron had to offer.  He eventually helped sponsor expeditions to the Himalayas, and participated in seed exchanges and experimented with hybridizing.  His efforts were directed at what he thought were the most outstanding rhododendron characteristics:  fine foliage and great flowers.

The signature plant...

 

Rhododendrons are the Garden's featured plants!  Cecil was among the first to grow R. yakushimanum and used it for hybridizing.  He was a "leaf turner" and loved the fine indumentum of R. yakushimanum and R. bureavii.  He combined these two species and produced R. 'Cinnamon Bear'...the signature plant in the Garden.

A number of his crosses are found in the trade including, R. 'Noyo Brave' and R. 'Yellow Saucer'.  Cecil was very generous with his plants, sharing his cuttings, seeds, and pollen.  He wrote articles for The Bulletin of American Rhododendron Society and his photos were used extensively.

The Garden is...weeded

 

The woodland Garden encompasses about three acres sloping gently to the North.  Cecil took advantage of the slope and constructed paths that weave from top to bottom of the property.  Decaying logs, tree stumps, and fallen limbs have been retained for their natural beauty.  This accumulation of 'duff' provides most of the nutrients required and minimal fertilization is required.  The Garden is weeded...because Cecil noted:  "Unless a woodland garden is weeded...it is not a garden...but a wild area."

Molly’s role...baking cookies!

 

Molly's favorites were the Rhododendron 'Loderi' planted near the house and now are over 20 feet tall.  Although never taking much credit for the Garden, Molly Smith contributed upkeep and maintenance in the Garden through the years.  When the Smiths lived at the Garden, they freely shared their garden with others and hosted many garden tours.  No one interested in rhododendrons was denied a visit in the Garden.

Cecil and Molly each received American Rhododendron Society Bronze Medals from the Portland Chapter, the highest award.  Molly humorously commented that no one had ever before received a Bronze Medal for...baking cookies!  Molly was always the gracious hostess, welcoming her guests to her home and garden with freshly baked cookies.  In 1967 Cecil was awarded the Gold Medal and the Pioneer Achievement Award from the American Rhododendron Society.

Smiths sell to the ARS Portland Chapter

In 1983, after more than thirty years of devoted stewardship, Cecil and Molly Smith reached a point in their lives where they could no longer care for the Garden.  The Portland Chapter purchased the Garden when the Smiths made it possible by selling their land to the ARS at half of its appraised value.  The Portland Chapter, along with the help of Willamette and Tualatin Chapters assumed its care and management.  Cecil died in 1998, and Molly in 2007.

internationally known...

The Smith Garden has charmed and delighted visitors from around the world.  Edmund Rothschild and his wife have visited the Garden many times along with other well-known Rhododendron enthusiasts.  David Leach, author of Rhododendrons of the World, was a good friend of Cecil's, and enjoyed spending time in the wooded setting.  Smith Garden has been featured in Horticulture magazine, and in the PBS television show Victory Garden.  It is also included in The American Man's Garden by Rosemary Verey.  Locally, every national convention of the American Rhododendron Society and Western Regional conventions held in the Portland area included tours of the Smith Garden.  Mike Darcy has highlighted the Garden on his television show.  Local newspapers and other publications have also included articles and photos of the Garden.

beauty abounds on each pathway...

The native Douglas firs create an ideal environment for a natural woodland garden of rare beauty, featuring superior forms of species and hybrid rhododendrons.  Complimenting the rhododendron collection are choice trees, shrubs, wildflowers and bulbs.

Each pathway reveals its own visual treat...a moss-covered log with plants tucked in the bark crevices, plants thriving on tree stumps, drifts of wild flowers.  Cyclamen, Narcissus, Erythronium and Trillium flourish here.  The day-to-day work is done by a small group of volunteers with Fall and Spring work parties of the American Rhododendron Society chapters' members and friends.

-- Ginny Mapes, Chair of the Cecil & Molly Smith Garden

 


ei ei OH!

It is a well-known musical fact that Old MacDonald had a farm...but too little attention has been given to the equally well-documented fact that he also grew species rhododendrons!  Sure...there was the cow and the pig...but they don't get any more sing along time than those wonderful species.

rhodoes in Farmer MacDonald’s ditty...

Farmer MacDonald...being a man of few words...wanted his little ditty to reflect his love of flora and fauna while at the same time keeping it both simple and memorable to the Future Farmers of America.  We know this because he referred to all of his critters by their common names...not by their correct Latin-based taxonomic name.

The problem here was that species rhododendrons generally don't have common names, so the wise old farmer abbreviated them.  MacDonald referred to his special plants by the last two single letter syllables of their names, "I, I" which, of course, are pronounced e i.  The "o" is the abbreviated form of 'Oh, my Goodness!'  Thus R. davidii and R. wardii became e i e i OH in song.

McDonald Farm in Willamette Valley...

 

The McDonald acreage is a third generation family farm here in the Willamette Valley, Sunset climate zone 7B or 8A.  They follow organic sustainable agriculture methods and do not rely on government subsidies.  We can't be sure which of the many available species rhododendrons they choose to grow...but here are a few likely suspects.

Latin plant names not for ditty songs...

 

Rhododendron schillpenbachii would have been quite a mouthful for little singers and a real ursus arctos horribilis to rhyme!!  Schlippenbachii is a deciduous azalea, azaleas falling within the genus Rhododendron.  The foliage is displayed in whorls of five at the branch ends and opens with a bronze hue, maturing to green, changing to yellows and crimsons in the Fall.  The pink or white slightly fragrant flowers open just before the oncoming leaves.  Schlippenbachii prefers woodland or partial shade and like a less acid soil than most rhododendrons.  It is a slow grower to about the height of a horse's back.

Farmer MacDonald...a Scot!

 

Farmer MacDonald was, of course, a Scot...and certainly familiar with many of the noted Scottish plant explorers whose names have been honored in rhododendron nomenclature.  Scottish explorer George Forrest is the namesake of Rhododendron forrestii, an amazing creeping dwarf shrub that grows to only six inches.

Like many Scots, forrestii tends to be a wee bit temperamental, demanding great drainage, plenty of open air, and protection from the sun.  But give it too much shade and you lose the intense red flowers that dot the carpet of small rounded leaves.

Rhododendron edgeworthii...

 

Rhododendron edgeworthii was "officially" discovered by Joseph Hooker, a graduate of Glasgow University, Scotland.  We have to raise a dubious eyebrow whenever a non-native claims to discover something while stomping through someone else' neighborhood.  I find it difficult to imagine that a plant this wondrous was overlooked by countless Burmese, Chinese, Indians, and Tibetans in their own backyards!

Edgeworthii is a personal favorite.  It is unlikely to be confused with any other species rhododendron.  The upper leaf surface is bullate, puckered between the veins, green with a satiny sheen.  The underleaf is very visibly veined as well and completely covered with a thin golden indumenum.  When it blooms edgeworthii yields trusses of pink, flushed with white flowers that scent our entire garden.  Edgeworthii in its native state grows in the open on steep rocky slopes, it demands sharp drainage here to survive.  Our two edgeworthii made it through the brutal winter...though they are considered marginally hard in our zone.

Rhododendon fortunei...

 

Rhododendon fortunei ssp. fortunei was named for Scottish explorer Robert Fortune.  One of the hardiest scented species, it will withstand significant direct sun.  Former national president of the American Rhododendron Society and Eugene, Oregon, nurseryman Harold Greer writes of fortunei... "must be included among the finest in the genus Rhododendron...largely pest-free...grows with great zest and vigor.  The flowers are beautifully formed, falling and brimming over the entire plant making a springtime display that is unequaled.  An exceptional plant, an aristocrat enjoying well-earned popularity and a reputation for excellence, great beauty, and extreme hardiness.";  I think Harold likes it!

Rhododendron flinckii...

 

Rhododendron flinckii is high hope!  Rare in the wild, uncommon in the garden, fliknkii is one of the great indumentum rhodies.  The new growth is covered on both surfaces with fine hairs of cinnamon-orange with the show continuing on into autumn.  The flowers are a cream yellow with a hint of rose.  Flinckii wants to be tall, but so far has reached only 18 inches in our garden.  Another high hope is that if there is a species with a odd name like flinkii that, perhaps, "exckerdtii" is within the realm of possibility.

another Scottman...David Douglas...

 

Ironically, the best known Scottish plantsman was David Douglas...who explored the Pacific Northwest and named what we now commonly call the Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii.  Douglas's fir's brittle limbs were responsible for death by sudden impact of several of my species rhododendrons during a winter's ice storm.

a final conclusion...

 

Healthy rhododendrons don't usually need fertilizer in the Fall...but with free piles of poop thirty Old MacDonald may have top dressed his plants in October with rotted manure, and, hopefully, a good fence kept the goats out of the rhodie garden.

--Dave Eckerdt, Eugene Chapter

   

Rhododendrons and a Roman road

 

There is a road called today, "Roman Road."  It lies in the village of Streetly...so named because of its association with the "street" of the Roman conquerors of Britain.  Skirting the village the road points straight across the fields towards the ancient Roman settlement at Wall on the Watling Street in Staffordshire. The one straight section that remains is now a narrow drive with big houses set back beyond massed banks of Rhododendron ponticum.

Science has proved the R. ponticum existed in much of southern and eastern Europe before the last ice age...10,000 years ago.  Roman soldiers in Turkey suffered a disabling illness due to consuming honey which the bees derived from the flowers of R. ponticum.  They barely escaped a massacre when they were unable to fight.

Did a Roman general decide that this lesson must not be lost?  My legions will carry the seeds of this dangerous plant.  Wherever they go they will plant the seed as a reminder of a near disaster and a warning to be wary of barbarians bearing gifts of honey.

I am a descendant of the barbarians that lived close to Watling Street.  My ancestor saw the Roman Road, carefully constructed with materials close to hand and he saw those luxurious plants that skirted the Way.  When the road was empty of soldiers, he would use the road to extend his travels in search of game.  In summer he could take shade beneath the roadside bushes and in Winter the rhododendrons broke the force of cold winds.  He respected the Romans from a distance...and he associated their favored roadside plantings with the march of progress, into which he was being drawn.

Respect and appreciation can live a long time in memory and can, perhaps, be passed down through the generations.  Can you follow the link from Asia Minor to a boy on a bicycle delivering papers to the big houses on that Roman road, and on to a man now a member of the Fraser Valley Rhododendron Society?

-- Scot Henney

   

You will want this one in your garden!

 

Everett Hall, a former ARS member and deceased, wrote a special Plant of the Month column for Macrophyllum newsletter.  His selections were always outstanding.  It seems appropriate to share one of his selections in this section.

To start the new season I have selected a species that is one of the prettiest and most beloved in the genus.  R. williamsianum was found growing on a mountainside cliff in Western Schezuan, China, in 1908 by plant hunter Ernest  Wilson.  It was later found in the same region by other plant hunters.

R. williamsianum is usually described as a dwarf rhododendron, however, there seems to be three different distinct forms growing in gardens.  One form grows into a small to large rounded shrub...up to five feet high.  The second form grows into a dome-shaped mound up to about three feet high.  The third form…and the one I like best, and the one I grow...grows into a dwarf-spreading shrub.  All three forms have tight compact growth and the same wonderful foliage.

characteristics of R. williamsianum...

 

It is the foliage of R. williamsianum that quickly gets your attention, especially the new growth.  The leaves are small and orbicular (round) maybe up to two inches in length.  When the new leaves emerge in the Spring they are a delightful chocolate color (sometimes described as bronze or bronzy-copper) that slowly matures into a bright dark green leave with a waxy blue-green underside.

The flowers are bell-shaped, carried in trusses of two or three flowers and can be any shade of pink.  The darker pink forms are considered to be the most desirable.  It will bloom best here in the central coast area if you it in full sun.  However, this plant will suffer in times of drought…unless you water it...faithfully!  R. williamsianum will grow for you...if you give it good drainage.  Remember that Wilson found it growing on a cliff.  Now, that's good drainage!

a teaser...a teaser...

 

R. williamsianum has been widely used in hybridizing and some of the finest hybrids we grow in our gardens have R. williamsianum in their lineage.  If you want a plant in your garden that you will enjoy every month of the year, including glorious September, R. williamsianum is a species that is sure to please you.

   

A garden proverb...

 

The kiss of the sun for pardon
The song of the birds for mirth
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

   

American Rhododendron Society
Executive Director: P.O. Box 525,  Niagara Falls, NY 14304
Ph: 416-424-1942   Fax: 905-262-1999   E-Mail: lauragrant@arsoffice.org
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