NEW ZEALAND RHODODENDRON ASSOCIATION (INC.)

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THE NEW ZEALAND RHODODENDRON ASSOCIATION

by

]. S. Yeates

Massey Agricultural College, Palmerston North, N.Z.

THE New Zealand Rhododendron Association, which is a society registered in New Zealand under the Incorporated Societies Act of 1908, celebrated its tenth birthday on 4th October, 1954. This stage of its life seems an appropriate time to sum up its development over these first ten years.

A preliminary meeting of six enthusiasts was held in Palmerston North on 10th August, 1944, at which a provisional constitution was adopted; and it was decided to seek registration under the present name. On 4th October of that year, an inaugural meeting (the first annual meeting) was held.

The late Mr. E. F. Stead was elected first President and the present writer as Secretary-treasurer. The new President delivered a most stimulating address to some fifty people, and the rules were finally adopted.

The objects of the Association as set out in the rules were:

a)      To act as a common meeting ground for Rhododendron enthusiasts;

b)      To encourage the cultivation, the study and improvement of Rhododendrons by such means as the Association shall from time to time see fit.

It was emphasized at this meeting that the only members desired were Rhododendron enthusiasts or potential enthusiasts and that there should be no effort to increase the membership for financial or other reasons. This attitude has been maintained; and in fact there has been a strong feeling at times that membership should be limited to 150 or 200. Larger numbers may make the Association less well-knit, and also create difficulties when members are entertained in private gardens. The membership is at present 200.

One of the foundation members (Dr. Cyril King) was responsible for incorporating in the rules the provision that each member receive two Rhododendron plants per annum from the Association. This has proved to be a most successful scheme, though for the Secretary-treasurer it has involved the propagation of large numbers of plants. Propagation is done in the Botanical department of Massey Agricultural College. As membership became larger it was found necessary to ask members to pay the cost of propagating- a figure fixed at five shillings per plant for seedlings and ten shillings per plant for others.

In 1948 the Association made an arrangement with Massey College under which the College grows the Association's Rhododendron collection in its grounds. These plants serve as specimens in the grounds and also as stock-plants for propagation purposes.

One of the major activities of the Association has always been its annual conference. This is held, as a rule, alternately in the North and South Islands, in the spring, at a time when as many Rhododendrons as possible are in flower. In practice the conference has been held in four centres-Palmerston North (Massey College), Christchurch, New Plymouth, and Dunedin. Apart from the annual meeting, the conference includes two or three days of visits to members' gardens or others of note, which may be within a radius of seventy miles or more from the main centre. The attendance is usually up to one hundred. Transport is generally in members' cars and very generous hospitality is provided by our hosts in some cases. On one occasion the whole party of seventy or so was entertained at a complete hot lunch - the house being a large one. The conference period generally involves members coming some hundreds of miles by road-a golden opportunity to call on fellow members and see their Rhododendrons in bloom. Unfortunately many of our members are farmers who are often very busy at that particular season.

This being the conclusion of our first decade, it is fitting that we should take stock, and see whether or not we are doing what we set out to do.

First of all was the increase and distribution of the 'Ilam' Rhododendron and Azalea hybrids. In 1944 the present writer with three keen Rhododendron growers, first saw the late EDGAR STEAD' s plants at Ilam. These were at the same time an inspiration and a cause of grievous envy. Mr. STEAD did not commercialize his plants but all who saw them wanted them. In due course he generously allowed us to graft some, first of the Rhododendrons, and later of the Azaleas. From stock bushes so raised, we have distributed the best Ilam plants fairly widely among our members.

Mr. STEAD himself described his best hybrids in the Year Book for 1947, and there is no need to repeat his descriptions. Probably the most striking of all the red Ilam hybrids is that known as 'Scarlet King' variety 'Orchard'. Its breeding is described by Mr. STEAD at the foot of page 46 in the 1947 Year Book. Though we have imported the best Exbury and Bodnant reds in recent years, none of them excels the 'Orchard' variety. Unfortunately it is rather tender in the English climate. One clone of 'Ilam Alarm' is a particularly good type-very vigorous and free-flowering. It is well suited to planting in rather difficult situations and we intend to try it for street planting. The fine Loderi type 'I.M.S.' or 'Irene Stead' has been widely distributed, as also has been 'Canary'- the latter not always an easy plant to grow well. The (R. arboreum x 'Pink Pearl') by R. dichroanthum hybrid,now called 'Ilam Apricot', has not been much distributed yet, but is an excellent plant. A similar dichroanthum hybrid, the exact breeding of which Mr. STEAD did not describe, is 'Ilam Orange'. The parent bush at Ilam is now a cushion some 5 ft. across and 3 ft. or so high. Its .flowers open an orange colour which fades to rich yellow. One very good hybrid from Ilam. was described by Mr. STEAD as a hookeri hybrid X R. sperabile. It is a dwarfish grower, reaching apparently no more than some 3 ft. or 4 ft, and in one clone at least trailing its lower branches on the ground. We have two forms of it, of which one has no stamens and the other almost completely abortive stamens. It has waxy red blooms in a small truss, but is of excellent quality and flowers early in the spring, usually at the same time as R. scintillans.

The Ilam Azaleas have often been mentioned in publications duringrecent years. They include some magnificent plants. So far we have not grown the Knaphill or Exbury Hybrids long enough to enable a fair comparison. There is no doubt that an Azalea needs to be wellestablished and in a favourable situation to give of its best.

The demand for Ilam Azaleas of the best clones is very keen amongst members. It is only some six years since Mr. STEAD permitted us to graft a few of them, and the Association's collection now has some good grafted plants, used mainly for breeding purposes. By intcrcrossing the good plants, we have raised batches of seedlings which show a percentage of high-quality plants and a few really outstanding types. These arc being distributed to members. A few grafted Azaleas have been distributed, but stooling or layering appears to offer the best means of vegetative increase. Rooting cuttings of these deciduous Azaleas has not been very successful, as the rooted cuttings mainly die the following winter or spring. More lately we have started trials on rooting them in the American 'Baldsiefen' frame as described in the Bulletin of the American Rhododendron Society for January 1953.

After commencing distribution of the Ilam hybrids, the Association did similar work with the best Exbury and Bodnant hybrids. The scions were sent from England by air mail, grafted in the College glasshouse, and the resulting plants used as stock bushes. By this means we have already distributed such hybrids as 'Mariloo', 'Romany Chal', 'Icarus', 'Naomi' in several forms, 'Carita', 'Ibex', 'Idealist', and of the  Bodnant plants so far 'Dorinthia', 'Vanessa' and 'Matador'. Other Bodnant hybrids such as 'Elizabeth', 'Dainty', 'Ethel', 'Laura Aberconway', 'Elros', 'Sunrise' and 'Felicity' arc at present being increased in readiness for distribution, as are also several forms of 'Lady Chamberlain' and others.

The Rhododendron species have not been neglected. In 1945-6 we obtained seeds of some forty good species from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Edinburgh, and seeds were obtained locally from good forms of R. Delavayi, R. Maddeni and others. Plants of all these have been distributed. More recently the Association has contributed to Kingdon Ward's Expeditions-first to the 'Earthquake' expedition'. later to the 1953-4 North Burma and more recently to the Saramati expedition. The reasons for supporting these expeditions arc mainly two; to secure seeds of new species or of new varieties of old ones; and to help bear some small part of plant exploration costs, since we already share at no cost in the results of many earlier expeditions.

Many of our members have hopes that some day an experienced collector will go to the alpine regions of such tropical countries as New Guinea. For mild climates in particular, there may be some startling new species in the cooler parts of New Guinea's high mountains; species which may be of interest not only as such, but also as the starting point of new adventures in breeding,

On account of our relatively mild climate, we are interested in some Rhododendrons which are too tender in much of England. The Megacalyx subseries in particular is finding more friends, as members see plants in flower. Dalhousiae, Lindleyi, Nuttallii, and rhabdotum arc so far the best known of this group, but even they are relatively little known. Donations of seed from this subseries would be most welcome. It should be noted that the main aim is not to build up a collection of Rhododendrons at the Association's headquarters; but rather to distribute many sorts through the country in private and public gardens. In this way they will be seen by the greatest number of people and will be tried under the greatest range of soil and climatic conditions. It is not to be expected that all species and hybrids can be successfully grown in any one garden. A very large proportion of the plants now being distributed will fail in the next twenty years. From. the remainder we should learn which are really worth while under any of our particular sets of conditions. It should be mentioned here that some hundreds of plants have been supplied to different towns and cities, where they will be planted in parks.

Perhaps the main value of the Association has been the stimulus obtained through the first of its objects :- 'To act as a common meeting ground for Rhododendron enthusiasts.' By bringing members together it has been the means of developing many gardeners into Rhododendron enthusiasts whose keenness is at times thoroughly embarrassing. The annual conferences and many smaller informal gatherings are now a great source of pleasure and inspiration to keen gardeners. Many firm friendships have been founded, and out of such associations the further development of Rhododendrons will be helped. The Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust is one outcome of the Association in which some of our members have joined. The Pukeiti property was purchased by Mr. W. D. Cook and offered to the Association. When the Association was obliged to decline this generous offer, some of the members organized the Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust.

To summarize the Association's achievement in its first ten years: it has very greatly stimulated interest in Rhododendrons, and encouraged their planting: it has made available to members and others, plants of choice hybrids  and species which otherwise were unobtainable or very difficult to obtain: and by distributing these plants in private and public gardens throughout the country, has shown the general public that there are now varieties much superior to the old, rather poor ones, which were planted in earlier times. We look forward with keen anticipation to the good things which the next ten years may hold in store for us

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