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Potomac Valley Chapter ARS

Potomac Valley Chapter
of the
American Rhododendron Society
Newsletter: Spring 2002

Remembering Two Great Leaders:
George Ring and Austin Kennell

As mentioned at the January meeting, our region lost two former ARS Presidents and inspirational leaders within hours of each other at the end of December.

George Ring was one of the founding members of our Potomac Valley Chapter and the chairman of our seed exchange and the Gable Study Group. A tribute to him will be found later in this newsletter.

Austin Kennel has been one of the driving forces in the Middle Atlantic Region and the ARS for many years. His foresight helped establish the ARS Endowment Fund, a position he chaired for many years. They will both be greatly missed.

Regular Meeting: March 24, 2002
"Native Azaleas in the Southern Appalachian Highlands"

Native Azaleas You won?t want to miss our next regular meeting that will be held on March 24, 2002 at the National Arboretum Administration Building. In preparation for our excursion to the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina this coming June, we have arranged for an exciting speaker, Jim Gears, President of the Valley Forge Chapter of the ARS. Jim has traveled extensively in the eastern US and Southern Appalachian Highlands to observe and photograph native azaleas in wild. His expertise and beautiful slides will be a wonderful introduction to this region for everyone.

The rich botanical flora in this region is a perfect complement the magnificent mountain scenery there. Get ready to walk among stands of orange and yellow Flame Azaleas, R. calendulaceum, along the Appalachian Trail near Roan Mountain. Stroll through acres of brilliantly colored hybrids on top of Gregory Bald in the Smokies. Share Jim's enthusiasm for the native azaleas and take home a native azalea seedling for your garden as remembrance.

Recently retired, Jim runs a small nursery in Pennsylvania specializing in native and evergreen azaleas, kalmia, and daphne. The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy honored him as their Volunteer of the Year in 1999 and he has received the Bronze Medal from his ARS chapter.

We will have a short business meeting during the Social Hour prior to Jim?s program that is scheduled from 2:00 till 3:30 PM. As at most regular meetings, the Arboretum has advertised this event as open to the public, so come early, socialize, and help greet new friends. Persons whose last names begin with Q through Z are asked to bring some refreshments.

Please Help with the Flower Show!

A. Bedford Our annual flower show and plant sale at the National Arboretum is scheduled for Saturday, May 11th, from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. This is a very busy weekend with many other plant societies holding events and sales. We are greatly understaffed and need people to help for all aspects of our show. With the unseasonably warm winter followed by freezing temperatures, I suspect that anything that has a bloom may win a top prize, so please bring flowers too!

The flower show is a busy day but lots of fun. Here is what we typically do. We set up the plant sale early in the morning starting about 8:00 AM, transporting azaleas and rhododendron that have been wintered at various homes of our members. The Arboretum provides the risers for the show, but we need help transporting plants, organizing entries and getting ready for the sale. By 10:00 AM, the public will start arriving to purchase plants. At the same time, judges will start trying to give ribbons and awards to flower show entries while people are strolling through admiring the blooms. After 4:00 PM, we have to take down the show and also try to salvage the top award winning entries to root for our members.

Chapter Field Trip: Roan and the Smokies

Break in your hiking shoes and get ready for our chapter excursion to Roan Mountain and the Smokies in June. We are trying to plan activities for the serious hiker as well as those who are not so agile so that we can accommodate a wide range of abilities. Details will follow in a later newsletter, but tentative plans include the following:

  • June 17th
    Travel to the Roan Mountain area staying in either North Carolina or Tennessee.
  • June 18th
    Drive to Roan Mountain to see the famous Rhododendron Gardens. This area has easy access and does not require any hiking. The group will likely split here with those who wish to hike and see the Flame Azalea, R. calendulaceum, will park near Carver?s Gap and Hike the Appalachian trail the rest of the afternoon out to Grassy Ridge Point. Non hikers will be given some recommended sites to see along the Blue Ridge Parkway in northwestern North Carolina such as Grandfather Mountain and Linville Falls.
  • June 19th
    Rest your feet while traveling to the Smokies via the southern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway. If there is time, we will try to visit Wayah Bald to see the Kalmia, R. arborescens and R. calendulaceum in bloom.
  • June 20th
    Hike to Gregory Bald. This will be a much more challenging than the previous trek along the Appalachian Trail near Roan. Non hikers will be given some recommended sights to visit in or around the Smokies such as Clingman?s Dome or Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.
  • June 21st
    Travel home or enjoy more of the spectacular scenery on your own.
With the strange weather we have been experiencing this year, it will be very difficult to predict exact bloom times in the mountains. The rhododendrons and azaleas in that region can peak anywhere from early June until mid July, so there are no promises. It took me 7 years to see peak bloom of R. catawbiense on Roan. One year, I was there in mid June and the rhododendrons were still in tight bud. Returning several weeks later, I discovered that the blossoms had been ripped off by a hailstorm the day before. The native azaleas do flower over a longer period, so we should see something. Pray for good weather too. As you can well imagine, it is not a good idea to hike the high ridges during a thunderstorm. If bad weather is forecast we may have to adjust plans at the last minute.

George W. Ring III A Tribute

George W. Ring III, or "Pat" as many close friends knew him, passed away on December 29, 2001, at the age of 73 after a long illness. Sadly, we have lost another great leader, mentor, and friend. George was one of the founding members of our Potomac Valley Chapter formed on October 5th in 1969. He was our first Vice President with the late Newton Edwards as President, and Jane Goodrich as our first secretary.

Professionally, George was a Civil Engineer and retired after a distinguished career in the Department of Transportation. In the late 1980?s, he moved from his former residence in Fairfax, VA, to build his dream home and expanded garden on top of Bent Mountain near Roanoke. The house had a magnificent setting with a commanding view to the east, and the driveway must have been at least a mile long as it wound through woods and clearings planted with azaleas, rhododendrons, and wildflowers.

For nearly 40 years, whether we knew him as George or Pat, we in the Potomac Valley recognized this man as one of our resident rhododendron experts. George was not just an accomplished plantsman, collector, and hybridizer, he was a skilled researcher, writer, speaker, organizer, and motivator. He was one of those rare individuals who though quiet dedication, great kindness, and generosity inspired all those around him.

George was an active leader at both local and national levels of the ARS. He served on the National Board of Directors from 1978 to 1981, was East Coast Vice President from 1979 to 1981, and then served as ARS President from 1981 to 1983. While carrying the mantle of ARS President, George also managed to chair the 1982 ARS Convention here in Washington, D.C. Over the years, George chaired a number of ARS national committees including the Research Committee and the Long-Range Planning Committee. He authored numerous articles for the ARS Journal and assisted on the technical review board for many years. He was sought after as a knowledgeable speaker on rhododendrons and azaleas and the talk that he gave to our chapter last March on the Gable Rhododendrons is online.

George worked on regional plant ratings, was a frequent participant in the Breeder's Roundtable, and a generous contributor to the ARS seed exchange. Having managed our chapter?s seed exchange this year for the first time, I have a new appreciation for the many hours that George has given to us over the years.

George received the Bronze Medal from our Chapter in March of 1979 and similarly received the Silver Medal from the American Rhododendron Society in May of that year for his significant contributions on local, regional and national levels.

Looking back over a long list of accomplishments, perhaps one of George's most notable contributions was his guidance as chairman of the Gable Study Group, a committee organized to document the rhododendron hybridizing efforts of the late Joseph B. Gable. Working with Joe Gable's daughter Caroline, Ray and Jane Goodrich, George Miller and others, the Gable Study Group poured over notes, nursery records, personal correspondence, and the plantings in "Little Woods", Gable's rhododendron test area on the family farm in Stewartstown, PA. So often, the wisdom of a hybridizer like Joe Gable can be lost when that person dies, but through the research efforts of the committee, the achievements of a great pioneer were revealed and well documented.

Portions of the Gable Study Group?s research resulted in a chapter of the book "Hybrids and Hybridizers" (Livingston and West, 1978). When George was ARS President, he instituted a new award by the American Rhododendron Society, the "Pioneer Achievement Award." It seemed appropriate that George could present this award posthumously to honor its first recipient, Joseph B. Gable.

In order to preserve the Gable Study Group records for future historians, in 1988 George donated original research materials and other important papers to the Alderman Memorial Library at the University of Virginia. Included in his gift were many of George's personal notes and correspondence with rhododendron experts from around the world as well as documents from his tenure as ARS President. His collection, known as the "Papers of George W. Ring III", currently contains 2832 items that are now part of a growing ARS archive in the library.

George stressed how important it was for rhododendrons in our Middle Atlantic region to be not only cold hardy but also heat tolerant, and many of the articles he wrote for the ARS Journal focused on such topics. As for George's own hybridizing, he was very discriminating. Certainly the flower must be beautiful, but the plant must be rugged too. Consequently, George raised many rhododendron and azalea seedlings but named relatively few, only those that passed his high standards. His lovely hybrid "Fairfax" is certainly one of my favorite azaleas of all time, a hardy landscape plant with compact habit and dark evergreen leaves. The flowers are magnificent, large and ruffled in shades of pale pink that remind one of florist azaleas. Other azaleas he registered include "Ring's Orchido" which is a wonderful pale lavender companion and sister seedling of "Fairfax", "Taenzer", "Ring Gold", "Ring One", and "Lucent". He also registered two rhododendrons, "Helen Ring" named for his beloved wife, and "Oakton" named for his former community in Northern Virginia.

As I look around my own garden, I see George Ring's influence everywhere. Seedlings, crosses, cuttings, and plants he gave away or brought to chapter meetings are now choice specimens in my garden. Whenever I visited George, I think he always gave me plants or cuttings he felt I needed. My very favorite rhododendron in the garden is a lovely, 30-year old specimen of the pale pink species, R. metternichii. I have raised it from seedlings that George brought to a March meeting I attended shortly after joining the Potomac Valley Chapter. Every spring, it never fails to put on a grand show and its foliage is perfection throughout the season. I will bring some second-generation seedlings of this plant to our next meeting as a tribute to George.

George is survived by his wife, Helen, two sons Charles S. and Daniel W. Ring, step-daughter Rebecca Pilcher, sister Julia Lambert, three grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. He also leaves a host of close friends and admirers, as well as a legacy of rhododendron plants and valuable knowledge that will forever honor the name of this great man. He has certainly made a difference and we are thankful for the legacy of George "Pat" Ring.

District 9 Meeting April 25, 26, & 27, 2003

It is our chapter?s turn to host a meeting inviting the other two chapters from our District 9 of the Rhododendron Society. We are expecting a good turnout from the members of the Mason Dixon and the Middle Atlantic Chapters as they join us for a great Spring meeting in late April.

Current plans include a tour of the National Arboretum and other gardens, a banquet and speaker, and a great plant sale featuring a number of rare rhododendrons including hard-to-find Gable, Delp, and Haag hybrids. Cuttings are rooted and on their way right now.

This is a major undertaking so once again, we will be looking for people to help. Please speak up at the business meeting or contact one of your chapter officers if you can help.

Donald W. Hyatt, Editor

Copyright © Donald W. Hyatt