The Vancouver Rhododendron Society: a History

by Clive L. Justice, PhD, FCSLA, LMBCSLA, GMARS, LMIDS 
Heritage Tree & Rhododendron Historian 

The Vancouver Rhododendron Society (VRS) was originally founded as the Vancouver Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society (ARS). In 1954, Desmond Muirhead wrote a letter to Ruth Hansen, the ARS secretary in Portland Oregon asking her the procedures to form a Chapter of the ARS. At the time, these were fairly simple. She wrote: sign up ten people at US$10 (Canadian dollars were at par then), adopt the ARS constitution and a set of bylaws, and elect table officers and Directors. As an ARS chapter, the practice was to send the minutes of the meetings to Ruth Hansen, and after a bit, they would appear in the Quarterly Bulletin of the ARS (QBARS).
The Minutes of the inaugural meeting of the Vancouver Chapter appeared in the October 15th, 1955, issue of the Bulletin (Vol.9: 4). The meeting was held in the Kerrisdale home (Vine Street at 48thAvenue) of Desmond and Helen Muirhead. Desmond Muirhead was elected president, and acting Secretary for the inaugural was Len Living, nurseryman (Richmond). Secretary-Treasurer elected was Ellen Hailey, lab technician/nurse for Dr McKee. Cyril Chave, teacher (SW Marine Drive, Vancouver) and William Flavelle, manager (Flavelle Cedar Mills, North Road, Coquitlam) were appointed Directors. William Bradner, nurseryman and gardener (Burnaby), Hyland Barnes, nurseryman (48th and Blenheim, Vancouver) and Clive Justice who was working in the office of Desmond Muirhead and Associates, Landscape Architects, also joined. The minutes note that after the elections there was a “general discussion of the aims and enjoyments of the Society, and the rest of the evening was given over to a very interesting display of colored slides by Mr. Alleyne Cook,” also a founding member.
Charter members of the Vancouver Chapter (or assigned by the ARS to the VBCC) who were not present at the inaugural were Bill and Lillian (Lil) Hodgson (University Endowment Lands (UEL), Vancouver), W. Doug Christie, Provincial Horticulturist (Abbotsford), Herbert R. Fullerton (Vancouver), John Manten, nurseryman (White Rock), and Mrs. H. R. (Veronica) Milner (Qualicum, Vancouver Island). Although not attending the inaugural meeting, Lil Hodgson was to become a very active member indeed, for many years. It is believed that Veronica Milner never attended a meeting, but then she lived at a considerable distance from Vancouver. That same year Robert (Bob) Corbett, nurseryman (Richmond), Val B. Johnson, nurseryman (Vancouver) and Eric Langton, teacher (Port Hammond, Maple Ridge) all joined the Chapter.
Fifteen members were present for the first (after the inaugural) Vancouver Chapter meeting. It was held November 17th, 1955 at the old Vancouver Art Gallery (on Georgia Street, west of Burrard) in the gallery’s lecture room. It was, as it turned out, a most auspicious beginning for the Chapter. Alleyne Cook introduced our speaker, Mary Greig, from Royston on Vancouver Island, not because neither the president nor the vice president could attend that night, but because he was the only person in the room who knew her. Alleyne had corresponded with Mary, when he was at Sunningdale Nurseries in England before he immigrated to the west coast, and had subsequently visited at Ted’s and her home/nursery near Courtney on Vancouver Island. She grew and sold species rhododendrons, and these were the subjects of her talk. In those days, the only people who were interested in growing and buying the species rhodos were Pacific Northwest Americans. Species rhododendrons were still considered unsuitable and difficult plants for the garden. Mary Greig had been long recognized by those south of 49 as a leading authority on species. I like to think that talk played a part in helping to pave the way for the establishment in Ceperley Park (part of Vancouver’s Stanley Park) of the living plant legacy of rhododendron species that the Greigs raised from seed, along with a few of the hybrids they created.
However, this Rhododendron milestone on the 17th had been overshadowed by the great freeze of November 11th, a week before. Never before or since, has such a horrendous climatic holocaust occurred; the temperature dropped from 70° to 0° Fahrenheit in six hours. It had been a beautiful warm, wet fall. A wide range of broadleaved evergreen trees and shrubs froze to the ground. Even birch trees still in full leaf and western hemlock had their main branches killed; leaves and needles turned brown as if they had been scorched by fire.
One benefit of the November 11th 1955 freeze—perhaps of dubious merit—was that it launched Alleyne Cook’s and the writer’s rhododendron writing careers. In 1967, we jointly authored an ARS Journal article titled Rhododendrons Arise From the Dead that documented the rhododendron seedlings, mostly of the R. fortunei variety, that had been lined-out in Dr McKee’s Abbotsford Mountain retirement garden. These had been killed to the ground in the freeze. Left undisturbed since planting, some began to sprout and grow vigorously, some ten years after the great freeze. McKee, a Vancouver doctor, had raised RHS rhododendron seeds in the late thirties and forties in his Vancouver Garden. Some of these, known as “smoky pinks,” are still extant in the Fraser Valley. Ellen Hailey, whose most important job as Dr McKee’s nurse was to administer the pregnancy rabbit test (remember the baby boom?), was, for many years the mainstay of the Vancouver Chapter as our secretary-treasurer. When Dr McKee retired and moved to the hill ’back of Abbotsford, he gave some of his rhodos to the Vancouver Parks Board and these, it is believed, were planted in Queen Elizabeth Park.
In the early sixties, with the permission of Bill Livingstone, Vancouver Parks superintendent, we started a chapter display/test garden. It was located in and about the native, open-copsed area of Musqueam Park on the Crown Street side at Marine Drive. We organized several planting-Saturdays and planted a number of large and small rhodos, donated by members and local nurseries, at the park’s woodland edge. Bill Livingstone donated the largest plant, a R. fargesii. The writer gave a big old hybrid ‘Madame Masson’. It wasn’t long until most of the rhodos, large and small, disappeared, though—even somewhere the roots had been cabled. While we all felt very angry about it, we were not alone in our losses. Henry Eddie’s nursery, along the west side of Musqueam Park, had received equal if not greater losses in this wild-Westside spate of rhododendron rustling. The project was eventually abandoned a few years later.
In those days, chapter presidents were members of the ARS Board as Regional Directors, and if possible, they could attend at their own expense the twice a year board meetings. Cyril Chave became president in 1957 and ten new Vancouver Chapter members had their names posted in the Bulletin. Among them were Evelyn Jack and Nick Weesjes. The highlight of 1957 chapter meetings was a talk and slide show by E. J. (Ed) Trayling of Whalley (Surrey), on the rhododendron gardens he had visited the year previously in UK and on the continent. These included Exbury, Wisley, Carhaeys, Bodnant, Towercourt, and on the continent, Dietrich Hobbie’s Nursery and garden in Oldenburg, Germany. As well, he and his wife, Wyn, also attended the Truro and Chelsea flower shows.
Bill Flavelle became president in 1958. Member Len Living gave a detailed talk on growing and planting rhodos in the garden, while Doug Christie followed with the diseases and pests of rhodos. Ruth Hansen, the ARS secretary and registrar, came up from Portland and gave a talk on the Crystal Springs Portland Test Garden, located across from Reid College in Portland, that the Portland Chapter had set up to test and display hybrids and species.
In 1959 Doug Christie was elected president and the Vancouver Chapter held its first non-competitive show in the Kerrisdale Community Centre the evening of May 7th. “Represented were seventy-eight different varieties of named hybrids, thirty-nine named species and an equal number of named azaleas as well as many unnamed, a large display of cut bloom from the Vancouver Parks Board and a very representative showing of Dr McKee’s hardy fortune hybrids” [R. fortunei seedlings], chapter secretary, Ellen Hailey’s statement read in the Quarterly Bulletin.
Clive Justice became president in 1960; the chapter donated $25 to the Vancouver Public Library to purchase books on rhododendrons, along with paying the annual membership fee of $5 so the library could receive the year’s four issues of the QBARS. While the president’s previously mentioned article appeared in the 1961 Quarterly Bulletin, articles by other members began to appear. Len Living’s articles on the Mollis Azaleas and Red Rhododendrons in California was in two of the 1960 issues. Alleyne Cook wrote on the Late Blooming Mollis Azaleas of Manchester (Vol. 60: 3), while Mary Greig wrote on R. chlorops, for issue #2 of the 1961 Quarterly. Doug Christie wrote on the McKee Hybrids, which appeared in issue #3 of that year.
In 1961 Clive continued as Vancouver Chapter president. It was the year of the first International Rhododendron Conference held in Portland May 11th to 14th, with a number of Vancouver Chapter members attending their first rhododendron conference. Along with the president, there was Len Living, Lil Hodgson and Ted and Mary Greig; Mary being one of the conference speakers and Lil Hodgson one of the judges at the Portland Chapter cut truss show. The show at Crystal Springs Gardens was held in conjunction with the conference. We were able to meet and hear some of the rhododendron greats: Harold Fletcher, Regis Keeper of Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh; Frank P. Knight, Director of the RHS Gardens at Wisley; Dr J. S. Yeates, professor of botany and secretary-treasurer of the New Zealand Rhododendron Association (NZRA); and Dietrich Hobbie, rhododendron breeder from Oldenburg, Germany. All were principal speakers. Also attending were Peter Cox of Glendoick, Scotland, Dr Clement Bowers, Joe Gable, Jock Brydon and Harold J. Clarke (then president of the ARS and editor of the Quarterly Bulletin).
1961 was also when Vancouver Chapter members with rhododendrons in their gardens were asked to record the precise blooming time and duration of bloom for each. Records were kept on gardens in the UBC, the Vancouver Area, Burnaby, the North Shore and the Upper and Lower Fraser Valley. Many of these blooming time records were to form the basis for the book The Phenology of Cultivated Rhododendrons in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia published in 1979. Jointly sponsored and funded by the UBC Botanical Garden (under its director, Roy L. Taylor) and the Vancouver Chapter of the ARS, it was compiled and written by Dr Keith L. Wade, head of Biology Department at Capilano College, and leading authority on the rhododendrons (Vireyas) of New Guinea. The book catalogued the dates of first colour, first flower open, peak bloom, and end of bloom, in six locations for over 600 hybrids and species. This compilation is one of the reasons Vancouver traditionally had both an early and a late show.
David Freeman was elected chapter president in1962. He and his wife Beulah had a rhodo garden in the UEL. Being a lawyer, David partially Canadianized our constitution and bylaws as a chapter of an American society. Complete canadianization did not occur, however, until later. Joseph Rock, the last of the great China plant and rhododendron seed collectors died in 1962. Dave Freeman continued as chapter president until late ’65 when Dr G. Bligh, dentist of Dollarton (North Vancouver), took on the presidency. Dr Bligh had joined in 1962 and was among 21 new members of the Vancouver Chapter that had joined in the preceding 4 years. Also included were Dorothy Shaw from Duncan, and Dr Margaret (Mike) Trembath, then living atop the bluffs in South Surrey.
In September 1963, Chapter Charter member Eric Langton of Haney died quite suddenly. A garden memorial to Eric at the Maple Ridge Hospital was undertaken with plant donations from Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge members, Dr Bob Rhodes, Fred Collins and Lloyd Smith in particular. Eric’s passion was the Mollis and Exbury azaleas; he had made numerous crosses and named a number.
Lillian Hodgson was show chairman for the May 8th 1964 cut truss show held in the Oakridge Shopping Mall auditorium at 41st and Cambie, Vancouver. It was the Vancouver Chapter’s first judged show under the ARS system then in use. It consisted of 3 Sections: (A) Landscape Displays, (B) Specimen Plants, and (C) Cut Blooms and Sprays. Sections A and B had a number of classes each while C had 2 Divisions: Div I for species trusses and sprays and Div II for hybrids, each with a number of classes. It is believed the Seattle Chapter produced this system.
1966 was the year of the ARS annual conference in Tacoma. The Vancouver Chapter set up a large educational display consisting of full size cut-out figures of the rhododendron explorers (Hooker, Forrest, Kingdon Ward, Fortune and Rock), each standing in a curbed planter with several plants of the species discovered, arranged about their feet. There was a printed list of their species discoveries with each explorer cut-out. There were two educational exhibits in the South Tacoma Mall show; the Vancouver Chapter’s entry took second. Disappointingly, especially considering all the work put into the exhibit, there was little interest shown in the species or the explorers by most ARS members at the conference. However, the highlight of the Tacoma Conference was for chapter members Ted and Mary Greig, who were jointly awarded the Society’s 20th ARS Gold Medal. At least the ARS saw fit to recognize those who knew and grew the species locally, even if those who discovered and introduced them to cultivation remained unrecognized.
Canada’s Centennial year (1967) was also a banner year for the Vancouver Chapter. With the help of the Burnaby Centennial Commission (the municipality had earlier adopted the rhododendron as its official flower) the chapter staged a spring flower show in Burnaby’s municipal ice rink. Large ‘Akebono’ flowering oriental cherries in 4ft boxes, and landscape displays by nurseries, landscape contractors and garden clubs, created a park-like setting in the arena. The even, cool conditions in the ice rink were a perfect environment for a three-day flower show. Reeve Allan Emmott opened the show, and free attendance over the Mother’s Day weekend reached 1000 (a large turnout for a flower show in those days). Mrs. Grace Conboy (her garden was in South Burnaby) wrote a report that appeared in the Quarterly Bulletin describing the show, the best rhododendron and the best of the 486 cut trusses entered.
“The Best Rhododendron . . . ‘Virginia Richards’ . . . a large, singularly outstanding new hybrid . . . was exhibited by Mr. E. J. Trayling of N. Surrey who apologetically accepted his own trophy, the E. J. Trayling Trophy [Best Plant in the Show]. The Eric Langton Memorial Trophy, donated by the Vancouver Chapter for the Best Azalea Truss was awarded to Mrs. A .J. [Ellen] Haley (sic) for . . . a bright gold orange Mollis seedling. Mr. E. J. Trayling with his truss of lovely chartreuse yellow ‘Diane’ also won the BC Nursery Trades Association Trophy for the best hybrid. The Trophy for the best new unnamed seedling truss, donated by Mrs. E. M. [Doreen] Lawson (General Chairman of the Combined Committee) was won by Mr. Fred Collins for the cross of ‘Hawk’ ´ ‘Naomi’ (Langton). The Ted [and Mary] Greig Memorial Cup donated by Mr. Clice (sic) Justice for the best species truss was won by the Vancouver Parks Commission for a beautiful R. rex with felted leaves.”
In 1968, Jack Lofthouse was elected president of the Chapter. He was among the first chapter members to have registered one of his crosses—a large truss with flowers having frilly-wavy petals, aptly named ‘Pink Petticoats’ (1966). The chapter formed committees to plan and organize to host the 1970 ARS Annual Meeting and Convention, the first to be held outside the US. Jack was publicity chairman and managed to insert a full-page tentative program and venue announcement into the October 1969 Quarterly Bulletin. Dr Bob Rhodes was program chairman and arranged for David Leach, and the two UBC Taylors, T.M.C. (Botany) and Roy L. (Botanical Garden) as principal speakers. Lloyd Smith was elected chapter president and so, became conference chairman.
During the conference held May 16th -18th, 1970 at the Bayshore Inn, Mary Greig and Alleyne Cook led walking tours of the Greig collection of rhodo species and hybrids in Ceperley Park (Stanley Park). ARS President Dr Carl Phetteplace gave a very long president’s address at the closing banquet before he finally got around to awarding four gold medals. The awards went to Bob Tichnor, rhododendron researcher and ARS secretary-treasurer of Pullman, Washington; Koichiro Wada of Yokohama, Japan; Mrs. Robert (Esther) Berry, Grays Harbour Chapter, founder of the ARS Seed Exchange; and our Vancouver member Evelyn Jack, who was recognized for propagating and growing on the many species cuttings sent from the UK at the UBC Physical Plant Nursery. The plants were bound for the Species Foundation Garden near Seattle, then a project in the hands of the ARS. In all, she was able to propagate over 300 selected “superior” forms of species (unobtainable across in the US) gleaned from English and Scottish gardens.
Burnaby, the municipality adjoining Vancouver had an annual Rhododendron Festival. A beauty contest was held to choose a Burnaby girl to reign as Rhododendron Queen during the festival and promote Burnaby and the rhododendron at civic functions. Later in the year, she would be in the running for Miss PNE (Pacific National Exhibition). Miss Carolyn Lewis, the Rhododendron Queen for 1970, was presented to the Vancouver convention and posed for pictures with ARS president Carl Phetteplace, and Lloyd Smith, Vancouver Chapter president and Burnaby (Burris Road) nurseryman (Quarterly Bulletin, Vol. 24: 3, page 142.) It is believed that this was the first and only beauty queen appearance at an international rhododendron event.
It was the year before the Rhododendron Queen, 1969, that Lillian Hodgson began a chapter newsletter. At first these one and two page notes were a spin-off of the happenings at chapter meetings. There were eight monthly meetings that the chapter held each year that previously had appeared rather erratically (if at all, in earlier years) in the Quarterly Bulletin. Membership grew by 31 in 1970 and by 6 more in 1971 when Fred Collins, manual arts teacher of Maple Ridge became president of the chapter.
An excerpt from the 1971 newsletter (Vol. 3: 5) records the happenings at the meeting prior to the May show that year. The show was held at the Cowan Art Centre, in Burnaby’s Century (rhododendron) Gardens. It is now completely redeveloped and named the (Jack and Doris) Shadbolt Centre. At the April meeting, the first Vancouver Chapter ARS Bronze medal was awarded. Editor Lillian wrote:
“The highlight of the evening was the presentation to Ed Trayling of the Society’s Bronze Medal for his contribution to the chapter in his many years’ association with our group. There is always a good woman behind a good man and his wife Wyn has shared in no small way in his enthusiastic work. Too bad we could not “tip you off” beforehand but we wanted this to be a surprise, and indeed it was! Many of us owe our own successes to the knowledge so generously by this fellow ‘Rhodaholic’.”
On Sunday April 9th 1972 some members of the Chapter took the ferry to Victoria to visit the de Mezey garden at the invitation Albert and his sister Mary. Albert de Mezey was a species and alpine plant collector, and his garden was one great rock outcrop with Garry oaks—perfect for alpines and small leaved and alpine rhododendrons. The writer still has a superb 2¼″ ´ 2¼″ slide of R. forrestii repens in full bloom growing out of a crevice in the de Mezey “bald,” taken that day.
At the plant sale that year, the practice began of the 60:40 split on price with the chapter. The chapter did well with their 40%, as it was able to give $100 to purchase rhododendron hybrids for planting in boxes on the concourse at newly opened Simon Fraser University, and $1000 to the UBC Botanical Garden to help establish their now extensive species collection. Over thirty years later the Botanical Garden’s species collection has grown and been augmented by material from China collected by UBCBG Asian Garden Curator, Peter Wharton, and others, until it is now one of the most extensive rhododendron species collections in North America. The hybrids in boxes on the SFU concourse are only a little the worse for wear after three decades, and are still blooming, while the ARS Vancouver Chapter’s bronze plaque is still in place on one of the boxes.
The 1970s were maturing years for the Vancouver chapter. Fred Collins was chapter president and was followed by the Dr Bob Rhodes in the first five years of the decade. Starting with 1975, the society elected our first woman president. Francisca (Mrs. E. C.) Darts shared her term with recording secretary, Edith Lofthouse and corresponding secretary Jean Rhodes. Lillian Hodgson still put out the newsletter and noted that UBCBG’s David Tarrant would be leading a tour to Southwest Gardens and the Chelsea Garden Show in May of ’76 for UBC Continuing Education (total cost, $1200 Canadian).
It was probably at this time that Francisca began her now famous “Show and Tell” at the beginning of each of meetings. She would bring several shrubs or herbaceous perennials (usually in bloom) that she and Ed had raised and had growing in their South Surrey garden. Most had been raised from RHS seed, and many were quite unusual and not available. After Ed’s death at 92 in 1994, Francisca wisely left their garden to the city of Surrey. She continues to live there while Darts Hill is administered and maintained by the Surrey Parks department as a visitor attraction. Her Show and Tell is now only infrequent, when she attends the occasional Vancouver Chapter meetings. In 1978, Dr Louis Biro was elected Chapter president. He had a medical practice in White Rock (South Surrey).
The November ’78 meeting had Keith Wade speak on the Second International Rhododendron Meeting held earlier that year in New York. He was a speaker at the conference. It was at this meeting that saw the presentation of the new Rhododendron species classification, worked out by James Cullen and David Chamberlain from the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (RBGE). At the time, their taxonomic tinkering was controversial among non-botanists, particularly gardeners. H.H. Davidian, also of the RBGE, hung onto the Balfourian classification, and published his mighty, four-volume Rhododendron Species, using it. Keith must have impressed the chapter members and directors, as he was subsequently elected Vancouver Chapter president. Keith served two years that saw out the seventies.
In 1979 the Vancouver Chapter hosted the ARS Annual Meeting for the second time. It was held again at the Bayshore Inn. Dr Ned Brockenbrough of Seattle was National President. Alleyne Cook gave the opening talk with his presentation of “Rhododendron Exploration in the Himalayas,” while Professor Joseph Ewan of Tulane University spoke on “Rhododendron Exploration in the South Eastern United States.” Ewan’s talk was published in the fall 1979 ARS Bulletin (Vol. 33: 4). Lil Hodgson’s UEL garden had made the cover of Vol. 33: 2, announcing the Vancouver ARS Meeting. Prints from two of Mary Comber Miles’s 11" ´ 17" paintings, one of hybrid ‘Julie Titcombe’ and the other of ‘Pacific Glow’ (named by Mary) became part of the registration package for each delegate. Both were creations of Hjalmer Larsen of Olympia, Washington. Many signed copies were sold for $15 each after the meeting.
In 1980 Harold Johnson, who lived in Whalley up the road from the Finleys (Vern and Doc) and the Traylings, became our president. He and Melba perfected the art of growing rhodos in tubs. Ted van Veen’s Rhododendrons in America ($25) and Barber’s Rothschild Rhododendrons ($45) were big sellers at the chapter book table. Les Clay explained “Tissue (meristem) Culture of Rhodos” to members at one meeting, while Lil Hodgson gave a slide show of the English rhodo gardens she had visited and photographed on ’79 trip to the UK. As a meat broker, Harold Johnson honoured all his clients with large tubbed hybrid rhodos at Christmas. As a result of receiving an ‘Anna Rose . . .’ or a ‘Jean Marie . . .’, many became interested and joined, and then attended a chapter meeting and received a “new-member rhodo,” as well.
1981 was when the Chapter began bus tours of gardens to far away places such as Olympia Washington, and the Species Foundation Garden. In 1982, when Frank Dorsey became president, membership in the Vancouver chapter stood at 181. Swelling in the ranks was due in large part to past-president Harold Johnston’s recruiting efforts. In ’82 the tour was to Oregon (Portland) gardens; in ’83, Vancouver Island in the Victoria area; and in 1984 back down south to Tacoma and Seattle.
In 1985 Vancouver chapter members voted to re-register as a British Columbia Society with a change of name to the Vancouver Rhododendron Society (VRS), a Chapter of the ARS. A British Columbian constitution and bylaws was more in keeping with provincial and Canadian law and practices. As newsletter editor, Lil Hodgson wrote,
“ . . . contributions to the [ARS] Research Foundation, which are advertised as being tax deductible are not, with us. However, we can give receipts for Income Tax purposes for contributions to many Canadian activities, as the UBC Asian Garden and VanDusen’s Himalayan Garden.”
The Year before our name change, it was our turn to host the Western Regional Rhododendron Conference (a fall weekend). It was the 4th conference since the ARS had placed the ARS chapters into districts and into two regions, East and West. The West Region had 4 Districts: District 1 included all of us in BC; District 2, Washington; District 3, Oregon and North Coastal California; and District 4, Central and Southern California. Meg Brown wrote a detailed report on the Conference for the Newsletter:
“With the theme ‘the Plant for All Places - Patios to Parks’ and 251 registrants, the Western Regional conference hosted by the Vancouver Chapter got underway October 19 in Richmond, British Columbia. Washington and Oregon were well represented with a good California attendance . . . The conference began when Vancouver hybridizer Jack Lofthouse, the first night’s dinner speaker, presented a pictorial history of his hybrid achievements over the past twenty five years.
The Directors of the two gardens containing Vancouver’s largest rhododendron collections each spoke about his park and led a tour. Roy Forster, Curator of Vancouver’s VanDusen Botanical Display Garden highlighted VanDusen’s new Sino Himalayan Garden . . . At the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, Dr Roy Taylor and his staff have been putting together North America’s largest and most comprehensive collection of Asian woody trees and shrubs . . . Dr Taylor explained that UBC and the Rhododendron Species Foundation began as sister collections, but with extensive acquisitions, UBC now has much additional material, and more is always being added.
‘Roof Gardening with Rhododendrons’ was the theme of Susan Baker, a landscape designer who has lived in one of Vancouver’s inner-city condominiums for five years. With no natural canopy to shade the sun or block the wind, an owner’s fear of leaky hose bibs and clogged drains, and all garden components hand carried up five flights, roof tops present gardeners with a new set of environmental conditions. Using varieties of container grown plants including lots of rhodos . . . Susan and other roof top growers have created attractive surroundings . . . container gardening was likened to bonsai on a large scale.”
There were speakers on “Ericaceous Plant Propagation” by Bruce Macdonald, “Kitchen Tissue Culture” by Fred Dewald of the Koma-Kulshan Chapter, “Container Growing, Soils and Fertilizers” by Les Clay. Meg Brown’s report closed with mention of those in the chapter who had worked to make a successful 4th Regional meeting,
“Much thanks and appreciation must go to all the conference organizers and helpers: Les Clay (chairman), Bob and Alice Mann (registrars and treasurers), Horace and Vera West (chapter president), Francisca Darts (displays), Harold and Melba Johnson (hotel arrangements), Bobby Ogden (bus tours), Margaret Charlton, Frank and Mary Dorsey, Vern Finley, Dot Gibson, Lil Hodgson, Ray Kennelly and Bob and Jean Rhodes.”
The Decade of 1980s saw nine Bronze Medals awarded to members for their services to the chapter. These awards were to: Clive Justice, who designed, and with Bill Hodgson, built the table-top knockdown show-steps for the chapter shows (Clive had always stored these, the green beer bottles, Chinese cut glass bud vases and other show paraphernalia at his office on West Boulevard); Ed and Francisca Darts, who both held various chapter posts, including treasurer, director, secretary and president; Melba and Harold Johnson received a joint medal for similar long service in chapter posts, and Melba’s service at the meetings’ refreshment table; Vern Finley, for her many years as show chair and judge; Horace West, for his work on the conversion of the chapter to a BC Society and as chapter/society president; Leslie (Les) Clay, for his many rhodo sales held at his Langley nursery, where he gave 30% of each plant sold to the chapter, and for service as director and chapter president; Jean Rhodes, for her long service as chapter corresponding secretary; Frank Dorsey ( in-the-know with both rhodos and alpines) served as president in ’82 and ’83.
The three Bronze Medals given in the last year of the 80s were to: Alleyne Cook for his work as show judge and his stewardship of the Ted and Mary Greig Rhododendron Collection in Ceperley/Stanley Park; Alice and Robert Mann (a joint medal) for their long chapter service as recording secretary and treasurer, respectively, and their efforts on the regional conference and organization of the annual bus tours to rhodo gardens in Washington, Oregon and Vancouver Island; Garth Wedemire received his Bronze Medal from the Chapter for his involvement with shows and went on to found the Fraser Valley Chapter.
The very first ARS Silver Medal to be awarded to a Vancouver Chapter member came to Harold Johnson in 1989 for his services as first District 1 director and ARS board member. Harold served on the finance and the long term planning committees. His service to Chapter, District and National was exemplary. Harold was a Rotarian and lived and practiced its motto “Service Above Self.” The ARS Silver Medal started out as an award to non-ARS members (e.g., to Portland nurseryman Capelli and H.H. Davidian, RBG Edinburgh). Fortunately, it subsequently assumed an additional purpose to honour people such as Harold.
In June, 1989, the VRS played an important role in Vancouver garden history. A plaque appears in the Ted and Mary Greig Rhododendron Garden in Stanley Park, indicating the origin of most of the plants and the dedication of the garden in 1989 by the Vancouver Rhododendron Society. The plaque itself, and the direction signs, were paid for by the VRS, as stipulated by the Parks Board—about $500, a substantial amount at the time. The late John Bond, then Keeper of the Gardens at Windsor Great Park in England, was the distinguished guest at the ceremony, and Alleyne Cook, who was responsible for the transfer of the plants from the Royston Nursery (belonging to Ted and Mary Greig) on Vancouver Island, and creator of the garden itself, had to be inveigled into attending the ceremony.  (Alleyne also enlarged the garden, ever so slightly each year, at the cost of the pitch and putt golf course!)  But with Glen Patterson presiding, it was the Vancouver Rhododendron Society that was responsible for the dedication, and thus for the permanence and heritage status of the garden this dedication implies, as well as the tribute to Ted and Mary Greig.
But the entire issue was not without controversy. The Stanley Park garden was nearly eliminated entirely. The Parks Board, along with a good number of VRS members, preferred to move all the rhododendrons from the Greig collection to VanDusen Garden, a plan naturally welcome to Roy Forster, then Director of VanDusen. Apparently a compromise was reached in that all the species rhododendrons were moved, while the hybrids remained in Stanley Park.
Among these hybrids, however, are certain ones originating in the Greig collection, generally containing the prefix ‘Royston’ in their names—‘Royston Rose’, ‘Royston Orange’, ‘Royston Peach’, ‘Royston Radiance’, ‘Royston Opaline’, ‘Royston Red’, ‘Royston Reverie’, etc—, and having R. auriculatum as one parent. R. ‘Fabia’ was used as the other parent in several, where the colour name gives it away—‘Royston Orange, ‘Royston Peach’, for example. This is a unique set of hybrids, as the plaque itself indicates, late flowering and bringing colour to flowers similar to the white auriculatum itself, and often maintaining its lovely fragrance. Whether these hybrids can actually match the species in beauty is uncertain of course. Chapter founding member and Editor of its first newsletter, Lillian Hodgson, made a point of getting Alleyne Cook to name any he had not already named, and registering them. But while Les Clay and others propagated many of them, they never became commercially viable because they flower after the rhododendron sales season is over, and the general public has little appreciation of the values they provide.
But back to the dedication ceremony.  VRS President at the time was Bob Ogden, but he was of the party strongly preferring the transfer of all the plants to VanDusen. The issue, in fact, was quite contentious, undoubtedly with good arguments on both sides. So Glen Patterson, who was of the other party, and who essentially organized the event, presided over the ceremony, while making a point of recognizing Bob Ogden as President of the Society. John Bond dedicated the garden, and there were other speeches. The ceremony was followed by a VRS-sponsored garden party nearby, with VRS member Jean Round’s daughter playing the cello. Ted Greig had already died by this time, but Mary Greig, then in her 90s, was in attendance in her wheel chair, accompanied by her daughter Susan Mouat and several other members of her family. Mary Greig was delighted both with the garden and with the occasion. The event was fully reported in the newspapers, the articles being accompanied by pictures of John Bond, of Alleyne and Barbara Cook, and of notable scenic spots in the garden.
By 1990 Vancouver Rhododendron Society was now one of 9 chapters that made up District I, with 5 chapters on Vancouver Island and 4 in the Lower Mainland. Richard Mossakowski became president. He and Heather were the first to establish a rhodo garden in Lion’s Bay. It is more of a mountain promontory garden than the later-established, Ronsley creek side garden, lower down in the Lion’s Bay community. The first event of the year saw the revision of the show classes for Division I (the species) in accordance with the Chamberlain-Cullen-Sleumer ordering (which replaced the Balfourian system). Class I: greenhouse- and conservatory-grown species (primarily, but not confined to subgenus Rhododendron section Vireya and section Rhododendronsubsection Maddenia). Class 2: Trusses or sprays of garden grown plants in the eight Rhododendron subgenera, one group for subgenus Rhododendron section Pogonanthum, eight for subgenus Hymenanthes, one for subgenus Penthanthera, one for subgenus Tsutsusi and one for all other species and subgenera. This revision was worked out by VRS species study group chaired by Garth Wedemire, with Bob and Joan Bunn, Glen Patterson and Alleyne Cook.
In 1990 Ruth and Rex Merritt and Mike (Margaret) Trembath received Bronze Medals from the VRS. The Merritts had served the society for many years, Rex as membership chair and Ruth as meeting refreshments convener. One of the largest resurgence in VRS memberships came in Rex’s watch. Dr Mike Trembath, a long time VRS member from the South Surrey bluffs, had assisted and chaired many of our shows before transferring her affections to become a charter member of the Fraser South Chapter. Her hybridizing efforts have resulted in the registration of the late flowering rich “yallar-with-a-red-center” hybrid she named ‘Lionhart’.
In part to test out the new classification, the VRS first-ever Early Show was held at the UBC Botanical Garden, David Lam Centre. Tom Tatum organized it. Glen Patterson and the Finleys (Vern and Doc) took all the trophies. VRS members helped to host the mid October ARS Western Fall Regional Conference at Chateau Whistler. Les Clay was conference chairman; VRS members Tom and Meg Brown organized the speakers, while the Bengoughs (Joan and Len) handled registrations. In the November newsletter, Les wrote that the meeting venue and Chateau really impressed the US ARS members who attended. As the Canadian dollar was in the 0.70 range at the time, it was a bargain for anyone coming from south of 49. For the locals from the Lower Mainland and the Island, it was a surprise to have to pay $7.50 for a scotch and water at the Chateau Whistler bar, and well over $100 for a night’s stay. The writer made his debut as Archibald Menzies introducing his discovery of Rhododendron macrophyllum.
In 1991, Richard continued as VRS president. Gerry Emerson wrote an article on tissue culture of rhodos that appeared in February and March VRS Newsletter. The April issue listed just over 300 VRS members (if you counted husband and wives as two members) and included three or four Vancouver area libraries that took the Newsletter. The second VRS Early Show was a great success: Vern Finley took the Milton Wildfong Cup for the best species in the show with Rhododendron albrechtii; Doug Kitt, the Weesjes Cup for the best hybrid truss of ‘PJM’; Frank Dorsey took the Tom Tatum Cup for the most aggregate points. Frank won in 13 classes with Meg and Tom Brown a second, with 7 winning entries in as many classes.
For the Main May Show, it was also a great year for rhodos, both trusses and plants. Susan Baker won the Park and Tilford Trophy (silver tray) for the most points in Division 7 (plants in containers). She must have entered all the rhodos from her roof deck in the show, with 6 plant entries in the 8 Classes. Activity in Division 4 (hybrid rhododendrons) Class 15A (standard dark red truss) had Harold Fearing, the Crabbs and Les Clays all entering ‘Lem’s Stormcloud’. They took first, second and third in that order, while Ed and Lilli Anne Hemminger’s R. yakushimanum ‘Exbury’ plant won the E. J. Trayling Trophy (best plant in show) and the Baker-McGarva-Hart Trophy (best species plant); that “yak” must have been a smasher.
1991 saw the chapter award Bronze Medals to Claire Bennet and Arthur Rempel (joint) and to Susan Baker. Clare and Arthur made their home in Burnaby and received the award for service in various capacities to the chapter. Their neighbour’s recipe for the oatmeal cookies that appeared on the refreshments table under Claire’s care at VRS meetings was printed in the May 1990 Newsletter (Vol. 22: 5; Frank Dorsey, editor.) under the title “Those Wonderful Oatmeal Cookies.”
The recipe is as follows:
1 cup of butter or margarine, melted
1cup brown sugar, ¾ cup white sugar
1 egg beaten, 1tsp. vanilla
1 cup white flour, 2½ cups rolled oats
1 tsp. baking powder, ¾ tsp. baking soda, ½ tsp. salt
Optional: ¾ cup coconut, raisins, chocolate chips, nuts
Mix -all wet ingredients together and mix -all dry ingredients together,
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, drop by tsp. onto cookie sheet
Space 2" apart and press down with floured fork
Bake at 375° for 10 minutes and remove from sheet before completely cool
Yield: about 4 dozen.
Susan Baker, an architect, and her partner, had a townhouse in False Creek’s south side and she grows all of her rhodos in mostly wooden tubs and on their townhouse roof deck. Susan was one of the first, if not the first, to prove that a roof garden featuring mostly rhododendrons was feasible in Vancouver. Modern watering technology and Vancouver’s benign climate helped, too. However, it was not her “roof of rhododendrons” alone that won her the Bronze Medal, but also her service to the VRS as show chairman and board member in the ’80s. Her VRS newsletter article “Roof Top Living with Rhododendrons” was reprinted in the fall 1988 issue (Vol. 28: 4) of the ARS Journal.
In 1992 Diane Kehoe became president of the Vancouver Rhododendron Society. She and John Eastman garden along the dyke in Delta, just past Ladner Village. That year Frank Dorsey and Ray Talbot produced a May show at VanDusen that ranked as one of the finest, most professional and largest that the chapter had ever held. It was well attended, with plant sales grossing $10,000 (40% share to the VRS). There were 24 different species entered in the their respective classes, with single entries in each class predominating and becoming winners, while multiple yakushimanum and kiusianum entries vied for first, second, third and honourable mentions. Jack Lofthouse’s ‘Pink Petticoats’ took all positions in Class 8 (bicolour). ‘Jean Marie de Montague’ took the first two places with ‘Vulcan’ third in Class 14a (light red truss). ‘Trilby’ took all positions in Class 15a (blotched dark red truss). “Bonsai-man,” Roger Low, took all in Class 7a and 7c, while vying with Frank Dorsey to place in Class 3 (plants in pots). Roger’s bonsai azaleas got him the Park and Tilford Trophy (silver tray), but Harold Fearing trumped all by winning the William M. Stephens Trophy for the highest aggregate in Division 1 (species) and the Wally Zeglat Trophy for highest aggregate points in Division 5 (hybrids). Harold won the best in both worlds.
VRS/ARS Annual membership dues became $30 CAD with several money-saving options for multi-year memberships. Long-time VRS member Margaret Charlton whose wild garden, a treasury of plants, is well beyond the end of the road on the Indian Arm toe of Mt. Seymour in North Vancouver, was honoured by the chapter with a Bronze Medal for her services over many years as program director, board member, show chairman, and show judge. Diane Kehoe continued as president in 1993, followed by Joan Bengough, who with husband Len, garden in Surrey. Bob Talbolt wrote in the newsletter of a fine plant garden Colten Fishacre that he visited in Devon near Dartmouth. Karen Shuster wrote of a garden that she visited in the Cotswold town of Chipping Cambden that was dedicated to Ernest “Chinese” Wilson, the turn of the 20th century English/American plant collector.
Rex Merritt announced in the April 1994 newsletter that Joe and Joanne Ronsley had moved from Montreal to their hideaway combe in Lions Bay. Harold Fearing again won the highest aggregate in the species and hybrids, getting to keep the Stephens and Zeglat trophies in the 1994 May Show. It was a good year for evergreen and deciduous azaleas; Classes 6 and 7 were filled with Finley’s and Fearing’s, taking the lion’s share of firsts and seconds in the deciduous classes. Jennifer Lamb was VRS newsletter editor since September 1993, but by September of ’94 she was looking for someone else to take it on. She remained editor until June 1995 when Jannet Primmet (out in Fort Langley) took on the editorship. Joan Bengough continued as VRS president.
Dot Gibson wrote a report that ran in the February and May newsletters on the October 1994 “Down Under Rhodo and Wildflower Tour” that VRS and MARS members took. The tour took in the Third International Rhododendron Convention in Burnie, Tasmania and the Silver Jubilee (25th anniversary) Meeting of the New Zealand Rhododendron Association in Napier. On the way and after, wild flower and rhodo venues included: Singapore (orchids); Perth, Western Australia (wildflowers, including Banksia); Victoria, Australia (rhodos); Auckland, New Zealand (kauri – Agathis australis); and New Plymouth, New Zealand (paced). Stay-at-homes enjoyed a Ray Talbot-squired late April visit to Victoria to tour gardens selected by Bill Dale, Sidney’s rhodo photographer and George Fraser chronicler.
At the show, Dr Bobby Ogden took the P&T trophy for the highest aggregate in Division 1000 (plants), the Wally Zeglat trophy and the BC Nursery Trades trophy for the highest aggregate in Truss Divisions 2200 to 2500, and the Best Truss ‘Olin O. Dobbs’ in these same divisions. Joan Rich took the Harold Johnson trophy for her mega truss ‘Point Defiance’, while Rota Otto took the Claydian Cup for best-blotched, ‘Sappho’. The George Fraser Cup went to Karen Shuster for her spectacular azaleodendron ‘Valley Sunrise’ (PNW native, R. occidentale ´ ‘Purple Splendour’ by Tichnor). Karen also exhibited another azaleodendron, the fragrant ‘Martha Isaacson’ (‘Mrs. Donald Graham’ ´ R. occidentale); Endue Ostbo, a Seattle hybridizer, made that cross in the early 1950s. The Patio Plant Trophy went to roof gardener Susan Baker for her species R. kiusianum ‘Album’. She also won her own trophy for R. fragrantissimum, along with the E. J. Trayling Trophy for best species plant, R. strigillosum. What was unusual about this mid-May show was a truss of our native R. macrophyllum that was exhibited by Meg and Tom Brown. It won them the Ted and Mary Greig trophy for best species truss. This was probably a first and only time for a VRS show or any of the District 1 chapter show, for that matter, where macrophyllum has been shown and won. Rhododendron macrophyllum is a reliable mid June bloomer at the three locations where it occurs in the wild in BC.
One of the big District 1 events of 1995 was the Western Regional Meeting held in October and hosted by the MARS and the other up island chapters Many VRS members attended, with Martie Irwin reporting in the newsletter on the tours (Gibson’s et al) and Arlene Darby on the proceedings that included the presentation of the ARS Silver Medal to Nanaimo Chapter ex VRS member, Dr Bob Rhodes. It was the second Silver for District 1
1996 and 1997 saw a much improved and expanded desktop-published VRS newsletter. With Frank Dorsey and Ray Talbot as the newsletter committee, Editor Janet Primmet produced 16 information-packed issues. Carolyn Finlay was President for these two years, that also saw the ARS Annual Meeting in Oban, Scotland, in 1996, and in Vancouver the next year, hosted by the VRS. VRS membership at the time was 170 households. On the initiative of President Finlay, Joe Ronsley became VRS programme chair, with an increased budget for the monthly meeting speakers’ programme. Steve Hootman, Curator of the Rhododendron Species Foundation Botanical Garden, was the speaker at the February meeting. In March, Chip Muller also came up from Seattle, and spoke on “Rhododendron Exploration in Southeast Tibet – In the Footsteps of Frank Kingdon Ward.” Frank Dorsey, Ray Talbot and Clive Justice were commended for writing feature articles for the ’96 and ’97 newsletters, Ray for her “What’s Blooming This Month in My Garden” articles (did you know we had snow in March, 1997?), Frank for articles on “In-The-Same-Family” and “Companion Plants for Rhododendrons” (Kalmia, Primula, et al) and Clive for his “Garden Path” and “Trivia Notes” on native rhododendrons, macrophyllum, occidentale and the Himalayan arboreum. The first visiting speaker from Britain, coming specifically to speak to the VRS, was Douglas Harris, Berkshire nurseryman and former Director of Exbury Gardens, in the fall of 1997. Joanne Ronsley took over the membership chair from Rex Merritt.
For the 1997 conference, Past President Joan Bengough was conference convener. Steve Finlay, only involved because of his wife’s interest, was registrar   This was arguably one of the best conventions in ARS history. Those involved included Vern Finley and Mike Trembath on the truss show; Margaret Charlton and Charlie Sale organizing the garden tours; Jacquie Lehto, registration packages, Joe Ronsley, Carol Dancer and Glen Patterson forming the speakers’ committee; Kathie Leishman, displays; Janet Primmet, table decorations; Arlene Darby and Joan McGivern, table favours and photo gifts; Nagaire Coe, tourist information packages; and Susan Baker, tour signage (her prize tubbed fragrantissimum opened fully to become a convention showpiece). Bruce Macdonald (Director of the UBC Botanical Garden) gave the welcoming address, Don Martyn moderated the ‘Hybridizers Round Table’ and, because Joan Bengough did not like public speaking, Charlie Sale was MC at the banquet and Joe Ronsley was MC the rest of the time. Joan Bengough, with husband Len, were awarded the Bronze Medal at the convention.
Speakers and tours being the essence of an ARS Annual Convention, the May, 1997, event had an especially rich mix of both. Gardens opened for the tours included those of Don Martyn, Norman Todd, and Michael Bale in Chilliwack; Eleanor and Peter Dempster, Hanna Schlagintweit, Lilyanne and Ed Hemminger, and Ken and Ted Ladd in Maple Ridge; Francisca Darts (Dartshill), Ev and Al Morton, Elfreda and Jim De Wolff (The Glades), and Arnim Roeske in Surrey; Stan Fleischman, Geri Barnes, Glen Patterson, and Ron Feicht in West Vancouver; and Richard and Heather Mossakowski, and Joe and Joanne Ronsley in Lions Bay. Speakers included the Lady Anne Berry, former owner of Rosemoor in Devon, now of Hackfalls Arboretum in New Zealand; Chris Brickell, Formerly Curator at Wisley, Director-General of the Royal Horticulture Society; Dan Hinkley, Proprietor of Heronswood Nursery, North Kitsap Peninsula, Washington, and plant explorer; Charles Nelson, taxonomist at the Dublin Botanic Garden, Glasnevin; Walter Ostrom, prominent gardener and potter in Nova Scotia; Richard Pearson, UBC archaeologist and local expert gardener; Dick van Hooey-Smith, owner of Tromenberg Arboretum in Holland; Hideo Suzuki, well-known Japanese expert on Japanese maples and rhodododendrons; and Peter Wharton, Curator for the David C. Lam Asian Garden at UBC.
Joe Ronsley got into some trouble with certain members of the Executive in all this. Feeling that the roster of speakers was exceptional, he thought a biographical paragraph on each of them should be included in the registration package. This would involve the rather minor expense of photocopying about three pages for each delegate, and the Executive disapproved, because of the ‘expense’. But then he received something of a windfall in the form of a grant from the Irish government supporting the travel costs for Charles Nelson, to be split with the American Rock Garden Society, to which he was also speaking. The Rock Garden Society generously agreed to give the convention their share, so with part of this money, Joe had the material duplicated. The announcement was met with great fury; impeachment was mentioned. But in the end, a slim majority voted to approve the action.
One of the Principal convention speakers, Lady Anne Berry of Hackfalls Arboretum in New Zealand, gave a full and vivid description of the Vancouver Convention in the winter 1998 issue of the ARS Journal. She wrote about the pre- and post-conference garden tours, including a full accounting of Jack Toovey’s West coast Tour to Tofino and Ucluelet. Margaret Charlton and Charlie Sale’s Indian Arm garden got special mention, as did the conference programme and the speakers. The conference was fortunate in the weather. It rained almost constantly in the days leading up to the conference—there is a picture at the beginning of her ARS Journal piece of a hooded Peter Wharton leading Anne Berry and Hideo Suzuki, both with umbrellas, on a tour of the “matchless” UBC Botanical Garden rhododendron collection—but it cleared and stayed sunny for the duration of the conference itself. The Ronsleys (Joe and Joanne) hosted her prior to the conference at their home in Lions Bay, while their neighbours, Mary Comber Miles and Victor hosted the RHS Director-General Chris Brickell and his wife Jeanette.
When Harold Fearing became president in 1998, he created a bit of a hoofaraw in an article in the March VRS newsletter entitled “Budget Alert,” where he brought to the attention of the membership falling profits from plant sales, increasing costs of the speaker budget, VanDusen rentals and newsletter distribution costs, which would soon, he felt, jeopardize the savings of the society. Usefully raising awareness of financial realities, the article stirred a debate over whether to cut back on expenses and programmes, or initiate new and innovative ways of fund raising, along with an increasing membership. It was essentially a matter of whether new initiatives should be negative or positive. The latter prevailed, and it was generally felt, rightly as the following years demonstrated, that the concern, while real, was unnecessarily alarmist.
Harold served only one year as President. Joe Ronsley was elected President in 1999, and continued in office through 2000. The monthly meeting raffle, to help pay the rent for the meeting room, was given more emphasis, and newsletter advertising was initiated to help pay costs of the newsletter. Plant sales at monthly meetings also began, which not only supplemented funds provided by the raffle (10% of sales), but also provided an atmosphere of greater congeniality and vitality as the sales tables provided a focus around which people would mingle and talk. The annual May VanDusen Garden tour was now augmented by tours through the UBC Asian Garden and the Ted and Mary Grieg Rhododendron Garden in Stanley Park, with the tours alternating, returning to each garden every third year. And the June meeting was replaced with a pot luck supper held in a member’s home and garden able to handle it, on the principle that in June it would be better to be among real flowers than looking at pictures of them in a dark room. The first of these, in 1999, was held at Dartshill, home of Francisca Darts in White Rock, the second, in 2000, at the home of Joe and Joanne Ronsley in Lions Bay. This change had the added benefit of reducing the cost of the speakers’ programme, having six speakers per year rather than seven, and also eliminating one month’s rent of the Floral Hall. At the Floral Hall, the new Garden Director, Jill Cherry, initiated a move to build permanent library bookshelves for the four major garden clubs using the hall, at the clubs’ expense of course. But the cumbersome mobile library was eliminated. Louis Peterson took over as an effective librarian. Because of the proliferation of plant sales everywhere, the early show and sale was eliminated. Open members’ gardens began to be scheduled each spring. Gerry Gibbens, VRS Vice President, took over as newsletter Editor from Janet Primmet. Membership chair Joanne Ronsley brought the VRS membership to 214, by far the highest since the establishment of the new district chapters. Moreover, the monthly meetings regularly had larger attendances and much more vitality than they had a few years earlier.
Meanwhile, the annual Spring Show and Sale had been held for many years at Van Dusen Gardens. VanDusen had never charged the VRS for the use of the Floral Hall and breezeway over one weekend in May, but in the mid-‘90s a charge was instituted for the weekend, coming to nearly $1,000, effectively off the top of profits and resulting in a lot of work for many people, with relatively little return. New venues were sought, the first being in a large rotunda of a Richmond shopping mall, at no charge to the VRS. This worked well enough, but members were not happy with the shopping centre atmosphere. The show then moved to UBC, where the facilities were not quite as good as at VanDusen, but worked well enough. Unfortunately there was a charge here, too, which was particularly irksome because most of the money made from the sale was donated to the UBC Botanic Gardens. The event moved back to VanDusen, where the cost had been reduced.
In 1999 the function of the Awards Committee, which had been chaired by Rex Merritt for several years, was transferred to the VRS Executive Committee. This year the VRS awarded ARS Bronze Medals to three of its most deserving long time members: Bonsai artist and Kurume azalea expert, Roger Low; forester, photographer and former programme chair, Glen Patterson; and rhododendron show division and hybrid classification expert and many times show chair, Karen Shuster.   At the 1999 ARS conference in Bellevue, Washington, VRS member Jack Lofthouse received the Silver Medal, while founding VRS member Alleyne Cook, after having given one of his finest lectures ever at the conference, received the Gold, to a standing ovation at the banquet. The VRS Executive also awarded Alleyne with its only honorary life membership in the ARS. VRS founding and life Member Clive Justice received the ARS Gold Medal in the spring of 2000, but unfortunately could not receive it personally at the convention, being at the time in Sikkim. Cy and Martie Irwin received the Bronze Medal in September, 2000, for long service, with Martie serving as treasurer for several years. But of special interest here is the fact that Alleyne Cook and Clive Justice, the two founding members still active in the VRS at the turn of the 21st century, have both been awarded ARS Gold Medals.
Gerry Gibbens became President in 2001, serving for two years, and giving up the Editorship of the newsletter to Douglas and Karen Justice, who immediately gave it a name, Indumentum. After several years as a desktop publication mailed out to members, it was given colour and went on-line, posted on a part of the UBC Botanical Garden website, where Douglas was Curator and Associate Director. Again, members’ receiving the newsletter on line resulted in a savings on printing and postage for the VRS.   And in March, 2002, Bill Spohn, a lawyer and Secretary on the Executive, tired of hearing talk for so long about setting up a VRS website, decided to learn how to do it, and set up the site himself. The now regular June pot-luck supper took place at the home of Vern and Gordon Finley in Surrey, the 2002 event at the home of Charlie Sale and Margaret Charlton in North Vancouver. Ron Feicht and Joanne Ronsley received Bronze Medals in 2002, Ron for his work and generosity, as a potter, Joanne for bringing the VRS membership to new heights, before relinquishing the membership chair to Carole Conlin.
In 2003 Ron Knight became President, also serving for two years. Ron sought to improve various conditions in what had already become a successful organization filled with enthusiasm and vitality, a model for other ARS chapters. He sought the views of members on how to improve meetings and increase attendance (which was already quite good). He changed the organization of the Spring Show and Sale by centring it in the Executive Committee, introduced a ‘dollar table’ where people brought in small plants which members purchased for a dollar, changed the raffle format, and encouraged Carole Conlin in setting up a ‘Ways and Means’ committee to improve finances further. A most welcome change in the Spring Show and Sale came with the move to the Park and Tilford Gardens in North Vancouver, where Executive member Todd Major was Director. The arrangement provided excellent, convenient facilities (near the Second Narrows Bridge), and at no cost, assuming the VRS would make part of its customary contribution to the Garden at the end of the year. The move was highly successful, and members wished to continue there, but unfortunately, the property was sold, and the Show and Sale had to move again, initially back to UBC for 2004, now under the same terms as at Park and Tilford. The 2003 June pot-luck was at Mike Bale’s garden in Chilliwack, held on a Sunday because of the distance, with Sunday continuing as the day of the yearly event, which in 2004 took place at the home of Ron Feicht and Derrick Hoffman in West Vancovuer. In October Joe Ronsley received the Bronze Medal.
Louis Peterson was elected President in 2005, year of the 50th anniversary of the VRS, and thereby of the ARS’s entry into Canada. Todd and Shannon Major became Editors of Indumentum.