The Flora Wonder Arboretum is continuously in flux, what with plants entering into the collection, plants documented, maintained and sometimes propagated and even sold, and also with plants accidentally or intentionally booted off the ark never to be seen again. There have been a lot of joys but also many regrets. For example: my one and only plant of Rhododendron thomsonii was happily thriving near the office under the protective canopy of a large Acer palmatum 'Alpenweiss'. I was particularly pleased a few springs ago when it flowered prolifically, and I had an urge to contact all of my known plant snobs to come and witness the bloody event. But alas, the abundant flowering was forewarning that the specimen was prepared to expire, to go dead, and it didn't leave me with any explanation of cause or even a sad condolence. F you – “I quit” – that was all.
|Dr. Thomas Thomson|
This Rhododendron species is a high altitude shrub native to India, Bhutan, Nepal and southern China where it grows at altitudes of 3,000-4,000 m (11-13,000 ft.). I love the bluish-green orbicular-ovate leaves, and it looks particularly regal even when not in flower. J. D. Hooker* collected the species from Sikkim and named it for Dr. Thomas Thomson (1817-1878), a surgeon of the Thibetian [sic.] Mission who was Hooker's travelling companion in the eastern Himalaya. Thomson was appointed superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Garden, a place where I sweated profusely in the 100 degree heat during my one and only visit in 1979 when I was perfectly single. I mention “single” because in those days a white young (handsome) American tourist aroused the tittering (single I hoped) wealthy Indian girls to point and laugh at me. It was rude and unnerving at first, but eventually I learned to mock them in response by pointing and laughing at them also. It was weird, but exhilarating. Anyway R. thomsonii displays deep red flowers that I can only describe as delicious. God bless the Rhododendron Species Garden in Federal Way, Washington, for two years ago I was able to purchase a replacement R. thomsonii, and yesterday it was planted in the shady area down by the creek at the edge of the woods.
|Joseph Dalton Hooker receiving a tribute of flowers in the eastern Himalaya|
*Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911) was a British botanist and explorer, and was also Charles Darwin's closest friend. For 20 years he served as the Director of RBG, Kew and was really the first European to collect plants in the Himalaya. I relish one description of Hooker – for it would apply to me also – that he was “impulsive and somewhat peppery in temper.”
|The Flora Wonder Arboretum|
Of course I hope that every plant that I put into the ground will out-live me. It's a strange thought, but at this point in my life I must question why I bother to plant anything? It's for whom? If not for me, who will really care? What happens next? The Flora Wonder Arboretum might eventually become a Wal-Mart parking lot, and certainly there's enough losers in the area to patronize the store. If not for my children, the world could easily have done without me. Maybe this will be my last blog – we'll see – but you will go on just about the same. I used to read the comics page in the newspaper, almost every comic, every day, but I quit about 50 years ago because nothing was funny. Then yesterday I read every comic in the paper and I thought that they were all pretty funny. Where had I gone in that time? Life is really good if you let it be.