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History of the ARS Annual Conventions and Shows

The Society was founded in Portland, Oregon, in 1945.  Within six months the Society began the tradition of an annual Rhododendron Show with a non-competitive exhibition of blooming plants on Park Avenue in front of the art museum in downtown Portland.  John Bacher reported in the 1946 yearbook: "With the nation at war and all manpower in war industries or the armed services and gasoline and travel restrictions in force, the outlook for a successful show was far from promising.  The show committee was sold, however, heart and soul and on the desirability of showing the beauty of rhododendrons to the public.  With many new introductions from England to be shown for the first time it was felt certain that the extra effort would be worth while." [1]

Members brought the plants, fully balled in burlap, to the park on Park Avenue and, once in place, placed conifer boughs over the burlapped balls.  The exhibition included collections of cut trusses from as far away as Bremerton, Wash., and Eureka, Calif.  Periodic showers accompanied this elaborate set-up and continued into the next day.  On Sunday, May 13, Mother's Day, the sun shone and people filled the park to look at rhododendrons.  Over the two-day show, approximately 25,000 people visited the show.  Bacher wrote, "Never had the public seen such an array or rhododendrons in flower and in such a large assortment of hybrids." [1]

Bacher noted that among the hybrid rhododendrons that particularly impressed the public were: 'Mrs. C. B. van Nes', 'Loderi', 'Beauty of Littleworth', 'Mrs. G. W. Leak', 'Blue Peter', 'Sappho', 'Bow Bells', 'Day Dream', 'Venator', 'Pink Pearl', 'Alice', 'Eureka Maid', 'Unknown Warrior', 'Earl of Athlone', 'Rosamund Millais', 'Mrs. E. C. Stirling', 'Mars', 'Lady Primrose', 'Butterfly', 'Canary', 'Unique', 'Elspeth', and 'Lady Stuart of Wortley ' - not an American hybrid among them!

In 1946, the newly formed Seattle Rhododendron Society, which would become the Seattle Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, held its first show, a judged truss show, in a tent at the University of Washington Arboretum, which 3,000 people attended.

The California Chapter's participation in the Oakland Spring Flower Show started in 1947, and soon its exhibit became the keynote exhibit at this nationally know show.

So encouraged by the positive response by the public to rhododendron shows, in 1948 the ARS planned an extravaganza of a show at the Portland Armory.  In addition to a judged cut truss show, flowering rhododendrons were staged along a waterfall that cascaded from the balcony to the lower floor and meandered stream-like until it was pumped back up to the balcony - dramatic, to be sure, but costly too.  The show was a financial failure that threw the Society into debt.  However, in 1949 the society elected an astute businessman, C. I. Sersanous of Portland, as its president.  He skillfully guided the society back to financial stability.  The annual show, in spite of the overly enthusiastic Portland venture, became a tradition for most chapters.

Leonard F. Frisbie used the Bank of California in Tacoma to get Foreign Exchange drafts when he ordered rhododendrons from England.  In 1948, he was permitted to display a large plant of R. 'Mars'.  The public response was overwhelming.  In 1949, the bank asked Frisbie if he would set up a rhododendron display.  He proposed allowing a group of rhododendron people to stage a general show.  This became the first of many Tacoma Rhododendron Shows.  Meanwhile, Seattle held its Rhododendron Show at the University of Washington Arboretum.

In 1949, the Fifth Annual ARS Rhododendron show was at the Portland Chamber of Commerce Information Center.  It involved separate competitions for amateur and commercial members.  The show was free but they sold enough pamphlets to pay all expenses.

The winter of 1950 in the Pacific Northwest was devastating with temperatures as low as 19F below zero.  The Seattle show was cancelled.  The shows in Portland, Tacoma and Oakland were so successful in 1949 that they were repeated in 1950.  A common set of rules for judging the cut flower competition was adopted.

In 1951, the by-laws officially defined chapters and encouraged them to hold their own shows.  However, the ARS still supervised the Test Gardens and held national Rhododendron Shows.

In 1953, the Ninth Annual Portland ARS Rhododendron Show was moved from the Chamber’s Information Center to its Crystal Spring Island Test Garden.  The show was comprised of an early show on May 2 & 3, followed by a late show on May 30 & 31.  The attendance was between 20,000 and 25,000.  The California Chapter exhibited again at the Oakland Spring Garden Show.

In 1954, the ARS Rhododendron Show at Crystal Springs was held in mid season from May 8 to 15.  The Seattle Show was moved to the University of Washington Stadium and was held from May 6 to 9.  The California Chapter exhibited at the Oakland Spring Garden Show.

In 1956, for the first time the ARS Rhododendron Show at Crystal Springs was held in the Exhibition House rather than under canvas.  They had 2,000 visitors on Saturday and 5,000 visitors on Sunday.

The enthusiasm for rhododendrons that the ARS had created turned toward the organization of an International Rhododendron Conference in Portland, Oregon, which would gather together the great authorities of the Rhododendron world and the enthusiastic growers and collectors from around the world.  By 1959 there were 16 ARS Chapters ranging from the Vancouver, BC, to Oakland, CA, to Richmond, VA, to New York, NY.  There were members from a number of other countries.

In 1961, the ARS not only had shows, it had its first convention, when Portland, Oregon hosted the International Rhododendron Conference.  It opened on Thursday, May 11, with a free public session in the afternoon which featured two speakers: P. H. Brydon, Director, Strybing Arboretum, and Wales Wood, Director, A.R.S.  Then Thursday evening it featured the opening banquet with Dr. H. R. Fletcher speaking on the RBG gardens in Edinburgh and Benmore. 

Friday, the International Conference featured Dr. F. P. Knight of the RHS and Dr. John C. Wister of Swarthmore speaking in the morning.  Then it featured Sir Giles Loder of the RHS and H. J. Grootendorst of Holland speaking followed by a forum discussion with Dietrich Hobbie, David Leach, and Guy Nearing on cold hardy rhododendrons in the afternoon.  A banquet was held in the evening with Dr. Henry T. Skinner from the National Arboretum speaking on native azaleas.  A young plant of R. sinogrande with fine foliage exhibited by Mr. and Mrs. Del James stole the show.

Friday also was the opening of the Portland Chapter Flower Show at the Crystal Springs Island ARS Test Garden.  The show featured 41 classes with 541 entries.  The highlights of the show were the finest groups of New American Hybrids ever shown at a Portland Chapter show.  Many trusses displayed definite improvements over older hybrids and breakthrough in colors were in evidence.  Another exceptional class was the azaleas which as always were out in full glory including some fine new hybrids by Howard Slonecker and The Bovees.

Saturday, the International Conference featured speakers on The Maddenii Series and a forum discussion on hybridizing with Dr. Clement G. Bowers, Joseph B. Gable, Rudolph Henny, H. L. Larson, and Tony Shammarello in the morning.  The afternoon featured a tour of the ARS Test Garden and the Portland Chapter Flower Show at Crystal Springs.  The evening banquet started with the ARS annual business meeting and featured Dr. J. S. Yeates speaking on the Rhododendrons of New Zealand.

Sunday was devoted to tours of local gardens.

The 1961 International Rhododendron Conference was a great conference except for an unfortunate remark in Oregon Governor Mark Hatfield's opening address, "Welcome to the City of Roses!" [21]  Unfortunately the Rose Festival with its Rose Parade and the International Rose Test Garden overshadow Portland's role as the home of the ARS.

Since 1961 the ARS has had a spring convention every year alternating between the East Coast and the West Coast.  A chapter or a district hosts each convention.  The basic structure of the 1961 International Rhododendron Conference has been used at all subsequent conventions.  The spring conventions always host the spring ARS Board of Directors meeting.  One popular addition is a plant sale.

The ARS conventions were:

1961 Portland, OR
1962 Winterthur, DE
1963 Portland, OR
1964 Seattle, WA
1965 Long Island, NY
1966 Tacoma, WA
1967 Asheville, NC
1968 Eugene, OR
1969 Callaway Gardens, GA
1970 Vancouver, BC
1971 Philadelphia, PA
1972 San Francisco, CA
1973 Pittsburgh, PA
1974 Portland, OR
1975 Seattle, WA
1976 Valley Forge, PA
1977 Eugene, OR
1978 Long Island, NY
1979 Vancouver, BC
1980 Cape Cod, MA
1981 San Francisco, CA
1982 Bethesda, MD
1983 Portland, OR
1984 Atlanta, GA
1985 Seattle, WA
1986 Cleveland, OH
1987 Eugene, OR
1988 Williamsburg, VA
1989 Victoria, BC
1990 Cape Cod, MA
  1991 Oakland, CA
1992 Long Island, NY
1993 Tacoma, WA
1994 Asheville, NC
1995 Portland, OR
1996 Oban, Scotland
1997 Vancouver, BC
1998 Niagara Falls, Ont.
1999 Whidbey Island, WA
2000 Boston, MA
2001 Eugene, OR
2002 Atlanta, GA
2003 Olympia, WA
2004 Valley Forge, PA
2005 Victoria, BC
2006 Washington, DC
2007 San Francisco, CA
2008 Tulsa, OK
2009 Everett, WA
2010 Long Island, NY
2011 Vancouver, WA
2012 Asheville, NC
2013 SeaTac, WA
2014 Cleveland, OH
2015 Sidney, BC
2016 Williamsburg, VA
2017 Eureka, CA
2018 Bremen, Germany
2019 Philadelphia, PA
2020 Vancouver, WA
2021 Annapolis Valley, NS

The "first regional meeting" took place in the spring of 1970, when there was both the Convention in Vancouver, BC, and also an Eastern Regional Meeting in Norfolk, VA.  This regional meeting was shorter than the conventions but took place in the spring.  It was to set the stage for the fall regional meetings which began in 1981.

In 1981, the Oregon Chapters organized a Western Regional fall meeting.  It was held at Agate Beach on the coast near Newport, OR.  It was modeled after the conventions except there were fewer garden tours, if any.  Instead, it promoted enjoying the facilities available in the area.  There were still educational programs, banquets, and other trappings of a convention, but it spanned fewer days.  This fall regional meeting was the start of a new tradition in the ARS.  Some years there were both east and west fall regional meetings.  Starting in 1988, one fall meeting hosted a fall ARS Board of Directors Meeting.  In 1988, 2003 and 2005 there were three fall regional meeting: the west, the northeast, and the southeast.  In many years there was only one fall regional meeting.

The ARS Regional Meetings were:

1970 Norfolk, VA
1981 Newport, OR
1982 Seattle, WA
1983 Monterey, CA
1984 Richmond, BC
1984 Greenville, SC
1985 Greenville, SC
1985 Seaside, OR
1986 Danbury, CT
1986 Monterey, CA
1987 Ocean Shores, WA
1988 Danbury, CT
1988 Everett, WA (ARS Board Met)
1988 Roswell, GA
1989 Portland, OR (ARS Board Met)
1990 Whistler, BC (ARS Board Met)
1991 Bushkill Falls, PA (ARS Board Met)
1991 Olympia, WA
1992 Norcross, GA
1992 Newport, OR (ARS Board Met)
1993 Danbury, CT (ARS Board Met)
1993 Eureka, CA
1994 Lynnwood, WA (ARS Board Met)
1995 Parksville, BC
1995 Princeton, NJ (ARS Board Met)
1996 Ocean Shores, WA (ARS Board Met)
1997 Allentown, PA (ARS Board Met)
1997 San Jose, CA
  1998 Florence, OR (ARS Board Met)
1999 Williamsburg, VA (ARS Board Met)
1999 Eureka, CA
2000 Cowichan, BC (ARS Board Met)
2001 Ronkonkoma, NY (ARS Board Met)
2002 Bellingham, WA (ARS Board Met)
2003 Hyannis, MA (ARS Board Met)
2003 Seaside, OR
2003 Hyannis, MA
2004 Hilo, HA (ARS Board Met)
2005 Newport, OR
2005 Westminster, MA
2005 East Windsor, NJ (ARS Board Met)
2006 Harrison Hot Springs, BC (ARS Board Met)
2007 Mentor, OH (ARS Board Met)
2008 Hilo, HA (ARS Board Met)
2009 Lionville, PA (ARS Board Met)
2009 Tacoma, WA
2010 Florence, OR (ARS Board Met)
2011 Sandstone, VA (ARS Board Met)
2012 Nanaimo, BC
2013 Dartmouth, NS (ARS Board Met)
2013 Newport, OR
2014 Everett, WA (ARS Board Met)
2015 Long Island, NY (ARS Board Met)
2016 Newport, OR (ARS Board Met)
2017 Richmond, VA (ARS Board Met)
2018 Chattanooga, TN (ARS Board Met)
2019 Parksville, BC (ARS Board Met)
2020 Gettysburg, PA (ARS Board Met)

Sources:

  1. The Rhododendron Yearbook for 1946; American Rhododendron Society; Binford & Mort; 1946.
  2. "1947 Rhododendron Shows"; (no author); QBARS V1, N1; April 1947.
  3. "A.R.S. SPRING FLOWER SHOW, Portland Armory, May 7-8-9"; (no author); QBARS V2, N2; May 1948.
  4. "Minutes of Meeting of the ARS, Portland, OR, April 19, 1949"; by Ruth Hansen; QBARS V3, N3; July 1949.
  5. "Rules and Regulations for the ARS Show"; (no author); QBARS V4, N2; April 1950.
  6. "The American Rhododendron Society"; by Ruth M. Hansen; QBARS V4, N2; April 1950.
  7. "Minutes of Meeting of the ARS, Portland, OR, March 16, 1950"; by Ruth Hansen; QBARS V5, N2; April 1951.
  8. "Revised By-Laws of the ARS"; (no author); QBARS V5, N3; July 1951.
  9. "Report on the 1953 Show of the ARS, Portland, OR"; by C. T. Hansen; QBARS V7, N3; July 1953.
  10. "The 1954 Show of the Portland Chapter, ARS"; by Cecil Smith; QBARS V8, N3; July 1954.
  11. "1956 Rhododendron Show Report"; by R. M. Snodgrass; QBARS V10, N3; July 1956.
  12. "International Rhododendron Conference"; by J. Harold Clarke; QBARS V13, N2; April 1959.
  13. "International Rhododendron Conference"; (no author); QBARS V13, N4; October 1959.
  14.  "Speakers Who Will Appear At The International Rhododendron"; by Mrs. L. C. Grothaus; QBARS V15, N1; January 1961.
  15. "International Rhododendron Conference"; by J. Harold Clarke; QBARS V13, N2; April 1959.
  16. "International Rhododendron Conference Caps ARS Activities"; by Molly Grothaus; QBARS V15 N2; April 1961.
  17. "Portland Chapter ARS Show"; by Don Patrick; QBARS V15, N3; July 1961.
  18. "Norfolk Show Promises Wealth of Bloom for Eastern Regional Meeting May 8-9-10"; (no author); QBARS V24, N2; April 1970.
  19. "Advance Announcement"; by Marion May; JARS V35, N3; Summer 1981.
  20. "An ARS Retrospective: Our First Decade, 1944-1954, Part 1"; by Franklin H. West; JARS V48, N2; Spring 1994.
  21. "An ARS Retrospective: Our First Decade, 1964-1974, Part IV"; by Franklin H. West; JARS V49, N1; Winter 1995.
  22. The Pacific Coast Rhododendron Story; by Sonja Nelson; Binford & Mort Publishing; 2001.
  23. Most every January issue of QBARS and JARS was used to document the convention locations.

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