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The ARS/DRG 2018 International Rhododendron Conference in Europe

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Alert!    7 Spots left on Pre-Tour 1, Holland
Pre-Tour 3, Denmark & Sweden, is full
Post-Tour, Finland is full

Registration is open to everyone. The registration form is on the registration page. Members of other rhododendron or azalea societies are invited to register. For "Chapter" put non-ARS

Convention Gardens Tours and Lectures - Fall 2017 JARS

ARS/DRG 2018 Joint Convention Speakers & Their Profiles

From the Wild ... into your Life

The Convention program is divided into two parts: From The Wild and Into Your Life.

The first program day, Tuesday, May 22, the program, From The Wild, will feature a group of speakers called the Explorers' Club. The second program day, Friday, May 25, the program, Into Your Life. will feature a group of speakers called the Gardeners and Scientists. These speakers will be brought from the far corners of the world, to give these presentations.

From The Wild ...

Tuesday, May 22 – “Finding Rhododendrons” (all in English)

Dr. Hartwig Schepker - Germany Introductions: “Rhododendron expeditions in the past & today”
Rama Lopez-Rivera - England A Quest for Perfection- Plant-hunting on the Pacific Rim”
Ole Jonny Larsen - Norway “Plant hunting between Lapponicas and Lamas in Sichuan”
Steve Hootman - USA “The search for new Rhododendron introductions in the outlying regions of south-central and eastern China”
Ulrich Pietzarka - Germany “Rhododendrons in Primorje - Exploring the species of the Russian Far East”
Seamus O’Brien - Ireland “In the footsteps of Augustine Henry in China and Joseph Dalton Hooker in Sikkim”

Into Your Life

Friday, May 25 – “Using Rhododendrons” (all in English)

Dr. Hartwig Schepker - Germany Introduction: “Rhododendron in Europe”
Jürgen Schlenz - Germany Introduction: “Ammerland: The world's largest rhododendron production area”
Kenneth Cox - Scotland “Woodland Gardening-Landscaping with Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Magnolias and Camellias”
Nils Blatt & Gesa Gärtner - Germany “Contemporary Gardening with Rhododendrons in Germany
Matthias Ulrich - Germany “Rhododendrons as medical plants
Kenneth Cox - Scotland “Rhododendron in art, music, and daily life”
Don Hyatt - USA “The Crazy World of Rhododendrons

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Synopsis of Talks & Profiles of the Speakers

Speaker Profile

Nils Blatt

"Contemporary Gardening with Rhododendrons in Germany"

The role of rhododendrons in German gardens is changing. 30 to 40 years ago rhododendrons were extremely well used garden plants, but times have changed. The big gardens with rhododendrons as the backdrop are gone, garden fashion today is fast moving – landscaping has to respond with using rhododendrons even as only a temporary plant. New ideas and concepts are needed for role of rhododendrons in the modern small gardens. Rhododendrons can be used as solitary plants or in pot. Focus should be given not only to the flower but also to the new shoots, the flower shape and its habit. Nils and Gesa will show examples from their work with rhododendrons in private and public gardens as well as show gardens.

Nils Blatt is a young renowned landscape architect with offices in Bremen and Verden. He was responsible for RHODO 2014, and as a result of that success, he has been selected again to be in charge of the planning of Europe's largest rhododendron show, the RHODO 2018 in Westerstede. He is a partner in the firm, Horeis & Blatt. They have completed a wide range of landscaping projects ranging from private gardens, hotels, highways, public parks, a golf course, colleges, and schools. For this talk his staff member Mrs. Gesa Gärtner will assist Nils.

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Kenneth Cox

Woodland Gardening

"Woodland Gardening - Landscaping with Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Magnolias and Camellias"
Based on his new book, the first ever book on woodland gardening with rhododendrons (due in Spring 2018), Kenneth will give a brief history of woodland gardening, plant hunters, hybridizers and the influence of William Robinson and the great plant-hunters. Examples of inspirational woodland gardens from around the world include Inverewe, Longwood Gardens, the Bremen Rhododendron Park, Pukeiti and many others demonstrating important aspects of woodland gardens like borrowed landscape, water, bridges, color planning, year-round interest, scent, autumn color. Planting, maintenance and the restoration of overgrown woodland gardens will be discussed as well as inspirational planting ideas and combinations followed by the best rhododendrons, magnolias, camellias, hydrangeas and woodland perennials and bulbs.

Born in 1964 into a family of renowned plantsmen, Kenneth Cox is grandson of plant-hunter, writer and nurseryman Euan Cox and son of Peter Cox VMH. The three generations were and are considered leading experts on rhododendrons. Kenneth, himself a nurseryman and author of numerous books on rhododendrons, has led 9 expeditions to South and South-East Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh, India, 1995-2013. Kenneth is managing director of the family firm Glendoick Gardens Ltd in Scotland, a garden center and mail order nursery specializing in Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Ericaceous plants, Meconopsis, Primula and other plants collected by the Cox family around the world. Kenneth is married with two sons and in his spare time plays several musical instruments.

"The Rhododendron as 'muse' inspiring the Arts"
In his second talk Ken will take you on a journey round the world of rhododendrons in all sorts of cultural areas: garden design, songs, novels, poetry, sculpture, temple gardens, botanical drawings and paintings, interior decoration, stamps and much more from many parts of the world and going back far into history.

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Steve Hootman

"The search for new Rhododendron introductions in the outlying regions of south-central and eastern China."
Steve will discuss and show images from his most recent expeditions which have been focused on locating some of the enigmatic outlying species that occur far from the main concentration of rhododendrons in the Himalayas and western China. In addition to the amazing scenery and interesting ethnic minorities, the focus will be on some of the exciting new species that have been introduced including R. shanii and R. dachengense of Subsection Taliensia as well as many of the new Subsection Fortunea such as platypodum, yuefengense, faithiae, maoerense and the true cardiobasis.

Steve Hootman is the Executive Director and Curator of the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden near Seattle in the USA. He has become a foremost international authority on Rhododendron taxonomy and distribution. Steve was awarded the ARS's highest honor, the Gold Medal, in 2007 for his internationally significant work with genus Rhododendron. The RSBG maintains the largest collection of species rhododendrons in the United States and is committed to disseminating information about them, as well as plants and seeds. Steve has participated in numerous plant hunting expeditions including those into India, China and the Himalayas.

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Don Hyatt

"The Crazy World of


Our banquet speaker Don Hyatt is an internationally renowned rhododendron and azalea expert. His favorite topic is America's native azaleas and rhododendrons. Don is a past Director of both the ARS and the Azalea Society of America, and in 2012 was the recipient of the prestigious Gold Medal from the ARS. His private garden in the Washington, D.C. area has been featured on national tours and he frequently leads tour groups through the native azaleas of the Appalachian Trail. He is a botanical illustrator and watercolorist, a photographer, a hybridizer and an award-winning teacher. He is also a fine storyteller whose multimedia presentations are humorous and highly entertaining for both novice and expert.

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Ole Jonny Larsen

"Plant hunting between Lapponicas and Lamas in Sichuan"
Six Scandinavians touring the central parts of Sichuan for three weeks in spring 2016, most of the time with bus rides instead of walking, hotel beds instead of tents and restaurants instead of campfires. They hit the perfect time for flowering of thousands of beautiful Lapponicas and other Rhododendrons, but also experienced the local Lamaism tradition and their exceptional decorations on cliffs and mountainsides.

Ole Jonny Larsen is the leader of the Norwegian Rhododendron Society. He has written books on Rhododendrons and plant hunters and published several articles from plant expeditions and tours to China and European mountains. He is also a keen collector of Rhododendron species.

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Rama Lopez-Rivera

"A Quest for Perfection – Plant-hunting on the Pacific Rim"
In his lecture Rama talks about his trips to Taiwan, Japan & Korea in looking for Rhododendrons in the high mountains of these fascinating and diverse countries in the Western Pacific. Rama will have a special focus on his searches for R. yakushimanum and R. pachysanthum through often highly challenging and remote trips to their known, and lesser known locations in the wild.

Rama Lopez-Rivera has been working as a horticulturist for 18 years, spending time in leading gardens in United Kingdom and United States and beyond. He is chair of the International Branch of the RHS Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group. With a particular passion for the peoples, cultures and plants of the Far East, he has traveled extensively in the region searching for plants in Asia's wild places.

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Seamus O'Brien

"In the footsteps of Henry in China and Hooker in Sikkim"
Following on the publication of his recent biographies, Seamus O'Brien recounts how he retraced the trails blazed by Augustine Henry in China and by Joseph Dalton Hooker in the lofty mountains of Sikkim. Henry and Hooker were pioneering botanical explorers and O'Brien discusses their plant introductions and their legacy to historic Irish gardens. See how the Three Gorges Dam has sent both plants and animals into extinction and their rescue and conservation at the National Botanic Gardens, Kilmacurragh and the legacy of Joseph Hooker's Sikkim Rhododendron introductions.

Seamus O'Brien is a plantsman, plant hunter, author and lecturer. He is Ireland's leading authority on plants from the temperate regions of China and his travels in pursuit of plants have taken him across Nepal, China, California, Chile, New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania, effectively 'in the footsteps' of Augustine Henry on a number of expeditions. He manages Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens, a superb 18th century country estate belonging to the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin in Dublin. He has won several awards including the 1996 Christopher Brickell award and two awards granted by the RHS Bursary Committee.

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Ulrich Pietzarka

"Rhododendrons in Primorje – Exploring the species of the Russian Far East"
Primorje is a large province in the very southeast of Russia bordering China, North Korea and the Sea of Japan. More than 80% of the landscape is still covered by different kinds of species-rich forests from sea level to 1.600 m in the Sichote Alin Mountains. At any elevation rhododendron species occur accompanied by magnificent trees and shrubs including several maple species showing a colorful autumn display. The journey will take us to the sites of R. schlippenbachii, dauricum, sichotense, mucronulatum, and others, through beautiful landscapes at different times of the year.

Dr. Ulrich Pietzarka is curator at Tharand Botanic Garden and Arboretum, Saxony, Germany. As an educated forestry scientist he did his PhD on the ecology of the English Yew (Taxus baccata). Since more than 20 years he is responsible for the comprehensive collections of woody species hardy to central Europe. He joined several excursions to North America, the Himalayas and the Russian Far East. Ulrich is a member of the German Rhododendron Society regularly joining tours to European rhododendron gardens.

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Hartwig Schepker

Short introductory talks on both days:
"Rhododendron expeditions in the past and today" (day 1)
"Rhododendrons in Europe" (day 2)

Dr. Hartwig Schepker is the Scientific Director of the Botanic Garden and Rhododendron-Park Bremen, one of the largest Rhododendron collections in the world, including hardy and non-hardy species and hybrids. He is also the Secretary of the German Rhododendron Society and co-editor of the society’s publication “Rhododendron und Immergrüne”. Hartwig has been on several rhododendron trips in South East Asia and North America, including four journeys to Arunachal Pradesh between 2005 and 2012.

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Jürgen Schlenz

"Ammerland: The world's largest rhododendron production area"
Every second rhododendron plant sold in European garden centers has probably been produced in one of the many rhododendron nurseries in North-western Germany. More than 200 years ago C.L. Bosse started the first nursery near Rastede. Today the area around Oldenburg host a prosperous specialized economy: more than 400 nurseries produce a huge range of plants for the European market.
The county Ammerland is the center of this production area with many nurseries specializing in rhododendrons. Some of the oldest gardens (the castle garden of Rastede and Oldenburg) and many of the largest nurseries with huge collections of rhododendrons are located here which are forming the backbone of a unique system of rhododendron preservation: the German Gene bank Rhododendron.
Rhododendron growers and hybridizers in the Ammerland area have always been and still are looking for new rhododendron cultivars and propagation methods. Mass production by a special form of grafting or hybridizing for new hybrids which are able to grow in soils with a higher pH are two examples for the innovative capacity of German rhododendron specialists.

Jürgen Schlenz is the managing director of the horticultural consultancy company BBR-Weser-Ems e.V. based in Westerstede. He began his training as a gardener at the rhododendron specialist nursery E. Stöckmann in the Ammerland in 1979. After receiving a horticultural degree he worked in various nurseries before Jürgen started his current position which connects him to almost all of the hundreds of nurseries in Northwestern Germany.

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Matthias Ullrich

"Rhododendron as a medicinal plant"

For centuries, different species of the genus Rhododendron have been used as ingredients of ethno-medical treatments of human disease wherever Rhododendron grows naturally. Surprisingly, the actual effects of Rhododendron extracts for healing purposes varied widely in dependence of the application or the cultural background of the user. Both, watery and alcoholic extracts, full size leaves, powders, fermentations or brewed teas of plant material have been used by a variety of ethnicities in order to treat diseases ranging from infections and systemic or local pains to specific organ dysfunctions. It became clear that the phylogenetic diversity of Rhododendron along with its phytochemical richness in bioactive compounds might have contributed to the widespread and diverse use of this plant in ethno-medicine. However, no systematic biochemical analysis for the purpose of identifying and isolating bioactive compounds from Rhododendron had been undertaken thus far. A group of researchers from Bremen and Oldenburg took advantage of the exceptional richness in phylogenetic diversity represented by plants grown in the Rhododendron-Park Bremen and comprehensively analyzed more than 120 different species in terms of their phylogenetic relatedness, their phytochemical profiles, their antimicrobial activities, and their potential cytotoxic effects against mammalian cell cultures. Our results have been published in several research papers and cumulated in the following two major findings: a) a group of Rhododendron species could be identified whose methanolic extracts were both, sufficiently antimicrobial and non-cytotoxic to either intestinal or skin cells; and b) a bioinformatics-driven metabolomics approach can be used to identify novel antimicrobial substances. The later finding might help to intelligently guide bioactivity-driven chemical fractionation of plant crude extracts. In turn, this might lead to the identification of Rhododendron compounds for pharmaceutical purposes.

Prof. Dr. Matthias Ullrich has been Professor of Microbiology at Jacobs University in Bremen since 2002. He studied Biology in Jena, and was promoted in Heidelberg and Jena in 1992. He worked for four years in the USA as postdoctoral student. In 1996 he returned to Germany to found his own research group at the Max Planck Institute in Marburg. In Bremen, he works closely with the Max Planck Institute and the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research on various microbiological topics. Dr. Ullrich's research team from Bremen and Oldenburg is exploring the great diversity of rhododendrons and their potential as a source of antibiotics and cancer treatment.

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Last Updated: December 12, 2017