Rhododendron 'Maralyn Gillespie'

Rhododendron 'Maralyn Gillespie'

The largest collection of any genus at the Scott Arboretum is Rhododendron. The first director of the Scott Arboretum, John Wister, was a huge rhododendron enthusiast, promoter and hybridizer. Surrounding the Scott Amphitheater and Crum Woods and providing the backbone of the Wister Garden is where the lion’s share of the Arboretum’s holdings occur.

John Wister would often give unnamed seedlings, plants that had lost their tags, or plants that he felt did not have significant ornamental merit to his friends and colleagues. One day when he was visiting his friends Maralyn and George Gillespie in Wallingford, PA for dinner he commented on a stunning rhododendron. It turns out that the plant growing in their garden was a plant he had discarded years before. He ended up naming and registering this selection as Rhododendron ‘Maralyn Gillespie’ in honor of his friend and colleague (at the time she was Director of Alumni Relations at Swarthmore College).

In early May the large lobed white flowers emerge with a lilac blush. The beauty of the flower is further accentuated by a deep red-purple throat. Ron Rabideau of Rare Find Nursery states “We have two large plants of this in our display garden and wouldn’t be without it.” At the Scott Arboretum, we have a specimen growing in the Wister Garden at 735 Harvard Avenue.

After Maralyn Gillespie’s retirement from the College she became an active volunteer at the Scott Arboretum. Today in her role as an Arboretum Assistant she volunteers in the Wister Greenhouse assisting with plant propagation, re-potting plants and planting containers on campus. In winter of 2007 she and her husband, George, made a leadership pledge of $500,000 to the Education Center and Greenhouse which is scheduled to begin construction in 2008.

Andrew Bunting
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