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Next Generation Program Podcasts

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For the Love of Rhododendron

Podcasts sharing personal stories about lives enriched through growing, exploring and researching Rhododendron.

Episode List:

Season 2:

Episode 1 - A bit of paradise

In this episode we meet Tom Clarke, Head Gardener at the world-renowned Exbury Gardens. We learn how Exbury's founder, the late Lionel de Rothschild, turned to gardening amidst personal disappointments, cultivating his own bit of paradise where Rhododendrons are interwoven with the natural landscape to create an exotic floral tapestry. Tom shares how the Crown Jewels of Exbury were forged through plant exploration, hybridization, and good old fashion business sense, and how the focus today is meeting the challenges of climate change and enabling public access to one of the finest green spaces in the U.K.

Reflecting the words of Ladybird Johnson, "Where flowers bloom, so does hope".

Episode 2 - Yogurt for your plants

In this episode we meet Dr. Jean Burns and Ph.D. candidate Yu Liu to learn about their research program that focuses on the science of gardening. They describe their recent findings on the important role of microbes that live in, on and around Rhododendron that influence plant growth and survival. They assure us that some microbes can actually be good for Rhododendrons, and we find out how the pure aesthetic joy of Rhododendron can lead to a deeper understanding of the basic biological process of plant-soil interactions that lead to species co-existence.

This is not so farfetched as it might seem, for as he sat alone in a garden, Isaac Newton in 1666, age 24, fell into a speculation on the power of gravity.

Episode 3 - A postcard is a small thing

In this episode we meet Dr. Anna Asatryan, a Senior Researcher at the National Academy of Sciences in Armenia. Her work has dealt with the documentation and conservation of Armenia’s native flora, including Rhododendron caucasicum. We learn that while involved in the eco-tourism industry documenting the important plant areas of Armenia she fell in love with Rhododendrons. Her efforts have inspired residents of Armenia’s mountain villages to see their native species with different eyes, and we discover that an activity as un-assuming as sharing an illustrated postcard has the power to stimulate daily acts of conservation, reminding us that we are all one organism, one ecosystem.

In the wise words of Mother Teresa, "Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies."

Episode 4 - From distraction to discovery

In this episode we meet Dr. Mary Jane Epps, a scientist at the Center for Urban Habitats in Charlottesville, VA. We learn how a moment of distraction while researching beetles led her to discover that Rhododendron calendulaceum is pollinated by the wings of Tiger Swallowtail butterflies. This uncommon type of pollination works because the flower shape offers a clear landing platform for butterflies. The high diversity in flower shapes results in diverse rhododendron pollinator communities. It is essential for humans to support these pollinator communities in simple ways so we can contribute to the conservation of pollinator biodiversity.

As observed by philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, "The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough."

Season 1:

Episode 1 - There wasn't a map

In this episode, we learn about the podcast production team, how random twists and turns in the road of life led them to discover their love of Rhododendron, and their hopes for how this podcast can inspire and support others embarking on their own journey into the vast and uncharted territory that is genus Rhododendron.

For, as D.H. Lawrence once wrote: "Love is the flower of life, and blossoms unexpectedly and without law, and must be plucked where it is found, and enjoyed for the brief hour of its duration."

Episode 2 - The genome was the puzzle

In this episode, Ryan and Juliana meet with Dr. Valerie Soza to learn about the Rhododendron williamsianum genome sequencing project.  How a visionary researcher led a huge team of scientists on an epic adventure to tackle a 30,000-piece puzzle that took 10 years and a whole lot of persistence to complete.

Reflecting on the words of the immortal Smokey Robinson, "Love's a puzzle, love's a puzzle, Confusing as can be, But work it out and you'll discover, The beauty of love's mystery."

Episode 3 - A treasure-trove of experiences

In this episode we learn about Ryan Fuller's research on Rhododendron evolution in the Hengduan Mountains of China, how this magical place spawned Ryan's polyploidy problems, how the people in Yunnan and the Rhododendron's themselves welcomed him, and how the rather practical goal of collecting plant samples led him to a goldmine of adventures worthy of the most ambitious bucket-list.

As told by Paulo Coelho in the "The Alchemist", when you are about to climb yet another dune, that is the moment when your heart whispers, "Be aware of the place where you are brought to tears. That's where I am, and that's where your treasure is."

Episode 4 - Where kindred spirits convene

In this episode we meet some of the organizers and speakers from the upcoming American Rhododendron Society Fall Convention, they share their fascinating Rhododendron origin stories, the important work they are currently doing in Rhododendron, and give a tantalizing preview of the virtual convention program.

Though our friends and families may tire of hearing about Rhododendron, as Lucy Maud Montgomery reminds us in Anne of Green Gables: "Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It's splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world."

Episode 5 - You can add your own twist

In this episode we meet Rhododendron hybridizer and college professor, Paul Chafe, we learn how a memorable brush with giant Rhododendrons led him to hybridizing, how he's adding his own twist on breeding cold-hardy Rhododendron by chasing a dream of tree-like, big-leaf plants that don't look like they should survive in the frigid cold of continental Canada.

Representing the next generation of Rhododendron breeders, Paul is expanding the palate of cold-hardy cultivars with the same modernistic approach embodied by author Henry James, who once quipped "A tradition is kept alive only by something being added to it."

Episode 6 - The pitch of their wingbeats

In today's episode we meet Dr. Robbie Hart, a researcher at the William L. Brown Center of the Missouri Botanical Garden. We learn how hillsides filled with Rhododendron flowers have influenced the everyday lives of people on Mt. Yulong in South China, how this traditional ecological knowledge is preserved in the local languages of Yunnan, and how even listening to a tiny bee buzzing around a flower can provide insight on the importance of plants and the environment for the flourishing of humankind.

Echoing the words of author Nancy Farmer, "Look around you...feel the wind, smell the air. Listen to the birds and watch the sky. Tell me what's happening in the wide world."

Episode 7 - Finding new mountains

In this episode we meet Steve Hootman, Executive Director and Curator of the Rhododendron Species Foundation and Botanical Garden, located in Federal Way, Washington. We get a glimpse into the history of this stunning wild garden, we learn how observing Rhododendron in nature provides insights into their cultivation, and we discover that gaining plant knowledge and finding new mountains is an actual career path.

As John Muir described in a letter to his sister in 1873, "The mountains are calling, and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly."

Episode 8 - Shake the world gently

In this episode we meet Mike Stewart, President of the Van Veen Heritage Garden in Portland Oregon. We learn how this non-profit organization is carrying on the extraordinary legacy of the Van Veen family, three generations of horticultural pioneers who dedicated themselves to Rhododendrons, devising new propagation techniques, and generously sharing their plants and their knowledge.

In doing so, they turned their nursery into a veritable sanctuary of Rhododendrons and built a huge community of friends, evoking the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi, "In a gentle way, you can shake the world."

Episode 9 - What keeps me up at night

In this episode we meet our intrepid podcast narrator, that's right you get to meet me, Dr. Juliana Medeiros. I got together with my fellow podcast hosts Connor and Christina to discuss how genus Rhododendron sparked a fire in my collector's heart and how it makes an ideal study system for all kinds of biological research, I present my theory that leaves are indeed the coolest things in the universe, and we learn that unanswered questions about Rhododendron are what keep me up at night.

For like Anne Brontė, "I love the silent hour of night, for blissful dreams may then arise, revealing to my charmed sight, what may not bless my waking eyes."

Episode 10 - Expect blooms anytime

In this episode we meet Don Graham, a retired emergency medicine doctor, a long-time member of the Portland Chapter of the ARS, and a Rhododendron gardener extraordinaire. We find out how he successfully transitioned his love of Rhododendron from a large-scale outdoor rock garden to a small-but-mighty indoor garden prominently featuring tropical epiphytic Rhododendron species known as Vireyas. Don shares how he transformed his second-floor condominium and balcony into a botanical wonderland so spectacular that passersby are known to shout their praise from down below. We learn that the best thing about growing a Vireya garden in your house is that you can expect blooms anytime.

Recalling the words of biographer and historian Jenny Uglow, "We may think we are nurturing our garden, but of course it's our garden that is really nurturing us."

Episode 11 - We named the trees

In this episode we hear the story of Leslie Hancock, a pioneer in Canadian Rhododendron breeding and horticulture and founder of the Hancock Woodlands in Mississauga, Ontario Canada. Woodlands Horticulturalist, Staci Sylvestri, tells how the next generation is carrying on Hancock's botanical legacy and commitment to community outreach. We also meet Hancock's grand-daughter Carol, who shares memories of her childhood growing up in a plant nursery, where towering oaks and pines, and multi-colored Rhododendrons provided plenty of material for a child's imagination.

The garden developed such a personality of its own that they even named the trees, including four iconic pine trees that still stand today as the hallmark of Hancock Woodlands, embodying the words of John Muir, "Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world."

Episode 12 - As soon as the sunrays hit

In this episode we meet Dr. Shweta Basnett, who shares stories from her Ph.D. work on the pollination biology of Rhododendron in Sikkim Himalaya. We learn how she left her bed well-before dawn to trek up a mountainside and survey many different Rhododendron species and their pollinators, including sunbirds who start drinking the nectar as soon as the sunrays hit the ground, and how the difficult task of climbing a mountain day after day led to stunning views and a chance to expand from local to global her Rhododendron studies as a Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Maryland.

Thus, illustrating the words of author William Arthur Ward, "Opportunities are like sunrises, if you wait too long, you'll miss them."


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