Pink Walloper

Rhododendron x griffithianum
'Pink Walloper' aka 'Lem's Monarch'


"But bid him be careful of river banks, & beware how he plucks flowers, remembering that every bush he sees may be a goddess in disguise."

-Thomas Bulfinch
(1796-1867)

   

There are two small specimens of 'Pink Walloper' at a gardened estate where I do some landscaping. A "small" specimen is an amusing thing to ponder, because no part of this shrub is ever actually small.

It has leaves two or three times larger than other Ironclad rhododendrons, & a single trumpet-flower is wider than many another ironclad's entire truss. The stems & structure is also very thick to support the enormous trusses. Yet the ten-year size is only a little larger than so many standard rhododendrons with smaller components: six to ten feet tall, ten to twelve feet wide.

Pink WalloperA photo is insufficient to capture the impact of one of these enormous trusses, as a photo can show the beauty of the color, pink with dark pink rim & fading to white deep in the throat, but the scale is lost. When looking at a photo of the flowers, bare in mind their additional enormity. The third photo below is of a single fallen trumpet, & it is so big you couldn't hide it behind a closed fist.

The northwest's legendary rhody collector & breeder Dr. Frank Mossman found this pumped-up rhody growing in the fields of another Northwest legend, Halfdan Lem of Seattle, & obtained the plant from Lem for further development, while Lem himself developed other giants from the seedling group.

'Pink Walloper' became part of a series of giant-flowering cultivars often called "the walloper group,' including 'Red Walloper,' 'Point Defiance,' & 'Gwen Bell.'

For years 'Lem's Monarch' (introduced in 1971, two years after Halfdan's death, & over a decade after 'Pink Walloper' was blooming in Halfdan's field) was considered yet another cultivar, or perhaps a sister-seedling for this group. But 'Pink Walloper' & 'Lem's Monarch' are today regarded as interchangeable names for a single clone.

It originated as a across between pink-flowering 'Anna' (named for Halfdan's wife) & red-flowering 'Marinus Koster' (named for its hybridizer from the generation preceding Halfdan's). Neither of those had the flowers of such steroidal size. Both were Rhododendron griffithianum hybrids.

Pink WalloperA walloper has come to mean anything that is extravagant or amazing & large, as when remarking to someone with an impressively bruised eye, "Wow, that's one walloper of a shiner." A walloper is also someone who hits a baseball extremely hard, or is in any context a winner by a wide margin, though formerly a walloper or bruiser was someone who walloped or hit something or someone, whether the wife, family dog, or blacksmith's anvil.

Also a walloper is the opposite of a white lie; it's an extravagant lie, synonymous with "whopper." The term was also slang for "Dockworker," & given Halfdan's background as an Alaska fisherman, he likely knew that meaning well, & the name for all its meanings played into his famous sense of humor.

Halfdan was a big Norwegian, born in Nordfjord, Norway, & arrived in Seattle by way of Ketchikan, Alaska, where he had been a partner in a fishing & canning company. In 1933 he & his wife Anna moved to Seattle & began developing rhododendrons. Anna helped out & even named some of the creations, but the rhodies were mainly Halfdan's obsession. She watched him in the fields, an enormous fellow whom she kept well-fed, dashing amidst his shrubs with pollen on his fingers, pollenizing trusses like a madman.

Halfdan until his death in 1969 at the age of eighty-three was a central figure of the Rum Dum Club which met at various members' houses, or in each others' gardens. At these gatherings he was noted for his hard drinking & his laughter & humor. The membership of the Rum Dum Club was a who's-who of pioneer hybridizers in the Northwest, including Frank Mossman of Vancouver, Washington, who helped develop 'Pink Walloper' (see the "Western Flame" azalea page for more about Dr. Mossman).

   



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