LAIFS Board of Directors
Donna J Radoumis
1st Vice President
2nd Vice President & Membership
A half of a century had passed since 1964 when the Los Angeles Fern society decided to hold its first show. It was an ambitious project for the group—184 enthusiastic people with a common interest in growing and collecting ferns—but when the doors opened on May 16, an extravagant display of ferns awaited the public.
Beyond the doors of the California Spanish style building in Poinsettia Park in Hollywood were the display gardens of exotic splendor, the handiwork of the fern society, and other garden oriented groups. Rather than the usual tabletop displays, Frank Paucker, the show chairman, chose to suspend the hanging baskets at eye level where they could be admired from all sides. Container ferns were placed on decorative stands and redwood rounds set in crushed bark on the floor. Weathered tree trunks placed here and there gave a very natural appearance to the show. Huge Staghorn ferns hung along the walls were appealing to the public at the first show as they have been at every show since. The stage of the auditorium was the highlight of the show, for here in a tropical fantasy were large arrangements of orchids, maidenhair ferns, davallias, and palms. Brilliantly planned parrots in white wire cages offered flashes of color to the jungle scene.
The first show was dedicated to the memory of Dr. W. Clyde Drummond, founder of the society. The proceeds were donated to the South Coast Botanical Garden to fulfill a pledge for funds to build a shade house for ferns and begonias. The objective of the show was to interest others in growing ferns and to encourage them to add ferns to their gardens and patios.
Many people were enticed to join the society. They were given a packet of fern lessons and information about the meetings. The yearly dues were $2.00. This first show was a huge success, enjoyed by more then 800 people.
W. Clyde Drummond was a retired dentist and amateur horticulturist. He became interested in the study of bromeliads, but the lack of information about these plants caused him to seek another hobby. In the early 1950s a friend gave him a small collection of ferns. Dr. Drummond learned that there were books on ferns, although they were difficult to obtain. From then on, the study of ferns fascinated Dr. Drummond, and he continued this intense interest until he died in 1963. In 1957, Mrs. Drummond traveled to Europe, and she brought back 23 books on ferns for him. Through contacts with book dealers in Europe, she purchased 260 more volumes, some of which are part of the LAIFS library.
In August 1954, eight people gathered at the Drummond home to form the Fern Study Group. By 1958, the group had expanded to 25 members and met in the Nature Museum at Fern Dell. Under Drummond’s guidance, they became the Los Angeles Fern Society in 1958. Of all the original eight people, Yolanda Orta still remains today.
Dr. Drummond often went to Fern Dell in Griffith Park to study ferns, He met William Eckert, a park ranger, and they would walk the trails of the Dell collecting fern fronds for Dr. Drummond’s herbarium collection. It was from his books and specimens that Drummond researched and wrote the lesson sheets in the Fern Lesson Book. He often conferred with C.V. Morton of the Smithsonian Institution about ferns.
In 1959 the City of Los Angeles honored Dr. Drummond for his work in classifying and pressing Griffith Park fern specimens, a task that took two years to complete. His 140 specimens were set in 5 ft x 10 ft cases and displayed at the Fern Dell Nature Museum. He was honored at a civic luncheon in Hollyhock House, Barnsdall Park, for his work. Dr. Drummond received various other accolades and was honored by the fern society with the title of president emeritus for his leadership and contributions.
Meetings in these early years included fern study, quizzes, and discussions. Members were expected to bring a fern frond for study or forfeit a dime to the treasury. Dr. Drummond would discuss the fern lesson of the month. Later a small lending library of fern books was established. Speakers were invited, and practical demonstrations on various aspects of fern culture were added.
Wilbur W. Olson, a high school teacher, took over as research director, at first using materials prepared by Drummond. Later he prepared lessons from his own research, and his wife Bee sketched the fern of the month. They continued the fern lessons until his retirement in 1976. In addition, the Olson’s maintained the membership office, wrote the newsletter, and worked at the shows.
In 1959 membership had increased to about 50, and meetings were held at the Fern Dell Nature Museum. A more formal organization was adopted, and Sylvia Leatherman became the first president of the newly named Los Angeles Fern Society. After meeting at various locations, in 1964, the society found a more permanent home at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History at Exposition Park. The membership stood at 184.
By this time, a plant growing fad had started. The group began to increase dramatically, and the desire for information and fern plants brought an enormous increase in membership, including persons from every state and many countries around the world. In 1965, the addition of “international’ to the name of the society, was a reflection of both the nature of the membership, and the kinds of ferns. Later, when a logo was needed, LaVerne Hanell’s design included a globe with encircling fern frond. The group surpassed 3500 at that time. After the Olsons, the membership secretaries were Dolores Fernandez, Jo Myers, and Dave Fay.
In 1968 meetings were held at the Arboretum in Arcadia. From 1969 to 1982, Los Angeles City College provided the burgeoning society with a meeting place. When City College needed its auditorium for other uses, the group again returned to the Arboretum.
The monthly notices of the early days were simple, consisting of single sheets with meeting dates, locations, and programs. Later the fern lesson sheets were included. The society published a fern annual from 1967 to 1975. Appearing in time to announce the fern shows, the booklet included articles, pictures, the show entry schedule, and advertisements. Many members kept the annuals as souvenirs.
In September 1974, under the leadership of President Barbara Joe Hoshizaki, a new format for newsletters was inaugurated; they became the Bulletin of the Los Angeles International Fern Society and ultimately LAIFS Fern Journal. LaVerne Hanell began as a meeting reporter for the annuals. Wilbur Olson was the editor of the Fern Annuals and the Bulletin until Phyllis Bates.
It is easy to mark the years by recounting the meeting places, the publications, the show events, and the names of officers, but the real heart of the society lies in its activities.
Sometimes these are tedious tasks. One such was the collating, assembling, stapling, and mailing of the annuals. A group of local members gathered to accomplish the job and developed a camaraderie as they worked, consumed gallons of coffee and soft drinks, and munched sandwiches.
Another activity was stimulating—the fern study class held by Barbara Joe Hoshizaki. It met once a week for about six months at Los Angeles City College. A fern was chosen for the study. Its fronds and sori were examined under dissecting microscopes., and information about the fern was discussed. The group learned how ferns were collected in the field, fronds were pressed and dried, and herbarium specimens prepared.
On occasion, the activities are adventurous—even if second hand. Fern Society members have traveled to many parts of the world, collecting and photographing ferns. Through the medium of slides, the society has been transported to Australia, the tree fern forests of New Zealand, the remote mountains of Peru, the steamy rivers in Brunei, and an ice block insulated greenhouse at the Arctic Circle. The group was favored with a stay at a farm in Zimbabwe, attended a meeting of the Nippon Fernist Club, searched among the ancient ruins of China, visited the splendid botanical gardens of Europe and the redwood forests of California
In 1976 LAIFS sponsored a tour to the South Pacific. Nine members traveled to the Polynesian Islands of Tahiti and Samoa, then on to New Zealand, New Caledonia, and Fiji. When they arrived in Nelson, New Zealand, they were welcomed by the entire contingent of the Nelson Fern Society. These generous people opened their homes and gardens and escorted them to the unique habitats of filmy ferns.
LAIFS has been represented at many garden shows in the Southern California area. Table displays or display gardens have been placed in the Southern California Horticultural Institute shows, at the Arboretum shows in Arcadia and Descanso shows sponsored by the National Fuchsia Society, the Museum of Natural History, etc. Probably the most ambitious projects were a series of luxuriant gardens for the Los Angeles County Fairs in Pomona, where the challenge was to fill the interior of the Flower and Garden Building with ferns, Some of these shows were judged, and the society received trophies and ribbons. The treasury has been enhanced by cash prizes on numerous occasions. Public plant sales have offered another opportunity for fundraising, educating the public about ferns, and adding new members to the group.
Visitations give members a chance to see other gardens. Some times these are private gardens, others are open, but always someone is on hand to add to the knowledge of ferns. Among the memorable trips was a hike in the Murphy Preserve in the Santa Monica Mountains, a boat trip to Catalina to explore the backcountry flora and the Wrigley botanical garden, and a train ride to San Diego to attend the San Diego Fern Show and tour the Fern Canyon at the San Diego Zoo. LAIFS spent a Sunday at the Beverley Hills estate of screen comedian Harold Lloyd. The gardens and greenhouse were being renovated, and the Fern Society donated ferns to assist the staff in this project. On another Sunday outing, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Simonton were hosts at their charming gardens and treated members with a concert of magnificent music on two beautiful pipe organs in Simonton’s private theater.
Twelve times a year, LAIFS membership meetings afford an opportunity to learn how to grow ferns, how to care for them, how to collect spores, how to identify ferns, how to landscape with ferns, and how to import ferns, and almost any topic relating to ferns that someone was willing to talk about. There have been programs about the science of tissue culture, new products for gardening, recognizing fern pests, how ferns got their names, and historic fern books. They have featured maidenhair ferns or Platycerium, or ferns from Mexico or the English countryside. There have been slide shows, workshops, and demonstrations, and always there is the opportunity to improve skills and see the same topic in a new way.
This history started with the first fern show and now ends with a brief recollection of these events. The shows are a showcase for the many talents of LAIFS members. From the first show in an auditorium to the present, every new site presented a challenge. The International Pavilion at the County Fair Grounds was a large cavernous structure with bare walls and a cement floor. Members emptied their greenhouses and gardens to fill the building with an array of ferns. Local high school landscaping classes were invited to participate and cash prises given to their schools. Other plant societies competed with displays featuring their unique plants.
The Fannie Morrison Hall at Brookside Park was a series of buildings made especially for flower shows. Here one of the members constructed a tube house of one of the patios and filled it with ferns and unusual plants from home.
In 1972 LAIFS show was featured on the Sunday Show, KNBC TV. In 1975 Sunset Magazine published an article about LAIFS and the upcoming show at the Pavilion. The results were terrific. Long before the doors opened, hundreds of people were waiting in line. Over 5,000 people attended that year and saw the vintage Concord buggy as a centerpiece of a garden display by a local Nursery.
Other shows were presented at Great Western Exhibition Hall and at the Rosemont Pavilion in Brookside Park, where some floats for the Rose Parade are constructed. The Orange County Fairgrounds Flower Building was the setting for a show in which latticed trellises formed a backdrop for displays. The Los Angeles State and County Arboretum has been LAIFS home for many years, and Ayres Hall has been a fantastic venue for fern shows.
Those who have been a part of the first years of LAIFS leave a tradition of learning, participation, and sharing. They hope that, through the work of dedicated fern hobbyists, ferns will continue to add grace and charm to gardens.