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Lester Rowntree: A Woman’s
Life with Native Plants
A slide presentation by
Lester Bradford Rowntree
Contact:
rowntree@berk...
What Did She Do?
• Was a pioneer in the study and protection of
California native plants.
• Popularized native plant horti...
Her Horticultural Legacy
“Today, it would be hard to find a professional in the field
of native plant horticulture who was...
Awakening Wanderlust in Others
“I want to know more of Mrs. Rowntree who roams the
California hills with a Ford and a burr...
A Comparison with David Douglas
“There are striking similarities between Lester
Rowntree and David Douglas. In fact, Leste...
The Allure of Lester’s Outdoor Life
(titles of articles about Lester)
“As Thrilling as Any Western Romance”, Begg (1957)
“...
About Lester’s Names
• Born Gertrude Ellen Lester, 1979, in Penrith,
England
• Was called by her last name (Lester) in Wes...
The Rowntree Family
Lester and Bernard Rowntree had one son, Cedric, born in 1911,
who married Harriette Hasty in 1932; th...
Lester’s Early Life in
England and North America
Born in Penrith,
England, 1879
Gertrude Ellen Lester was
born in January 1879 in
Penrith, Cumberland, a
small town just no...
Remembering her youth
in England
Lester lived the first 10 years of her life
in Penrith, a life highlighted by frequent
fa...
The Lester Family
“Nellie”, as she was called by her family, was one of eight children, the
offspring of Edward Lester, a ...
The Lester Family
Moves to Kansas,
1889
This is not the Lester home in Kansas; instead it conveys
a sense of how Nellie re...
And Then to Southern
California
After the children’s deaths, and with the
discovery that their Kansas homestead
well water...
High School at Westtown in
Pennsylvania
This is Nellie’s graduation photo from
Westtown in 1902. That she graduated
high s...
Marriage, Divorce, and a Gypsy Life
Amongst Western Wildflowers
Marriage to Bernard
Rowntree, 1908
After her mother’s death in 1907,
Nellie traveled to England and back
to her beloved Cu...
After marriage, Nellie and Bernard Rowntree settled into this house in Oradell,
New Jersey, where Bernard commuted into Ne...
Moving Back to
California
In 1920, when Lester was
41, she was diagnosed (or,
perhaps, misdiagnosed)
with ovarian cancer a...
Discovering Carmel
Miraculously, Lester did not
die as predicted, so in late
1920 the Rowntree family
joined Lester’s brot...
The Divorce, 1931
Between 1926 and 1931, Bernard and
Lester (which she had now taken as her
first name) lived in the large...
Lester’s House on the
Hill
Within a year of the divorce,
in 1932, while photographing
plants higher up the hill from
where...
“…the life I always longed for”
“It took adversity to bring me to the sort of life I always longed for. Not until
my domes...
Lester’s Life as Native Plant
Botanist and Horticulturalist
The 1930s, 40s, 50s
Lester in the Field
One of Lester’s many
contributions to native plant
ecology was her knowledge
of plants in their natura...
High Sierra Campsite
When asked about this
photo Lester took in the
High Sierra, and specifically
about the tent in the lo...
Besides fieldwork in California Lester botanized widely
throughout the West, including several winter seasons in
northern ...
The Trials of Fieldwork
“The plant stalking business is not all beer and skittles. Fatigue brings
moments when you are dre...
GIVING TALKS AND
LECTURES
An important part of Lester’s
income came from giving
public talks and lectures
about native pla...
“Throwing a Talk”
“In 1940 I decided to get to the states I hadn’t seen
before, so I “talked” my way by giving addresses a...
The Dual Life of Gypsy and Lady
“One of the trials of my life is the difficulty of combining the
arrangements of a lady wi...
A publicity photo, this one taken in 1936 by a local newspaper to
publicize Lester’s lecture at the Santa Barbara Natural ...
Lester’s Cars and Field Gear
“Early in the spring my travels begin, but first I must load the
car. There are no large seat...
Lester Rowntree Seed Company
• In 1929 Lester and her Westtown friend, Lila
Clevenger, formed the Lester Rowntree
seed com...
Conserving Native
Plants
The conservation of native
wildflowers was central to Lester’s
concerns, and was a pioneer in
pro...
Seed Collecting as Conservation
“I wish there was a word one could use instead
of the acquisitive-sounding “collecting”, w...
“I Garnered it Ghoulishly in a Gunnysack”
Although Lester always collected seeds legally,
armed with the proper permits, t...
Lester’s Writings
Lester was a prolific writer who disseminated
her knowledge of native plants and their
horticultural use...
Lester’s Writings (con’t)
Her first article was published in 1928, with 300 more
following by 1941. During that period Les...
Her two Books were reprinted several times: Hardy
Californians in 1936, 1980, and 2006; Flowering Shrubs
of California in ...
Hardy Californians: A Woman’s Life with
Native Plants (2006)
The 2006 edition contains all
of Lester’s 1936 content,
along...
The Bibliography of Lester’s Writings
If Lester kept a bibliography of her published
articles it was destroyed in the 1949...
The 1949 Fires
In 1949, when Lester was 70, a series of wildfires ravaged her life
by destroying her seed collections, the...
Lester’s Children’s Books
After the fire that destroyed the manuscripts
for several books on the plants and trees of
Calif...
With her usual modesty Lester considered her last book, Denny and the Indian
Magic, the “least bad of the four”. In that b...
Lester’s Photography
Lester illustrated her lectures, books, and articles
with her own photos of native plants, taken with...
Ansel Adams
Although Lester became good friends
with Ansel Adams after he moved to
the Carmel Highlands in 1963, one
wonde...
Edward Weston
Another possibility is
that Lester learned
photography from
Edward Weston, a
neighbor in the Carmel
Highland...
Imogene
Cunningham
In the 1920s when she
was living in San
Francisco, Imogene
Cunningham developed
an interest in flowers ...
Lester’s Later (and last) Years
Lester turned 80 in 1959 and continued her active life of fieldwork, travel,
lecturing, and writing until she lost her dri...
Winters in Joshua Tree National Monument
From the late 1950s until Lester lost her driver’s license in 1968, she would loa...
Honorary President of CNPS
The California Native Plant Society (CNPS) was formed in 1965, initially as an
organization to ...
In 1978 the Regional Oral History Office of UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library
started a project on Lester’s life, interviewin...
A Four Generation Rowntree
Home
Lester’s house---referred to simply
as “The Hill”--- was not only her
home, nursery, and g...
Lester with Great-Grandchildren
As mentioned, Lester’s home on the hills above the Pacific was a
favorite gathering place ...
Lester’s Final Days
Several weeks before her 100th
birthday Lester’s health
deteriorated to the point where
she had to be ...
Articles About Lester Rowntree (1)
• Barker, Philip A. “A Visit with Lester Rowntree.” American
Horticultural Magazine 44....
Articles About Lester Rowntree (2)
• Hamann, Skee. “Lester Rowntree, Mountain Mystic.” Journal
of the California Horticult...
Articles About Lester Rowntree (3)
• Levenson, Rosemary. Lester Rowntree: California Native Plant
Woman. Regional Oral His...
Articles About Lester Rowntree (4)
• O’Grady, Sean. “Lester Rowntree: Vernacular Natural
Historian”. ISLE: Interdisciplina...
Internet Resources (1)
California State Library
March 2013 Women’s History Calendar
Lester Rowntree: Field Botanist, Horti...
Internet Resources (2)
Lester Rowntree
http://www.lesrowntree.com/
Lester Rowntree Native Plant Garden
http://www.flanders...
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Lester Rowntree, California Native Plant Woman

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Lester Rowntree (1879-1979) was a pioneer in the study, conservation, and horticultural usage of California native plants. As well, she was a talented writer and photographer who continues to inspire people to experience, enjoy, and protect nature. For more information
about Lester Rowntree, email her grandson Lester Bradford Rowntree, rowntree@berkeley.edu

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Lester Rowntree, California Native Plant Woman

  1. 1. Lester Rowntree: A Woman’s Life with Native Plants A slide presentation by Lester Bradford Rowntree Contact: rowntree@berkeley.edu
  2. 2. What Did She Do? • Was a pioneer in the study and protection of California native plants. • Popularized native plant horticulture through her numerous writings and public lectures • Propagated native plants and disseminated their seeds throughout the world • Led an independent, free-spirited life that, still today, continues to inspires both women and men to explore and appreciate nature
  3. 3. Her Horticultural Legacy “Today, it would be hard to find a professional in the field of native plant horticulture who was not, at some point, inspired by Lester Rowntree. The model of her double focus, wildland exploration and landscape use of plants, is followed by numerous California native plant horticulturists, from arboretum directors to landscapers to nursery professionals, who make regular trips into the wild for the pleasure of observing plants in their homes and to collect seeds and cuttings for propagation “ Judith Larner Lowry, “Supreme Advocate for California Native Plants: Lester Rowntree.” The Landscaping Ideas of Jays. University of California Press. 2007. 78-91
  4. 4. Awakening Wanderlust in Others “I want to know more of Mrs. Rowntree who roams the California hills with a Ford and a burro and a sleeping bag, collecting seeds of the wildflowers all over the West; a seed-gypsy and lover of wildlands; a comely, delightful, small, keen, gentlewoman, who tore the heart out of me with a call to leave all and follow---to listen again to the silence of the hills---to touch the loneliness of nature…” Marion Crane, Gardens in America (1932) p66
  5. 5. A Comparison with David Douglas “There are striking similarities between Lester Rowntree and David Douglas. In fact, Lester could be Douglas’ plant-wise and spiritual descendant [for] Lester’s knowledge of California wild flowers is unrivaled; it is safe to say she knows more about them than Douglas ever knew” Dutton, Joan Parry. Enjoying America’s Gardens. New York: Reynal. 1958 pp 176-177
  6. 6. The Allure of Lester’s Outdoor Life (titles of articles about Lester) “As Thrilling as Any Western Romance”, Begg (1957) “Lester Rowntree, Denizen of the Mountains”,Brandt (1955) “Lester Rowntree, Mountain Mystic”, Hamman (1974) “Lester Rowntree, The Peripatetic Gilbert White”, Ingram (1994) “Lester Rowntree, A Spirit of Keen Joy”, Ingram (1995) (More articles about Lester, with full references at the end of slideshow)
  7. 7. About Lester’s Names • Born Gertrude Ellen Lester, 1979, in Penrith, England • Was called by her last name (Lester) in Westtown prep school near Philadelphia • Married Bernard Rowntree in 1908 • Divorced in 1931, but retained Lester Rowntree as her legal name • Most people, both within and outside the family, called her “Lester” BTW: I was born Lester Bradford Rowntree, and usually go by “Les” to avoid generational and gender confusion
  8. 8. The Rowntree Family Lester and Bernard Rowntree had one son, Cedric, born in 1911, who married Harriette Hasty in 1932; they have three children, Rowan( far right), Lester (far left), and Patricia. The photo below of the Cedric Rowntree family was taken in 1993
  9. 9. Lester’s Early Life in England and North America
  10. 10. Born in Penrith, England, 1879 Gertrude Ellen Lester was born in January 1879 in Penrith, Cumberland, a small town just northeast of the picturesque Lake District in northwestern England. This may be a photo either of her earliest home or that of a family friend’s home in the Lakes.
  11. 11. Remembering her youth in England Lester lived the first 10 years of her life in Penrith, a life highlighted by frequent family outings in the nearby Lakes countryside. She remembers this time fondly, writing late in life: “I am so homesick for my birth land that if I had no family [in California] I would go back to the English Lake District where there are fields of daffodils, meadows of bluebells, and Primula farinose. But I am thankful I am permitted to stay on [in her home in California], where I can look up to the hills and out to the ocean.”
  12. 12. The Lester Family “Nellie”, as she was called by her family, was one of eight children, the offspring of Edward Lester, a prosperous Quaker tea merchant. (Nellie is in the front row, bracketed by brothers)
  13. 13. The Lester Family Moves to Kansas, 1889 This is not the Lester home in Kansas; instead it conveys a sense of how Nellie remembers their frontier neighborhood, with homesteaders in sod houses and Native American villages. The Lester family, we assume, lived in a wooden frame house. For reasons not well explained, a restless Edward Lester moved his family in 1889 from England to a frontier homestead in Kansas, with disastrous results. Two children died from typhoid, and everyone became ill from from tainted well water.
  14. 14. And Then to Southern California After the children’s deaths, and with the discovery that their Kansas homestead well water was contaminated, Edward Lester wisely decided to move farther west to the Quaker community of Altadena in southern California. Here they settled for several decades, and it was in this southern California landscape that Nellie fell in love with wildflowers and began her life’s calling. But first there was the matter of school, so for several years she and her siblings commuted across the country by train, between Altadena and the Quaker Westtown School outside of Philadelphia.
  15. 15. High School at Westtown in Pennsylvania This is Nellie’s graduation photo from Westtown in 1902. That she graduated high school in her early 20s is explained by both the Kansas experience (where she was home-schooled) and, also, that she interrupted her schooling for several years to work as a governess for the president of nearby Haverford College. Although she was offered a scholarship to the new Pennsylvania Horticultural School for Women (now the Ambler Campus of Temple University), upon graduation she was called home to Altadena to care for her dying mother.
  16. 16. Marriage, Divorce, and a Gypsy Life Amongst Western Wildflowers
  17. 17. Marriage to Bernard Rowntree, 1908 After her mother’s death in 1907, Nellie traveled to England and back to her beloved Cumberland for the first time since leaving in 1889. Her companion for that trip was Lila Clevenger, a good friend and classmate from Westtown, whom she would reconnect with in 1932 to start the Lester Rowntree Seed Company in California. But first there was marriage to Bernard Rowntree, who had courted her during her Westtown years. They were married by the Philadelphia Quaker Meeting in 1908. This photo of Bernard Rowntree was taken at that time
  18. 18. After marriage, Nellie and Bernard Rowntree settled into this house in Oradell, New Jersey, where Bernard commuted into New York City to his engineering job and Nellie developed a garden that became a local horticultural showpiece. During this time Lester developed important ties to the eastern horticultural network. These became crucial when she started her California seed company in the 1930s The Rowntree Home, “The Rowans”, in New Jersey, circa 1911
  19. 19. Moving Back to California In 1920, when Lester was 41, she was diagnosed (or, perhaps, misdiagnosed) with ovarian cancer and told her time on Earth was limited. Not wanting to die in New Jersey, she convinced Bernard to move the family to southern California so she could spend her last months amongst the beloved wildflowers of her youth. (This photo is from 1917, with their 6-year old son, Cedric, in their Oradell, NJ garden)
  20. 20. Discovering Carmel Miraculously, Lester did not die as predicted, so in late 1920 the Rowntree family joined Lester’s brother Leonard, a noted landscape painter, and sister Amy in Point Loma, near San Diego. Then, in 1923, when this photo was taken, they visited brother Frank Lester in Monterey and fell in love with the nearby Carmel Highlands area just south of Point Lobos. It was there they settled in 1926….and where Lester made her home until her death in 1979.
  21. 21. The Divorce, 1931 Between 1926 and 1931, Bernard and Lester (which she had now taken as her first name) lived in the large stone house they built in the Carmel Highlands. With 3 acres to garden, Lester turned her full attention to native plants, both at home and in the field, equipped as she was with a new driver’s license and her own car. But domestic bliss was evasive, and in 1931 she and Bernard divorced. Although the gypsy in her was free to wander, Lester was also broke and homeless at age 52: “I was convinced I was going to starve. But every morning when I would awake and see the sun I would be cheered that I had made it to another day…..I made the break, and my life began!”
  22. 22. Lester’s House on the Hill Within a year of the divorce, in 1932, while photographing plants higher up the hill from where she and Bernard lived, Lester found a sunny spot above the coastal Monterey Pine forest where her spirit called out “Build here; build here!”. With money from her writings and by bartering her gardening skills with local craftspeople, she built the house that was her logistical and spiritual home for the rest of her life.
  23. 23. “…the life I always longed for” “It took adversity to bring me to the sort of life I always longed for. Not until my domestic happiness had gone to smash did I realize I was free to trek up and down the long state of California, to write down their tricks and manners in my notebook, to photograph their flowers, collect their seeds, to bring home seedlings in cans just emptied of tomato juice… “I didn’t take up this for the poetry of it. I had no ambition to become a picturesque Lady Gipsy. I honestly wanted to find out about California flowers. There was little written about them in their habitats and nothing at all about their behavior in the garden, so I made it my job to discover the facts for myself. “I inhabit my hillside home only from November to February, while the winter storms are blowing and the winter rains pouring. In March and April I have long shining days in the desert, in May happy weeks in the foothill, where a chorus of robins wakes me, and my morning bath is in a rushing stream of just-melted snow. In June I am in the northern counties scented with new-mown hay and wild strawberries. In July in the higher mountains, and in August and September up in the alpine zone with mule or burro.” Lester Rowntree, “The Lone Hunter”, Atlantic Monthly, 163 (June 1939) pp 809- 10
  24. 24. Lester’s Life as Native Plant Botanist and Horticulturalist The 1930s, 40s, 50s
  25. 25. Lester in the Field One of Lester’s many contributions to native plant ecology was her knowledge of plants in their natural habitat, knowledge garnered through vast amounts of time in the field. To do so she spent half the year doing fieldwork, traveling California from low desert to high mountains. In this photo she is with her mule “Skimpy” on Piute Pass in the Sierra. Much of the mule’s load is camera and collecting material since Lester herself preferred sleeping outside in her bedroll, not in a tent.
  26. 26. High Sierra Campsite When asked about this photo Lester took in the High Sierra, and specifically about the tent in the lower left, she said rather indignantly, “Oh, the tent was to protect the camera gear---I always sleep in the open!”
  27. 27. Besides fieldwork in California Lester botanized widely throughout the West, including several winter seasons in northern Mexico This photo is in the Beartooth Range of Montana .
  28. 28. The Trials of Fieldwork “The plant stalking business is not all beer and skittles. Fatigue brings moments when you are drenched in gloom. Intense heat, severe cold, attacks of loneliness, the limited diet, thunder and lightning sweeping above you as you cling to some bald mountain, all carry with them times of profound misery. Dust and ants get in your food; burrs and stickers in your clothes; snakes in your sleeping bag; insects sting, and bears raid the food supply. None of these discomforts are so great that the spirit of enthusiasm cannot surmount them… “But you must steel yourself to bear the agonizing disappointment of some precious seed or flower missed by just a day or two, of high winds on the one chance of a good photograph, or devastation wrought by cattle, sheep, or deer. You may go five hundred miles more in search of a certain plant only to find that the bloom is just spent or the seed just fallen, or that will not be ripe for a fortnight….or that the ardent real estate developer has outstripped you by a couple of days, torn out the rare endemic dwarf Manzanita and planted in their place the ubiquitous Pittosporum.” “A Plant Hunter Writes About Her Profession”. House and Garden, (1936) p36
  29. 29. GIVING TALKS AND LECTURES An important part of Lester’s income came from giving public talks and lectures about native plants, horticulture, and her travels. Lester often combined fieldwork with giving talks, as Lester discusses on the next two slides. This photo is a publicity shot taken to advertise a lecture in 1940
  30. 30. “Throwing a Talk” “In 1940 I decided to get to the states I hadn’t seen before, so I “talked” my way by giving addresses at garden clubs and schools. I’d wake up on the top of some mountain and remember that I was broke, so I’d have to hike to town, change from gypsy garb to “lady clothes”, sleep in a stuffy room overnight, “throw a talk”, and then get back to my mountains-- -perhaps the “balds” of Kentucky and Tennessee” John Woolfended, “Lester Rowntree”, Journal of the California Horticultural Society 1968
  31. 31. The Dual Life of Gypsy and Lady “One of the trials of my life is the difficulty of combining the arrangements of a lady with those of a gypsy. I don’t want to give up either sort of existence, and yet they just don’t mix, especially when I must be both on the same trip. The flower presses scratch my good luggage, the canteens rip on my handbag, my hat flies out the window, and I have to go to a town and buy another. A large and benevolent steamer rug is supposed to cover the manifold trappings in the car, but a sudden jolting stop is sure to bring all the disgraces tumbling out into the light, and before I have tucked them back in again my nice clean hands are dusty and there is a run in my silk stockings.” Lester Rowntree, “Lone Hunter” Atlantic Monthly , 1939
  32. 32. A publicity photo, this one taken in 1936 by a local newspaper to publicize Lester’s lecture at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum. Note how her the car is stuffed with field gear, and that the passenger seat has been removed for better access to the gear storage area in the back.
  33. 33. Lester’s Cars and Field Gear “Early in the spring my travels begin, but first I must load the car. There are no large seats in my car, only my own little leather driver’s seat, which stays with me when one model is turned in for the next. Because on rainy or snowy nights I leave the ground and crawl into the car to sleep, it must have a flat floor; and since it is my home for weeks at a time it must have room for a great many things---flower presses, books, photographic gadgets, canteens, tools, and seed bags. Each year I also take a long-handled shovel and a forbidding-looking axe on a 10,000 mile ride. They go along only because the Forest Service requires it---both are far too big and heavy for me to handle”. Lester Rowntree, “Lone Hunter”, Atlantic Monthly 1939
  34. 34. Lester Rowntree Seed Company • In 1929 Lester and her Westtown friend, Lila Clevenger, formed the Lester Rowntree seed company. • After the divorce in 1931, as Lester spent more time in the field, Ms Clevenger, who built a small house near Lester’s in the Carmel Highlands, tended the nursery and business end of matters in Carmel while Lester did the collecting in the field. • In 1946, because of ill health, Lila Clevenger left the partnership. • At the company’s apogee in the late 1930s, the catalog listed seeds from 400 native plants, with over 4000 subscribers.
  35. 35. Conserving Native Plants The conservation of native wildflowers was central to Lester’s concerns, and was a pioneer in promoting ways to save native flora in the early 1930s: “Conservation must not stop simply at preventing a plant from being destroyed in situ….conservation in its broadest sense means also seeing to it that the desirable species exposed to extermination are perpetuated, or at least being given a chance to carry on in another place.” Plant Collecting: An Aid to Conservation (1938)
  36. 36. Seed Collecting as Conservation “I wish there was a word one could use instead of the acquisitive-sounding “collecting”, which has such a vampirish and predatory ring. Intelligent collecting is a conservation measure; indeed the work is legitimate only when done with knowledge and forethought and when the motive is the preservation of the plants themselves.” Lester Rowntree Hardy Californians, 1936 p 12.
  37. 37. “I Garnered it Ghoulishly in a Gunnysack” Although Lester always collected seeds legally, armed with the proper permits, there were times when extra-legal measures seemed appropriate. After the city of San Francisco turned a deaf ear to Lester and Alice Eastwood’s pleading to preserve a rare manzanita (A. franciscana) found on the Laurel Hill cemetery site, Lester snuck into the area under the cover of night and collected several of the plants before the bulldozers arrived. She then delivered one plant to Jim Roof, curator of the Tilden Park Botanic Garden in Berkeley, who asked how she got it. “I garnered it ghoulishly in a gunnysack” Lester replied. Long thought to be extinct, what might be the last remaining wild A. franciscana was discovered in 2009 at a highway construction site near the Golden Gate Bridge.
  38. 38. Lester’s Writings Lester was a prolific writer who disseminated her knowledge of native plants and their horticultural uses while also arguing for their conservation and protection. She wrote two well-received books, over 700 articles, and, after a fire destroyed her field notes and manuscripts in progress, 4 children’s books.
  39. 39. Lester’s Writings (con’t) Her first article was published in 1928, with 300 more following by 1941. During that period Lester also authored two books. Lester published regularly through 1956 (she was 80 in 1959), with production slowing considerably in the 1960s. Lester’s last 4 articles were published in the California Native Plant Society’s Fremontia, 1975-1977. (Lester was now in her 90s) These articles were on Sierra-Nevada plants, drafted in the late 1940s for another project. Margaret Campbell of the California Academy of Science worked with Lester on these articles before they appeared in Fremontia
  40. 40. Her two Books were reprinted several times: Hardy Californians in 1936, 1980, and 2006; Flowering Shrubs of California in 1939 and 1948
  41. 41. Hardy Californians: A Woman’s Life with Native Plants (2006) The 2006 edition contains all of Lester’s 1936 content, along with a detailed biography by her two grandsons, a chapter by Judith Lowry on Lester’s horticultural legacy, a complete bibliography of Lester’s writings by Rosemary Foster, and an updated species list by Allison Green Kidder
  42. 42. The Bibliography of Lester’s Writings If Lester kept a bibliography of her published articles it was destroyed in the 1949 fire for her family did not know of her prolific writings until Rosemary Foster, a family friend and horticulturalist, took on the task in 1983 as a Senior Project for her degree at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. The details of her work---as well as a complete bibliography of over 700 articles--- are found in the 2006 expanded edition of Hardy Californians.
  43. 43. The 1949 Fires In 1949, when Lester was 70, a series of wildfires ravaged her life by destroying her seed collections, the nursery house with its hundreds of potted plants and seed bags, and, perhaps most devastating, the writing studio that contained her field notes, photographs, and several book manuscripts in progress. Jim Roof described the aftermath “It (the studio) had all her notes from the time she finished “Flowering Shrubs (in 1939)…and losing all of that really broke her up. She was never the same again. She lost all the notes that she had made on the ground in the Sierra”. Several years later, Lester was more sanguine, saying only, “the fires were a great help in simplifying my life”.
  44. 44. Lester’s Children’s Books After the fire that destroyed the manuscripts for several books on the plants and trees of California, Lester found solace of sorts by writing four children’s books during the 1950s: 1952, Ronnie 1953, Ronnie and Don 1955, Little Turkey 1959, Denny and the Indian Magic All were published by Viking Press in New York, and were illustrated by several different freelance artists. In these books Lester drew heavily upon her field experiences for her characters, landscapes, and animal lore. All of these books have strong natural history themes as her characters learn life lessons through their interactions with nature.
  45. 45. With her usual modesty Lester considered her last book, Denny and the Indian Magic, the “least bad of the four”. In that book young Denny is blinded by an outdoor accident, then recovers his sight during a hospital stay during which he is kept company and healed by visitations from wild animals. Lester drafted this book when she herself was hospitalized after an accident that left her temporarily blinded.
  46. 46. Lester’s Photography Lester illustrated her lectures, books, and articles with her own photos of native plants, taken with a large format camera mounted on a tripod. Within the family we’ve wondered how she learned her photographic skills. Several possibilities come to mind
  47. 47. Ansel Adams Although Lester became good friends with Ansel Adams after he moved to the Carmel Highlands in 1963, one wonders if she had met him earlier in the 1930s, perhaps in the Sierra, and learned from Adams large format photography.
  48. 48. Edward Weston Another possibility is that Lester learned photography from Edward Weston, a neighbor in the Carmel Highlands from 1929 on, and owner of a camera shop in Carmel where receipts tell us Lester had her film developed and prints made.
  49. 49. Imogene Cunningham In the 1920s when she was living in San Francisco, Imogene Cunningham developed an interest in flowers and learned more about plants from Jimmy West, a mutual friend at the UC Botanical Garden. However, Lester never mentioned that the two had met previously when Cunningham came to Carmel in the early 1970s to photograph Lester for a book about elderly people. .
  50. 50. Lester’s Later (and last) Years
  51. 51. Lester turned 80 in 1959 and continued her active life of fieldwork, travel, lecturing, and writing until she lost her driver’s license 1968, a year before her 90th birthday. This was a devastating blow to her independent life for no longer could she move about as she pleased. Instead, she had to depend on others to do her shopping in town or drive her to field sites. A silver lining for her two grandsons is they learned much about native plants while driving Lester about the California countryside. The photo below is of Lester giving a talk at UC Davis in 1968.
  52. 52. Winters in Joshua Tree National Monument From the late 1950s until Lester lost her driver’s license in 1968, she would load up her Jeep Station Wagon with gear and spend much of the California winter doing fieldwork and writing in or near the Joshua Tree National Monument. Often she’d work out of a house owned by a friend in Twenty Nine Palms that backed up to the Monument border. Often Lester would hike out the backdoor and into the park, commonly spending much of the day in the desert landscape. In these two photos Nancy St Clair visits with Lester in the desert.
  53. 53. Honorary President of CNPS The California Native Plant Society (CNPS) was formed in 1965, initially as an organization to protect the Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Berkeley’s Tilden Park, then, later that year once the Garden’s future was assured, CNPS broadened its goals to study, inventory, and protect native plants throughout the state. Because of her long involvement with California native plants, Lester was named the new organization’s Honorary President, a position she held until her death in January 1979. Lester was also honored by the American Horticultural Society in 1971 and the California Horticultural Society in 1974.
  54. 54. In 1978 the Regional Oral History Office of UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library started a project on Lester’s life, interviewing her, the family, and many others including a wide array of native plan botanists and horticulturalists. Rosemary Levenson was the project director and major interviewer. The resulting volume and film, Lester Rowntree, California Native Plan Woman, appeared in 1979, several months after Lester’s death. Unfortunately, the film portion of the project was done just after Lester had a minor stroke that impaired her speech, consequently she does not come across particularly well in the film. (An online version of the Lester Rowntree oral history can be accessed from the address on the Internet Resources slide. First, however, one must click on an “agree” statement from ROHO. A bit confusing, true, yet eventually one will get to the Rowntree project)
  55. 55. A Four Generation Rowntree Home Lester’s house---referred to simply as “The Hill”--- was not only her home, nursery, and garden, but over the decades became the locus for the whole Rowntree family, a place she shared graciously with four generations. This was where her son and daughter-in-law lived while caring for Lester in her later years; a place where grandchildren were always welcome, where they married and birthed great- grandchildren; where family and friends always found joy and renewal.
  56. 56. Lester with Great-Grandchildren As mentioned, Lester’s home on the hills above the Pacific was a favorite gathering place for the Rowntree family, not just for visits but for special occasions like weddings, birthdays, even birthing. On the left Lester holds a young Jenny Rowntree in 1962; on the right she cradles Erika Rowntree who was born in 1965 a few days earlier in the Highlands house. In 1980, Timmy Nash was also born in her house
  57. 57. Lester’s Final Days Several weeks before her 100th birthday Lester’s health deteriorated to the point where she had to be moved off her beloved hill to a Carmel hospice. Despite her poor health, Lester hung on until her 100th birthday, knowing, we think, that she would receive a telegram of congratulations from Queen Elizabeth of England. When we read her the telegram (Lester’s eyesight had failed), she asked that it be read once again, which we did. Lester’s only response--- and her last words--- was an emphatic “There!”. She passed 5 days later.
  58. 58. Articles About Lester Rowntree (1) • Barker, Philip A. “A Visit with Lester Rowntree.” American Horticultural Magazine 44. No 1 (January 1965): 32-35 • Begg, Virginia Lopez. “As Thrilling as Any Western Romance.” Pacific Horticulture 55, no 2 (1994): 16-18. • Brandt, Cora R. “Lester Rowntree: Denizen of the Mountains.” Journal of the California Horticultural Society 14. No 1 (January 1955): 8-17. • Crane, Marion. Gardens in America. New York: Macmillan. 1932 • Donlon, Rosemary. “Lester Rowntree.” Manzanita (Summer 1988): 8-9. • Dutton, Joan Parry. Enjoying America’s Gardens. New York: Reynal. 1958.
  59. 59. Articles About Lester Rowntree (2) • Hamann, Skee. “Lester Rowntree, Mountain Mystic.” Journal of the California Horticultural Society 35, no 2 (1974): 73-76 • --------- “The Seed Collector.” The Countryman (Summer 1974): 160-162 • --------- “The Wildflower Lover at Ninety-Seven.” Fremontia 3, no 4 (January 1976): 3-8 • Ingram, Marie. “Lester Rowntree (1879-1979). Part One: The Peripatetic Gilbert White.” Hortus 8, no 3 (1994): 2-81. • -------- “Lester Rowntree (1879-1979). Part Two: Sanctuary--- Conserving the Worthwhile.” Hortus 8, no 4 (1994): 81-96. • -------- “Lester Rowntree (1879-1979). Part Three: A Sprit of Keen Joy.” Hortus 9, no 1 (1995) 69-87. • -------- “Lester Rowntree (1879-1979). Part Three: A Sprit of Keen Joy.” Hortus 9, no 1 (1995) 69-87.
  60. 60. Articles About Lester Rowntree (3) • Levenson, Rosemary. Lester Rowntree: California Native Plant Woman. Regional Oral History Office, Bancroft Library, University of California. 1979. 344 pages • Lowry, Judith L. “Lester Rowntree’s Horticultural Legacy.” Hardy Californians: A Woman’s Life with Native Plants. New, Expanded Edition. Lester B. Rowntree, editor. University of California Press. 2006. xlvii-lxxiv • -------- “Supreme Advocate for California Native Plants: Lester Rowntree.” The Landscaping Ideas of Jays. University of California Press. 2007. 78-91. • O’Conner, Natalie G. “Plantsmen in Profile. XI: Lester Rowntree.” Baileya. 11, no. 2 (June 1963): 53.
  61. 61. Articles About Lester Rowntree (4) • O’Grady, Sean. “Lester Rowntree: Vernacular Natural Historian”. ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment. Spring 1993/ v 1 no 1, pp 97-105 • Pearce, F. Owen. “Lester Rowntree.” Bulletin of the Alpine Rock Garden Society 35, no 1 (Winter 1980): 13-19. • Rowntree, Lester B. and Rowan A. Rowntree. “About Lester.” Hardy Californians: A Woman’s Life with Native Plants. New, Expanded Edition. University of California Press. Lester B. Rowntree, editor. 2006. xv-xlvi • Woolfenden, John. “Lester Rowntree.” Journal of the California Horticultural Society 29, no.4 (October 1968): 98-126.
  62. 62. Internet Resources (1) California State Library March 2013 Women’s History Calendar Lester Rowntree: Field Botanist, Horticulturalist http://www.library.ca.gov/calhist/calendar4.html David Douglas http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Douglas Lester Rowntree, California Native Plant Woman Regional Oral History Office University of California, Berkeley http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/cgi- bin/roho_disclaimer_cgi.pl?target=http://www.archive.org/details/nativepl antwomen00lestrich
  63. 63. Internet Resources (2) Lester Rowntree http://www.lesrowntree.com/ Lester Rowntree Native Plant Garden http://www.flandersfoundation.org/historymtnp.htm University of California Press. Hardy Californians (2006) http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=97805202505 12

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