On May 9, 2015, the Arboretum received a special visit from descendants of Jackson Thornton Dawson (1841-1916), the first Plant Propagator of the Arnold Arboretum and indeed the first person hired by Charles Sargent for the staff of his new arboretum. Great grandson Channing Dawson, his wife, and children came to present the Archives with two medals which had been awarded to Jackson during his career, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society (MHS) Silver Medal, and the Newport Horticultural Society Bronze Medal.
The MHS medal was awarded at their Spring Exhibition in March 1896, for Dawson’s Crimson Rambler Rose. The Society’s Transactions of that year sing the rose’s praises,
“Undoubtedly a great attraction was Jackson Dawson’s Crimson Rambler Rose; to describe the beauty of this plant with its thousands of brilliant flowers would be almost impossible; some of the trusses carried as many as forty flowers and buds Your Committee deemed this a great acquisition and awarded Mr Dawson the Society Silver Medal.”Bowditch, Azell C., Chairman. “Report of the Committee on Plants for the Year 1896.”Transactions of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, 1896 (Boston : Dutton and Wentworth’s) [HOLLIS].
The Newport Horticultural Society Medal was awarded to Dawson on September 13, 1913, for his white creeping rose, Rosa rugosa repens alba.
Dawson was a horticulturist of exceptional ability, and it was said only half in jest, that he could coax life from a dead stick. During his work as Plant Propagator for the Arnold Arboretum, Dawson lived and raised his family in the white frame house at 1090 Centre Street. It was here that he also maintained the Arboretum’s propagation facilities, including a greenhouse and outdoor nursery. All of the seeds and cuttings sent by Arboretum collectors in this period, including Ernest Wilson, William Purdom, and John Jack, were raised here. In total he raised 450,718 plants and distributed 47,993 seed packets during his 43 years as Arboretum Propagator.
Jackson Dawson was also honored posthumously by the MHS in 1927 by the creation of the Dawson Memorial Medal for “skill in the science and practice of hybridization and propagation of hardy woody plants.”
Arboretum Plant Propagator Jack Alexander is a recipient of the Dawson Medal.
Connor Geary, Sheila and Hutchinson, B. June. “Mr. Dawson, Plantsman.” Arnoldia 40(2), March/April 1980 [pdf].
–Lisa Pearson, Head of Library and Archives