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CHARLES RAGER: HIS PLANTS, HIS SERVICE, HIS FRIENDS

By Dr. James E. Sefton

"Looking back, I would have to say those were wonderful years [the 1980s], and

Charles Rager's seedlings, new introductions, and constant curiosity were a huge part of it

all. No one could have had more fun, or taken more delight in his new discoveries and

'surprise' plants than Charles!"

                     

        ‘Spotlite Hotline’ flower & eaf             ‘Jackpot Wild Rose’¹          ‘Jackpot Majestic’²              ‘Lil Pat’³

                

      ‘Rager’s Pink’4                            ‘Rager’s Star’5                                         ‘Big Red’                        ‘Oakwood Surprise'

                 

      ‘Betty Boop’                       ‘Sarahtoga’                          ‘Rager’s Five Spot                ‘Cream ‘n’ Green’ 6

Thus does Kay Young, who with her husband Bill operated  Young's Mesa Nursery in the 1980s,

think of Charles Rager. Indeed, to anyone who knows him, Charles is a delightful person.

Born 87 years ago on a farm in Crawford County, Pennsylvania,

he had his first garden at age six and has enjoyed plants (and people) ever since.

Army duty in World War II brought him to Camp San Luis Obispo on California's Central

Coast, where he remained as a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. employee for 32 years. Now

retired to Saratoga, he keeps active with geraniums, though limited to a small number of

miniatures and dwarfs in his room.

Why geraniums? Charles credits his addiction to Helen Van Pelt Wilson's The Joy

of Geraniums (1947), which gave the plants wide public attention. He joined IGS in 1967,

became a Board member in 1971, and Membership Secretary in 1972. The same year, he

helped found the Central Coast Branch. He has been a Life Member of IGS since 1987.

Charles has always liked performing service and meeting people. Though limited

now by health problems, he still enjoys going to meetings. JoAnn Smith remembers how in

the early days they would be on the road before sunup to attend a show and Charles would

chuckle, "Just think, most people are still lying in bed while we are out having fun!" Gregarious

and inquisitive by nature, Charles liked the IGS scene of thirty years ago because he

could meet prominent hybridizers like Bill Schmidt, Clara May, Holmes Miller, and Frances

Hartsook. Charles' travels and conversations reinforced with ideas and techniques his life-long

curiosity about hybridizing, which has included fruit and vegetables as well as flowers. Bill

Schmidt used to say that for all the labor of his own efforts, a bee was still the best hybridizer.

And Charles was never one to let the little creatures' work go unappreciated. While

serving as Membership Secretary he had dozens of plants in his yard producing dozens of

seeds. He started packaging them up and sending them to members, a practice that began the

Seed Exchange, the lineal ancestor of the current Seed Center. This

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(Continued on Page 3.)

exemplifies one of the main themes of Charles' life with plants: do fun things that make

nice people happy.

Always looking for new ways to share his hobby with others, Charles became

an avid photographer. As Kay Young remembers: "When Mrs. Rager was still able to

travel in their motorhome he would come down to the nursery, set up his backdrops and

spare camera, and spend the good part of a day photographing blooms at the nursery."

Many of his slides appeared in shows for the Central Coast Branch, and he submitted

many photos to this journal.

As a hybridizer Charles did not seek national commercial success. He did not

sell plants to mass marketers in hopes of royalties. He was quite satisfied to give plants

away at meetings, sell them at local shows, and introduce them through Young's Mesa

Nursery. When the nursery introduced his plants, they were always the best in growth

habit, flower size, and color out of many examples, and the introduction would be a

group of the same type, such as Angels, Ivies, or Semi-dwarf Zonals. The nursery catalog

for 1989 featured a group of 20 new Semi-dwarf Zonals that Charles named the

Jackpot Series. These he introduced himself as a body of work at the l988 Central Coast

show and then turned the plants over to the nursery for development and sale.

Charles raised hundreds of seedlings from bee crosses, and hundreds more from

his personal hybridizing. Like all careful growers he kept records, but not all have survived

his various residential moves. In late 2002 he compiled from his available records

an inventory of 104 plants he had created between 1977 and 2001. The inventory consists

of 37 Zonals, 25 Angels, 18 Ivies, 14 Scenteds, 8 Species, and 2 Regals.

Charles named the first plant in what became the Jackpot Series of Zonals

"Janet," without the prefix, in honor of his wife. As with those that followed, the seed

parent was "Salmon Floral Cascade" and the pollen parent an unnamed dwarf seedling.

"Janet" is a double rose pink. Among the others, "Jackpot Orange Ruffles" is a small

double orange, "Jackpot White Cap" a double white, "Jackpot Summertime" a semidouble

light pink, and "Jackpot Chief" a large double orange-red. The plants are all

semi-dwarf, but very bushy and floriferous. Elsewhere among Charles' Zonals, "Happy"

produced "Li'l Pat," a double peach and white, "Black Vesuvius" generated "Orange

Gem," and "Deacon Barbecue" produced "Rager's Pink."

Another major series was the Spotlite line of Ivies, created in 1987. All thirteen

were the product of grafts, which appealed very much to Charles' curiosity. In some

cases he started with an unnamed "Summer Showers" F-1 seedling, in others a wellestablished

cultivar. The grafts included "Rouletta," "Crocodile," "Harlequin Mahogany,"

"Harlequin Picotee," and "Harlequin My Love." Thus, "Spotlite Destiny," a double

lavender with white stripes on each petal, came from a "Harlequin Mahogany" graft

onto "Mrs. Martin." "Spotlite Gigolo," in which Charles grafted "Rouletta" onto

"Monty," emerged, not surprisingly as an orange with a white stripe. When "Harlequin

Mahogany" received a graft of "Crocodile," the result was "Spotlite Knockout," showing

off its mahogany petals, white stripe, and mottled green and white leaves. One of the

most remembered in the series is "Spotlite Plum Tart," a single purple with a white

stripe that came from grafting "Rouletta" onto a "Summer Showers" seedling. It is a

good basket plant if you like long trailing stems.

Footnotes: 1. www.pelargoniumoasen.blogspot.com 2. www.monicaliljaingelmark.se/

3. thegeraniumpage.com/ 4. picasaweb.google.com (Elena LIoganson’s Gallery) 5.

spek.bizland.com/ 6. www.fuchsia.be/en/

There were other well-appreciated Ivies along the way. "Burgundy Beauty," of

grower's love but unremembered parentage, is a very strong basket plant which had favored

status at Young's. "Big Red," which came from "Decora Red" in 1986, proved to

be another good basket plant. "Blue Ribbon," a progeny of "Decora Lavender," proved

true to its name by winning blue ribbons at the Central Coast show and also the Mid-

State Fair in 1986.

Most of Charles' Scenteds are forms of lemon. This was a special focus in 1998-

99, when he raised large numbers of seedlings from P. crispum and P. citronellum.

These became the "Rager's Lemon" series, with numbers rather than unique names.

They vary in flower size and other minor floral characteristics, and some have a particularly

strong scent, such as No. 2, a tall citronellum seedling with a flower similar to

"Frensham."

Charles' contributions to the world of Angels are chance seedlings, in some

cases second generation ones. An example is "Oakwood Surprise," whose upper petals

are various shades of purple and the lower petals white. This arrived as a seed from the

Seed Center in 1996, won a blue ribbon at the 1997 Central Coast show, and soon produced

"Oakwood Starlet" (1999), which in turn produced "Mabel's Angel," "Linda's

Angel," "Lynne's Angel," and "Starlet's Sister" in 2001. Charles also found interesting

results in seeds from "Old Orchard," "Solferino," "Roller's Shadow," and of course

"Veronica Contreras," long a favorite of collectors. That famous plant gave Charles one

descendant with dark red-purple centers to lavender upper petals and white lowers with

lavender lines. Not knowing what to call it, Charles asked JoAnn Smith, always a source

of amusing plant names, who christened it "Betty Boop."

The wild colors and markings of Regals are a hybridizer's challenge. Charles

introduced only two, neither a deliberate cross. One is "Marsolee," a dark purple and red

bicolor, that came to him from Charles Blodgett as a second generation seedling. The

other, "Cream "n Green" for its variegated leaves, is pink with white edges and a dark

blotch on each petal. Some people will say this is a strange regal because it is a sport of

a seedling of "New Gypsy," which is itself a sport of "Firedancer." It went to England in

1983 where, odd or not, it grew well and gave pleasure.

If Charles developed few Regals, he planted many seeds of P. cucullatum, the

chief ancestor of the Regals. The results, however, were limited. Chance seedlings from

this species, while numerous, offer a narrow range of variations in lines and shadings, a

characteristic confirmed in Charles' inventory.

It is a common social game in geranium circles to ask someone what his or her

favorite plant is. To answer is often difficult, all the more so if one is a hybridizer as

well as a collector. Charles lists six favorites: "Marsolee," "Cream "n Green," "Janet,"

"Spotlite Plum Tart," "Burgundy Beauty," and "Geri Rush," one of his Angels. The selection

of favorites is always personal and subjective, and there are always many left

behind. But while Charles provided six choices for this essay, the truth is he has loved

all his plants, spectacular or plain, unique or common, named or nameless.

The truth also is that all of the different activities -- the service to IGS, the traveling

to meetings, the visiting with growers, the photography, the home hybridizing, the

selling and giving of plants -- all go together to form a consistent whole. They all confirm

the sharing, happiness, and intellectual curiosity that have marked his eighty-year

life with plants, going back to that little boy garden in rural Conneautville, Pennsylvania.

 

[This article originally appeared in Geraniums Around the World, Volume 54, No. 2,

2006, pp. 13-16. It is reprinted here with kind permission of the last editor, Faye

Brawner, and the author, Dr. James Sefton.]

 

Note from Bill Lemke: One of Charles’ last Angels named by JoAnne Smith is ‘Sarahtoga’ (the correct spelling

is “Sarahtoga”). This a beautiful angel available from Robin Parer’s nursery as ‘Saratoga.’

N.B. All photographs are by Wayne Handlos unless otherwise noted.