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Hibiscus legacy endures with volunteer effort

By Staff | May 20, 2015

Bill Wollschlager’s growing legacy has been preserved by volunteers and friends. PHOTO PROVIDED

By CRAIG GARRETT

cgarrett@breezenewspapers.com

Friends have helped in preserving the legacy of an island flower grower and judging legend.

Bill Wollschlager’s hibiscus plants in Sanibel had fallen on hard times, drooping and thirsty. The award-winning grower and nationally recognized judged died in March, leaving a garden of some 100 hibiscus plants of various sizes and colors. Ann Wollschlager was in mourning at the loss of her husband, and had little idea on managing a garden of such prestige. So she called on friends at the James E. Hendry Chapter of the American Hibiscus Society, one of the nation’s older and better recognized clubs.

Volunteers with the Fort Myers club arrived with bags of potting soil, garden tools and the knowledge on exact pruning techniques, said Wanda Schmoyer, Hendry Chapter president. The volunteers spent most of a day pruning and re-potting every hibiscus plant, she said. The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, or SCCF, and other sources had donated larger pots to re-plant the flowers, Schmoyer said.

Ann Wollschlager also received a quickie flyover on tending delicate flowers. Mrs. Wollschlager, Wanda Schmoyer said, “is fulfilling Bill’s legacy with all the plants he left her with. He will be forever missed.”

Bill Wollschlager for years was recognized as one of the nation’s best in growing and judging hibiscus, the subtropical flower that graces and colors so many southwest Florida yards and homes. His hibiscus entered in a 2013 competition in Fort Myers was named best in show. He had rooms of medals and trophies. He also traveled the southern states in judging events. He retired from the highly competitive hobby after the 2014 Fort Myers hibiscus show.

The James E. Hendry Chapter has been named the best of 22 chapters in a region covering three states and a US territory. Wollschlager was regarded as the chapter’s finest and most creative grower. The Hendry Chapter is part of the American Hibiscus Society and dates to 1952. There are seven Florida chapters. The Hendry Chapter’s next show in Fort Myers is June 6.

While age and health issues had slowed him last year, the tickle of regularly earning best of show had not subsided, Wollschlager told the Islander in 2014. He passed way in March from complications of Parkinson’s Disease, his wife said. He was 86.

Hibiscus is a shrub that grows big, broad petaled flowers. One species has been used for paper, others for a tangy tea and medicine. It is also the national flower in many nations, used widely as a decoration in others. One culture uses hibiscus to signify a woman’s marital status.

But Americans mostly are captured by the flower’s larger-than-life beauty, the ability to create hybrids of extreme elegance and color. Wollschlager’s backyard, for instance, was graced with full and miniature-sized hybrids in deep purples, burgundy and blues. Pink, yellow and red hibiscus dotted the Sanibel yard, which also holds patches of wild flowers, frangipani, a poinsettia and others of great luster. Along with dozens of show ribbons and a crystal achievement award, orchids and a wonderful sea-shell collection fill the Wollschlager home.

“We came from an era when families had gardens,” Ann Wollschlager said. “It was a different generation,” noting that her husband’s aunt was an acclaimed rose grower. “So it ran in his family,” she added.

The James E. Hendry American Hibiscus Society’s June 6 annual plant show and sale is at CityGate Ministries, 1735 Jackson Street in downtown Fort Myers. The show is open to the public from 1-4 p.m. Few expect Ann Wollschlager to enter the show, as the plants follow a regulated lifecycle.

But should blooms suddenly appear, “who knows,” Schmoyer said. “We would be graciously receiving them.”

Show/sale details and growing help are at hendrychapterahs.com.