Elizabeth “Betty” Corning was as energetic and forceful as her husband. Elizabeth Norris Platt was educated at the Springside School in Philadelphia and the Florentine School for Girls in Florence, Italy.
She married Erastus Corning 2nd in 1932. Betty strongly believed in the value of public gardens as places to feed the mind and soul and exemplified this tenet by supporting many American gardens with her time, talent, and finances. In 1962, Mrs. Corning was elected president of the National Garden Club of America and re-elected the following year. As president, she supported the National Audubon Society’s program to rescue the leopard from extinction. In 1971, she was awarded the Garden Club of America’s achievement medal. In 1987, Russell Sage College in Troy awarded her an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. She also served as director of the American Horticultural Society and the New York Botanical Garden.
Betty Corning was an important part of the Arboretum, serving for 20 years as a trustee and as president of the Board from 1985 until her death in 1993. As president, she guided the Arboretum through the difficult period after the death of founder Fred Lape in 1985. She oversaw many improvements, including the construction of the Bernard Harkness Library and the greenhouse, along with the rehabilitation and enhancement of the flower gardens.
Perhaps her best-known legacy is the Clematis viticella ‘Betty Corning,’ thought to be a cross between C. crispa and C. viticella. It is a late, semi-woody climbing vine, known world-wide for its single, nodding, bell-shaped, pale lilac flowers (to 2” long) with recurved tips. It typically grows to 6’ tall with slightly fragrant flowers that freely bloom from summer to fall. It is a vigorous and easy to grow variety with the spring foliage often tinted with bronze, extending its seasonal interest. In 1932, Betty Corning discovered this plant growing at a small house in Albany, NY. She noticed its unusual color and form and was successful in rooting a number of cuttings. The plant was subsequently registered at the International Center of Woody Plants at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston.
The next time you visit the Arboretum, be sure to look for our labeled specimen located in the Van Loveland perennial garden. Begin by standing on the driveway in front of the farm house facing the garden. It is just to the right of the stone patio and stairs which leads out into the field.