Notes from San Francisco
By Roy L. Hudson
The prediction made in my notes for the January Bulletin was richly justified during the flowering season just past. This was truly Rhododendron Year in Golden Gate Park. Never before have we had such prodigal bloom, rich colors and massed beauty, lasting over an extraordinarily long time. The ideal wood ripening and bud setting weather of the fall season, reported in January, was followed by the wettest late spring since 1925. The ground was constantly moist and the air was charged with moisture throughout the flowering period which was ideal for a lush and long-lasting display.
Our weather experts explained that the stratospheric jet streams have shifted a thousand miles south which accounts for our unusual late rains. If this be true the Washington and Oregon areas normal condition has now become our abnormal one. Perhaps you want them back and I can't blame you. They certainly are ideal for our favorite genus Rhododendron.
One of my greatest personal thrills was a statement made this spring by our great rhododendron expert, Mr. John Henny, during his visit to our Memorial Dell. He told me that he had never seen so many different varieties looking so well in a single area, anywhere. This is high praise indeed and speaks wells of my staff that take such pride in the success they have achieved. The recent weather improved the show but the basic year around maintenance is responsible for the over-all condition of the plants. Weed control is still our most worrisome problem in spite of the effectiveness of the mulch of shavings and wood chips. The late and frequent rains encouraged the weed growth and the nut-grass or Cyperus has been particularly troublesome. The careful forking out of the young plants before the nutlets have formed seems to be the only effective control.
Rhododendron 'Fragrantissimum' was the Queen of the May this year. Normally its peak of bloom coincides with a short heat wave which rapidly wilts and browns the flowers. This spring they started two weeks early and carried a heavy succession of flowers for six weeks or more. There are actually a few flowers left now, in the middle of June. The corollas were huge and extremely fragrant. Truly a remarkable show by a splendid variety.
Rhododendron maddenii surpassed any previous effort that I have observed. They bloomed earlier, with many more trusses than usual and the flowers were of increased size and sturdier texture. This fine old species makes a very satisfactory display since we have moved it out of the deep shade to which it was formerly relegated. It is now given the sun and exposure that helps to restrain the heavy vegetative growth and set enough buds to balance things nicely.
I would be very happy to be able to report that this year 'Fabia' and her many varieties had behaved well and that all was forgiven. While it bloomed in the utmost profusion the plants are still scrubby looking and the overall effect is most unbecoming. I cannot like this plant and find few champions for it.
The same can be said of some of the griersonianum hybrids but there are many that gave a splendid account of themselves and are well worth growing. These plants should be grouped by themselves and not mixed indiscriminately with the more conventional hybrids. This mixing in our Dell has disturbed me for some time without realizing what it was. Now I am convinced that it would be a great improvement to remove the griersonianum hybrids to an area by themselves.
Rhododendron nuttallii came through again with flying colors. Were not as many flowers this year after the prodigious effort of last year and strangely enough the corollas were not quite as large. The important thing is that the buds were undamaged by the severe fall frosts and the plants are still compact and in excellent condition.
The 'Loderi's' were superb. In fact their opulence was almost overpowering. They are splendid park plants and attract much attention.
The result of one of our experiments in placing was highly successful. Rhododendron 'White Swan' behaved quite badly in the exposed positions we have been favoring. All of the plants from several areas became very yellow and chlorotic looking. Neither iron sulphate nor sulphur had any effect and the entire planting seemed doomed. We moved the entire lot to a sheltered, moist spot in deep shade. This year, two years after moving they are the healthiest plants in the Dell. The plants are shapely domes, wider than high, well furnished with healthy deep-green foliage and were covered with ample trusses of purest white. The corollas are thick and waxy and held smartly in the truss. While too large for intimate gardens we are very impressed with it as an outstanding pure white for large plantings.
This experience certainly indicates that a single failure should not eliminate a good variety from our collections. There is a wide diversity in the cultural requirements of such a large plant family and a given location may be successful for one and a failure for another.
The glory of a season like this one makes all the work and planning very much worth while. May you all have the joy of such a vintage year.