Some Experiences of an Amateur Rhododendron Grower
A few weeks ago I made a trip across the Cascade Mountains by the way of Government Camp and Mt. Hood. Rhododendron californicum was in full bloom. I couldn't help being thrilled at the great beauty of these plants along with the sub-alpine trees and shrubs. The Squaw Grass was also in full bloom, and at their best. No human garden could hold a candle to the magnificent beauty that mother nature has provided. The thought came to me that the Oregon State Park Department might set aside a few of the outstanding sights of rhododendron plantings for State Parks. This might be a useful and needed project for the American Rhododendron Society to pursue.
In an earlier article in the Society Bulletin last Spring, I mentioned the late Mr. E. Barto, who had been a Government Forester and had found some very special fields of wild rhododendron in the Coast Range of Oregon.
In my former article in the Bulletin I also reported on my experiences of growing species. Today I should like to stress some of my experiences of growing hybrids. It is a large subject, and if properly done would require quite a book in length. Again I should like to say my experiences would be more similar to those hobbyists in the Pacific Northwest.
In talking with some of my friends and acquaintances in other parts of the country, I find we have much in common, and that plant lovers everywhere speak much the same language. I trust that this will be of interest to those friends and readers throughout the country. Rhododendron species and hybrids usually bloom for me most of the months of the year. The weather some years varying the length of blooms somewhat. R. 'Nobleanum Venestum', a pale pink starts the blooming season in the late fall or early winter. If the weather is fairly mild, it blooms off and on all winter, completing its bloomings in early March. Rhododendron 'Nobleanum Coccineum', a very early red, blooms sometimes throughout the winter and very early spring, while not as spectacular as some of the later blooming reds, it is a lovely sight, when most other blooms are absent and scarce. Another early blooming variety is R. 'Gloria Mundi', a light pink, which I think is the same as R. 'Christmas Cheer'. It blooms quite as well in the early spring, when there is not too much heavy frost.
Some Favorite Whites
Speaking of white rhododendrons, the first ones that come to my mind are the Loderi Hybrids. Perhaps no other hybrid produced has been more famous than the Loderis. It was produced in England by Sir Edmund Loder in his famous garden at Leonardslee in 1901 by crossing the finest forms of R. griffithianum X R. fortunei. It was my good fortune in 1949 along with some other Americans to view this magnificent garden. It must rate as one of the world's great gardens.
I have grown and bloomed about a dozen forms of the 'Loderi' hybrids. So many of them are near alike that perhaps four would be sufficient for the trade. Among the first plants that I imported were Loderi varieties 'King George', 'Game Chick', 'Pink Diamond' and 'Venus'. These were planted almost side by side giving me the opportunity to observe their different characteristics first hand. 'Loderi Venus' and 'Pink Diamond' open the pinkest. R. 'Venus' and 'Sir Joseph Hooker' show their color the longest and are certainly the outstanding sights in my garden when the Loderis are in full bloom. The fragrance is really something, the whole yard and woods being permeated by their exquisite fragrance. The foliage is large and magnificent and the trusses very large with individual florets measuring as much as four to six inches across. I shall never forget the sight of seeing my first 'Loderi' in bloom in the garden of Mr. H. Harms. The sight will always be one of the gardening highlights of my life. I have bloomed 'Loderi Sir Edmund', 'Queen Mary', 'Patience', 'Sir Joseph Hooker', 'Superlative', 'White Diamond', 'Helen', and several others. My 'Loderi Game Chick' is about ten feet high and fifteen feet across, well shaped and bushy, and when it is in bloom it is a sight to behold. Two years ago 'Loderi Pink Diamond' won the Purple Ribbon for the best truss in the Portland Show.
Another white rhododendron produced by Mr. Loder named, 'Loders White' (Fig. 34), is often spoken of as the best white rhododendron. It has fine foliage and a large upright truss. It is truly a white of remarkable beauty. My third white rhododendron would be 'Snow Queen' - a hybrid of 'White Pearl'. It is a pure white of great beauty, and should be grown in a semi shaded location to show at its best. Its upright truss is usually good for a blue ribbon at the shows.
Next I would have to place Rhododendron 'Beauty of Littleworth' as one of the finest of the whites. Its blooms are speckled white and somewhat fragrant-almost too large for the stem to hold up to the truss, especially if it happens to rain during the blooming period. Mr. John Bacher, gardener, expert grower, landscape man, lecturer, recipient of the Johnny Appleseed Award; while visiting my garden saw a large plant in full bloom, and exclaimed it was one of the finest rhododendrons he had ever seen.
Rhododendron number five would be, 'White Swan', produced by John Waterer Sons & Crisp. It is a decorum crossed with 'Pink Pearl'. Here is another very fine white, like other hybrids with griffithianum blood, the foliage is vigorous and refreshing. It has a splendid upright truss blooming in mid-season. It received the prize several years ago in Seattle for the best truss in the show.
One must not overlook R. 'Dr. Stocker', the first large early white hybrid in spring to bloom. Its buds are quite pink while opening, but soon turn to white with a green ivory tint. A fine plant and very showy in the early blooming season. Another tremendous hybrid called R. 'Avalanche'. It is very much like the Loderis with even more upright trusses and a strong grower. It opens pale pink and fades to white. To those who have the proper setting for this plant it is one of the best. R. 'Mrs. Lindsay Smith', a fine white produced by Koster in Holland, has a large upright speckled white truss, and in the late mid-season blooming period stands out most prominent. R. 'Mrs. A. T. de la Mare', another good white Dutch hybrid, produced by Van Ness has been quite popular in many Northwest gardens. It received the award for being the best plant in the first Portland Rhododendron Show in 1945.
I would like to digress for a moment and pay tribute to the late Endre Ostbo of Bellevue, Washington. A great friend of the American Rhododendron Society-it was he who advised and encouraged the Portland group to undertake the organization of the Society. With this encouragement and through the many letters received from those interested in many parts of the United States, the American Rhododendron Society was incorporated as a National Society.
Mr. Ostbo produced many fine hybrids. Among them perhaps his greatest was R. 'Lilly'. Recently it was my pleasure to view the test gardens at Crystal Springs with Dr. Clement G. Bowers of New York, along with our President, Mr. Sersanous. Dr. Bowers expressed, and I certainly concurred that Mr. Ostbo's white 'Lilly' hybrid was the best that he had ever seen. There are many other fine hybrids, such as; Mr. R. Henny's new hybrid called 'Grace'. Other fine white hybrids include R. 'Helen Schiffner'; R. 'Mrs. P. D. Williams', a white with a prominent brown blotch; R. 'Mrs. Lionel Rothschild', a white with a red blotch; and R. 'Sappho', a very old hybrid produced by Anthony Waterer in 1870. It is still a favorite among growers and collectors.
What man or woman wouldn't be delighted with the very great number of fine red hybrids, surely one to suit the most discriminating taste. How could one start this list without beginning with R. 'Gills Crimson'. It is a blood red arboreum cross with griffithianum made by Gill in 1906. It is still one of the best red hybrids. Its blood red flowers come into bloom in February or early March. It has a tight arboreum type truss of much substance, and stays on sometimes until the early May show. Its foliage is very lovely, but should be planted in a shady protected place. It has been hardy enough for all winters in Oregon except that unusual November freeze in 1955.
Some of the very good red rhododendrons come from Holland. Among them I would have to place R. 'Britannia' as one of the best. It is a clear true red with a fine upright truss. The plant has a rather spreading habit with light green foliage, medium late blooming season. To me it is a 4x or star hybrid. R. 'Jean Marie Montague', is another immensely popular red rhododendron, produced by Van Ness. It is earlier than 'Britannia' with the same lower growing spreading habit, but with much darker green foliage. Nurserymen consider it one of their best reds. R. 'J. H. Van Ness', a soft light red, is one of the best. Eloise Hamilton, a Portland Garden Writer, considers it her very favorite. R. 'Earl of Athlone', a splendid blood red variety, has been very popular in local gardens. It has a very solid truss and holds its color extremely well. The only weak point is that it grows quite scraggly, which would subtract from its other virtues. Other fine Holland reds are R. 'C. B. Van Ness', R. 'Unknown Warrior', and R. 'Borde Hill', a hybrid which Mr. R. Henny has used very successfully in hybridizing.
Rhododendron 'Mars' is a very excellent hardy red, and would have to be included as one of the very best. It has a very large tight truss, and it is listed as a clear red color with no trace of blue. It has very dark green heavy foliage. It was produced by the famous hybridist, Gomer Waterer. R. 'Lady Bligh' has been for many years one of my favorites. A fine upright grower, blooming in midseason, it is a strawberry red and fades to an unusual soft red.
A number of very good hybrids I have tried to grow in my garden, but unfortunately they are not hardy enough for our coldest winters. Rhododendrons 'Helen Fox', 'Robert Fox', 'Iverys Scarlet', 'Cornubia', and 'Duke of Cornwall' are all very fine, if they could only be grown locally; however, they should be suitable for the Oregon Coast sections and parts of California. R. 'Chanticleer', thomsonii x eriogynum, a very fine plant with large bells and delightful thomsonii type foliage. It is almost always good for a blue ribbon at the shows. R. 'Grenadier', a cross by Rothschild, 'Mosers Maroon', x elliottii is one of the best new reds in late years. It is very dark red with dark specks and rather late bloomer.
R. 'Captain Jack', a new hybrid coming out of the garden of Rudolph Henny, is probably the best red rhododendron that I have ever seen. It is a cross between 'Mars' and eriogynum. It is also the brightest red yet seen, and no doubt much will be heard about this plant in the future. There are many other fine reds worth mentioning: 'Goldsworth Crimson', 'E. M. Praed', 'F. G. Puddle', 'Rubens', 'Langley Park', 'Bagshot Ruby', 'Essex Scarlet', 'Flare', 'Flame', 'Vulcan', 'Romany Chai', 'Romany Chal', and a host of others.
Before I leave the reds I should mention two other fine Rhododendrons; namely, 'May Day' (haematodes x griersonianum), which is a very fine flowering red. It has a rather spreading semi-dwarf habit, which is so badly needed in modern landscaping. The other is R. 'Elizabeth', a repens cross with griersonianum. It was first produced by Aberconway at Bodnant, Wales. It grows about 18" high-a very fine red heavy bloomer, and is receiving a great acceptance in Northwest gardens. In a grouping at the Crystal Spring Test Gardens this year, it made a very outstanding display.
Here is another group of fine hybrids. In it are some great ones. What other than R. 'Pink Pearl' could be placed at the top of the list. Drive around the residential section of Portland during the blooming season and see the hundreds of specimen 'Pink Pearls' in all their glory. It will take many years, if ever any other rhododendron can equal it. R. 'Mother of Pearl' is very much like 'Pink Pearl' with a lovely satin sheen added. R. 'Countess of Derby' is 'Pink Pearl' crossed with 'Cynthia', and is very prominent in our local gardens. It has very large 'Pink Pearl' type blooms. R. 'A. Endtz' is my favorite of the mid-season blooming pinks. I think it has as fine a truss as any pink I have ever grown. And if that were possible I would consider it as one of the best ten rhododendrons. Three very fine pink rhododendrons with prominent blotches are worthy of a place in the finest gardens. First R. 'Mrs. G. W. Leek', a medium early bloomer with a purplish brown blotch. It holds its color well, and is a fine show rhododendron in every respect. R. 'Mrs. Furnival', a late mid-season bloomer, with sienna blotch is a close second. R. 'Emeline Buckley', is another very striking plant similar to R. 'Mrs. G. W. Leek'.
R. 'Betty Wormald' and 'Marinus Koster', both by Koster, are topnotch pinks. They are so much alike it is almost impossible to distinguish between them. They have very large trusses with heavy spots on the upper lobe. A truss of R. 'Betty Wormald' some years ago at Seattle took the prize for the best truss in the show. R. 'Corona', a delightful pink with its upright habit, should be in every collection. Mr. R. Henny has also used this very successfully in his hybridizing program. R. 'Lady Bird', a 'Corona' hybrid, is one of the best late blooming pinks. There are so many other outstanding pinks I should mention-two of these being R. 'Lady Montague' and 'Pilgrim' - both griffithianum hybrids of great merit. Two unusual favorites are R. 'Dawn's Delight', vermillion red, shading to pink. The pastel colors in it are unsurpassed. R. 'Rainbow', another exciting plant with its pink center and darker edges are extremely showy in any exhibit. For a real late blooming pink, 'R. 'Aladdin', is very fine. It is an all auriculatum series hybrid. It has fine long auriculatum type pink trumpets. I have already mentioned in my previous article those fine williamsianum hybrids, 'Bow Bells', 'Moonstone', 'A. J. Ivens' and 'J. E. Barto'. Another group of fine pink shaded hybrids which come from Rothschild Estate at Exbury. These are the 'Naomi' hybrids, a cross between 'Aurora' and fortunei. There are a number of different forms in this group and they all are good. It was my great pleasure to view the original plants with Mrs. Lionel Rothschild some years ago.
Orange and Apricot Hybrids
In the orange and orange shaded hybrids one would have to put R. 'Fabia' at the top of the list. Here is the low growing shrub that almost blooms itself to death with its orange and orange shaded apricot tubular bells. It takes after its parent R. dichroanthum. It should be in every collection. There are a number of very fine clones, all of them are good. 'Tower Court', 'Tangerine' and 'Roman Pottery' are among the best. R. 'Goblin' is a good dwarf orange red, but not quite as good a grower as 'Fabia'. R. 'Goldsworth Orange', a pale orange discolor hybrid, is a nice growing plant. I have grown mine in a lath house so am not too sure of its merit as a good garden plant.
In the apricot shaded hybrids I am very partial to the 'Azor' group. These are crosses between R. discolor and griersonianum. They range from pink to orange and apricot shades. They are terrific bloomers and would be in my select group as the best hybrids. The late Endre Ostbo produced a very lovely hybrid named 'Mrs. Donald Graham'. It is a plant of much merit and received the society's P. A. award. While dwelling on orange hybrids, I would like to comment on an unusual group of hybrids coming from the species cinnabarinum. Among these are the 'Lady Chamberlains', 'Lady Roseberrys', and 'Lady Berry'. R. 'Lady Chamberlain' orange is one of the most lovely plants that I have grown. The foliage is a blue gray and would be a magnificent plant if it never bloomed. In the future I feel that they will be grown in a far greater number of gardens. While visiting at the famous gardens in Cornwall, we saw many remarkable cinnabarinum hybrids, some of them perhaps fifteen feet tall. These were of great beauty and one of the nicest things seen on a trip through British Gardens.
I have said and will say it again among the finest hybrids produced the Slocock hybrids are among the best. They range in color from cream to yellow and from apricot to pink. Among them are R. 'Unique', 'Elspeth', 'Mrs. Mary Ashley', 'Souvenir of W. C. Slocock', 'Mrs. W. C. Slocock', 'Goldsworth Yellow', 'Rainbow', 'Goldfort', 'Dairy Maid', 'Butterfly', 'Buttercup', 'Lady Primrose', and others. These are handsome low-growing, good-blooming, all around good garden plants.
Among other very good yellows are R. 'Damaris' which is a prolific bloomer and a good clear yellow color. R. 'Idealist', a cross of wardii x 'Naomi', has a very fine large truss of clear yellow flowers. Many think this is the best yellow. Another fine yellow is 'Hawk'. R. 'Lady Bessborough', a light yellow, should be planted in a shady place to be at its best. R. 'Diane' and R. 'Canary' are two very good yellows but I have never thought their foliage was the best. Mr. Del James of Eugene, Oregon, has a new yellow hybrid with one of the finest yellow trusses I have yet seen.
One more yellow hybrid which has been one of my favorite rhododendrons is yellow R. 'Penjerrick'. Some of the famous British gardeners have said this is one of the finest hybrids yet produced. I am willing to agree with them. One of my pride and joys has been to view in the early blooming season a plant about 12' high with its drooping trusses of clear light yellow bells. This particular plant stood below zero temperature in the winter of 1949-50, and survived without any trouble. However, the early freeze of 1955 killed it. I am delighted to say that my good friend Bob Bovee has given me a small plant from the original to take its place.
Purple and Lavender Shaded Hybrids
One of the first new hybrids in my collection was R. 'Purple Splendour'. It certainly is the finest purple yet produced and is a glorious sight in any garden. It is listed as a four x in the Society's Book on Rhododendrons. If I were to own only five hybrids one would be R. 'Purple Splendour'.
There are many good lavender or blue-shaded hybrids. It would be hard to choose which would be best. R. 'Blue Peter' has a bluish lavender upright truss with a prominent blotch. It is a strong grower and much admired at Rhododendron Shows. R. 'A. Bedford' is another good free flowering lavender purple also with a prominent marking. R. 'Blue Ensign' is very similar to 'Blue Peter'. R. 'Susan', sometimes listed as a blue hybrid but actually a blue tinted white with dark specks, is a dainty campanulatum hybrid. R. 'Van Ness Sensation' is a spectacular large blooming lilac mauve. It is somewhat fragrant and is a worthy member of any collection.
R. 'Fastuosum Flore Pleno' is a double mauve seen in many Portland gardens. It is an old hybrid, but in much demand. It was interesting to see at the Royal Horticultural Society Show and the great Chelsea Show in London, England, many fine plants of this notable variety.
Here is a very interesting group of crosses rhododendrons with azaleas. While they are very attractive, my experience with them in general is that they are a somewhat weak group. The foliage has a tendency to burn badly and seems to lack the vitality and vigor that is generally found in their parents, R, 'Glory of Littleworth' to my way of thinking is the best of the group! While visiting the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh we were shown two large plants about eight feet high, They were in full bloom and truly a sight to behold, It is a fine white with a very prominent orange marking and a very solid upright truss, R, 'Oregon Queen', a natural cross between occidentale and R. californicum is a very beautiful plant in bloom when at its best. It has not been a consistent doer for me, R, 'Broughtonii Aureum' is a very good yellow and is perhaps the most popular variety in the Portland area, R. 'Dr. Masters' is another new apricot shading to pink variety that has much merit, While not having grown it myself, I have seen some very attractive blooming plants, My good friend Ben Lancaster of Camas, Washington, has made some very successful occidentale crosses, and these are proving very attractive.
I have been told that at the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland in 1906 many hybrids were imported and later these were planted in Portland gardens and cemeteries, I am not too familiar with the names of or identification of the older varieties, However, I never seem to tire of viewing them in the blooming season, Among them are such fine old hybrids as 'Cynthia'. 'Gomer Waterer', 'Madm. Masson', 'Catawbiense Album', and many others. Where could one see a finer sight than the very large R. 'Cynthia' blooming in the Portland test gardens, It is perhaps twenty-five feet high, with hundreds of trusses, There is one large rose pink hybrid in Lincoln Memorial Park, It is perhaps twenty feet high. and has a yellowish marking in the upper part of its throat. I usually make a trip every year to see it.
In conclusion, many of the hybrids I have mentioned are collectors items, Some are already proven good garden plants, some yet have to be proven, In the meantime, we shall wait and see the future of certain varieties, What hybrids are the best? The answer is impossible to say. It is like asking which girls are the prettiest, blondes, brunettes or redheads, Without a doubt I have failed to mention many fine new hybrids, also many new very hardy hybrids, For lack of space. I left out many of the dwarf hybrids, for the reason that it should be a story in itself, I have mentioned nothing of the problems and trials of growing and showing rhododendrons, Perhaps in the near future, if your editor wishes 1 shall complete this part of the story, In the meantime. "happy gardening,"