Are the "Y" and "Z" Varieties of Rhododendron Passé
By Paul D. Vossberg, New York
From a talk given at the New York Chapter meeting, October 29, 1958.
The idea of classifying many rhododendron varieties in a "Y" and "Z" category (unworthy of cultivation) seems ridiculous. Your own climatic conditions should be the controlling factor in the selection of plant material. Condemnation by a sectional group situated in an area favored by moderate temperatures and high humid conditions should be ignored.
We have here in the Northeastern section of our country, the greatest market for ornamental plants in the world. Between Canada and North Carolina, and stretching from the Atlantic to the Mississippi River, one may find only about five per cent favored with conditions to grow the glorified British hybrids. On the borderline there are possibly ten per cent located near bodies of water or sheltered from the devastating Northwest winds, who may be successful with these varieties.
Now - what are we going to advise the millions of garden lovers in the remaining eighty-five per cent of this area? Personally, I would still recommend the old "Iron-clads."
If you are looking for fiery reds in this group, you will be disappointed. The most brilliant reds which have come through the bad winters of 1916/17 and 1933/34 were R. 'Chas. Dickens', R. 'Astrosanguineum', R. 'E. S. Rand', R. 'H. H. Hunnelwell', R. 'General Grant', R. 'Abe Lincoln' and R. 'Kettledrum'.
The more recent introductions of R. 'Nova Zembla' and R. 'America' came through the 1933/34 winter with partial flower bud kill. For Whites: R. 'Album Elegans', R. 'Catawbiense Album' and R. 'Boule de Neige' have very seldom suffered. The tall growing R. 'Album Elegans' has a tendency to open pale lavender and retain this shade during over-cast days. The same may be said of R. 'Album Novum'. R. 'Album Grandiflorum' and R. 'Candidissimum'.
R. 'Everestianum' for plant habit, foliage and flower is still hard to beat with its lovely frilled lavender flowers. R. 'Purpureum Elegans', R. 'Purpureum Grandiflorum' and R. 'Purpureum Crispum' are all good hardy purples with pleasing foliage. If you wish to put the plum colored R. 'Old Port' in this class, you will have one of the finest plants for foliage and plant habit. In the dark shades of crimson, R. 'H. W. Sargent' and R. 'Caractacus' seem to be the hardiest.
To me, there is nothing lovelier than a group of R. 'Mrs. C. S. Sargent' with its trusses of brilliant pink flowers set off with golden ochre throat blotches. R. 'Henrietta Sargent' almost identical in color is a compact dwarf plant with handsome foliage. A good hardy rose pink is R. 'Lady Armstrong' which has survived here for over a half century.
In softer red shades you will find that R. 'Ignatius Sargent,' R. 'Charles Bagley', R. 'Parsons Grandiflora' and R. 'Amphion' are favored. R. 'Ignatius Sargent', I consider, the best of these for flower and foliage. 'Amphion' with its white center presents a spectacular appearance when in bloom.
There are many other varieties which I consider wonderful additions to any garden, but since this is in defense of the "Y" and "Z" varieties, I will not dwell on many of my favorites.
After all, is the size of the individual rhododendron flower so important? Many of these large flowering varieties have an ungainly habit which we have to look at for at least three hundred and fifty days in the year.
In viewing a lovely landscaped grounds in Seattle this last Spring, we were approaching a group of rhododendrons which were just coming into bloom. From the distance, I admired the appearance of one plant in this group. Lo and behold! when coming closer it turned out to be R. 'Roseum Elegans'. There seem to be numerous forms of this variety. If you dislike the mauve or purplish pink form, insist upon either the R. 'English Roseum' or R. 'Roseum Pink' clones.
A tour in late Spring through the numerous estates and cemeteries within one hundred miles of New York City will show you the beauty and importance of these supposed inferior varieties and the fact that they have survived over one-half century is the main reason why we still advise the cultivation of the "Y" and "Z" varieties.