My Favorite Rhododendrons
D. E. Dougan, Vancouver Island, B. C.
In the early years of our preoccupation with the genus rhododendron, our most cherished plants were among those which bore lax trusses of waxen red blooms. Even though we now think the gentle whites and pinks more lovely. we still think highly of the reds. The larger growing plants such as R. 'Britannia,' R. 'Jean Marie Montague' and others of the hardier reds, while possibly a little flamboyant, certainly have their place in the garden. However the plants which most captivated us were species such as R. strigillosum, barbatum and those of the Neriiflorum series, along with their hybrids.
R. neriiflorum itself is not hardy here, so winters in the cool house. We have not yet bloomed R. haematodes, but its hybrids, R. 'Humming Bird' and R. 'Grosclaude' are lovely things. Perhaps our greatest pleasure came with the blooming of a free flowering form of R. repens. The sight of this little plant, in the early spring sun, with its polished waxen bells on every terminal, is one that is never forgotten.
Perhaps because the winds of change blow more strongly for the gardener than many others, we now find ourselves holding the opinion that the most exquisite of rhododendrons are to he found among the whites and pinks.
We think the exotic R. bullatum, in its best forms, would certainly rate a prominent place in any selection of the most beautiful plants in existence. A form of this species from Greigs' Nursery at Royston, with a large three flowered truss is lovely. Perhaps the floral beauty of R. bullatum is matched by the magnificent white trumpets of R. lindleyi but this species supports its blooms on awkward lanky canes, whereas R. bullatum, with us at least, has an artistic open habit. The beautiful puckered leaves with their beige indumentum and attractive habit, make this an interesting and lovely plant all year round. We think it is the best of the tub rhododendrons which we grow.
Fig. 21. R. 'Lady Rosebery'
Fig. 22. R. 'Lady Bessborough'
Three borderline tender pinks, which we think most highly of are R. 'Lady Rosebery', Rh. 'Vanessa', R. 'Lady Rosebery', (Fig 21) R. 'Vanessa', and R. 'Yvonne Opaline'. R. 'Lady Rosebry' is more beautiful with us than any of the forms of R. 'Lady Chamberlain' which we have bloomed, but in our garden is far from reliably hardy. R. 'Vanessa' in the form we grow, is a most exquisite pink. The flattish flowers betray the R. souliei blood which is part of its lineage. R. 'Yvonne' in the variety 'Opaline' is a beautiful pink with wide open flowers of great substance. We were surprised to discover that the hybrid R. 'Aurora' was used to produce this plant as well as the first rate R. 'Naomi'. In R. 'Yvonne' the other parent is the species R. griffithianum. In R. 'Naomi', R. 'Aurora' is of course mated with R. fortunei to produce a remarkably good rhododendron.
Undoubtedly R. 'Naomi' is among the finest rhododendron hybrids, hardy in our area, which we grow. Although we aspire to more we only grow two forms, and of these the lovely R. 'Astarte' we think the best. Possibly the colour is best described as pink shaded yellow but somehow these words sell it short, at any rate it is a beautiful bloom, of sweet fragrance and very long lasting. Perhaps the most amazing thing about R. 'Naomi' is its relative hardiness. Exotic blooms such as these normally betray a tender plant, but with us it is among our hardier plants and we seldom have it damaged in any way. If unkind circumstance should dictate that we grow only one rhododendron, this plant would have to be a strong contender. The species R. fortunei seems to have a habit of producing remarkably fine children. The hybrid R. 'Faggeters Favourite' is one such, and a fine plant of this variety in a friends garden is lovely indeed.
The species R. campylocarpum has fathered some remarkable rhododendrons for our conditions and of these we grow such plants as 'Carita', 'Unique', 'Mrs. W. C. Slocock' and others. In our area these are all front rank plants but of all the children of this model parent none is as lovely as the pink form of R. 'Lady Bessborough' called 'Roberte'. When we found this plant at the old Layritz Nursery it was already rangy from overcrowding in the shade house, but with its move from the soft life of the nursery to our spartan north east exposure, it responded by clothing itself to the ground in a most attractive way. In the years of this plant's stay with us it has seldom failed to awe us with the quality and quantity of its lovely red throated pink blooms which perhaps because of their heavy substance last so well. We must conclude that this is among the most exquisite of hybrids. Certainly it is deserving of wider acclaim and distribution. (Fig. 22)
We suppose that the two low growing white flowered species R. moupinense and R. leucaspis are perhaps more beautiful than any of their hybrids, but we find R. 'Bric-a-brac', the hybrid between them, a most useful cool house plant which delights us each February with its myriads of pinky white blooms with their chocolate anthers. R. moupinense itself, is with us, a low compact mound attractive all year round and brightens many a dreary winter day with its increasingly beautiful white flowers. Our only regret is that we must flower it in the cool house. Among the larger whites a form of R. 'Albatross' which we grow, is as lovely as any plant has a right to be with its large scented, green throated, white flowers. We like R. discolor the species parent of R. 'Albatross' but find the blooms rather fragile and easily spoilt by sun and wind. The other parent of R. 'Albatross' is of course the famous R. 'Loderi', but this we have not attempted. The few plants we have seen in our area have a gaunt unhappy look about them and it seems unlikely they will ever be widely planted here. Another R. 'Loderi' offspring the beautiful R. 'Avalanche' seems much happier with us and we have high hopes for it when it is large enough to bloom freely. Finally the hybrid R. 'Loder's White' seems to be happy in our area and it is a fine thing indeed.
We feel we should qualify these remarks with the reminder that our preferences and opinions are necessarily dictated by the plants which grow well in our garden. Further, we have little knowledge of the new American hybrids, but judging from the few we have seen, there are among them plants which deserve front rank ratings. We are also aware that taste opinions and preferences vary with the individual and our opinions are expressed only for what they are worth. Bearing these things in mind we still feel the plants mentioned need no apology in any company, however exalted and we express these opinions with the thought they may be of interest to others who garden in climatic areas similar to our own.