Some Observations on Early Rhododendrons on Eastern Long Island
Walter Maynard, Water Mill, L. I., N.Y.
A visit to nurseries and garden centers in eastern Long Island (in hardiness zone 7 - a with minimum winter temperatures of 0° F) would seem to suggest that there is only one rhododendron offered for sale which is a dependable bloomer in April. This is the lilac-purplish form of R. mucronulatum. There are, however, available from specialist nurseries in the East and the Northwest, a number of rhododendrons which have proved in the author's garden to be hardy and well worthwhile for their beauty and ability to get the rhododendron season under way materially earlier than if conventional varieties are all that are grown.
The first of these early blooming rhododendrons to come into flower is the pink form of mucronulatum, generally sold under the name of 'Cornell Pink.' 'Cornell Pink' is deciduous in our area, but in the third week in April, it produces a great many attractive blossoms which appear to cover the plant.
Second to bloom is the hybrid of mucronulatum with racemosum, Gable's 'Pioneer', which is even more floriferous than mucronulatum and has a vibrant pink color which effectively brightens the drab landscape that characterizes early spring. 'Pioneer', like mucronulatum, is deciduous.
At about the same time that 'Pioneer' blooms, R. keiskei, in its various forms, opens its blossoms, which although relatively small in size, are attractive primrose yellow with a greenish tinge. Keiskei holds its foliage well through the winter and develops into a plant of medium stature, handsome at all seasons.
A week or so later 'Rosa Mundi', a caucasicum hybrid, begins to show color. In this area, 'Rosa Mundi' is not a particularly satisfactory plant. Even when well sheltered, its foliage is subject to winter burn and the color of the blossoms, which are in a relatively small truss, is a weak, somewhat washed-out pink.
A rhododendron similar in appearance to 'Rosa Mundi' is 'Jacksoni', also of caucasicum parentage. In its ordinary form, a pale pink, 'Jacksoni' is a far superior plant, with a tight rounded truss of frilly flowers, and dense green foliage which shows excellent resistance to winter damage. Recently, a form of 'Jacksoni' called 'Jacksoni #5' has appeared on at least one eastern nursery list which appears to be as winter hardy as the original 'Jacksoni', but has a slightly larger truss of a stronger and more appealing color - light pink with darker stripes on the outside of the flowers. Both these medium-sized, densely foliaged plants are highly satisfactory additions to the garden by any standard.
By far the most striking display in the early spring is provided by a large leaved, conventional appearing, rhododendron - 'Carex' (R. fargesii x R. irroratum) in its 'Blush' form. 'Carex', which was awarded an A.M. in 1932, has proved thoroughly winter hardy in my garden and in most years, in the last week of April, it opens good-sized, somewhat lax trusses of soft blush pink and white flowers, heavily spotted in dark red within the rather deep tube, which have good lasting qualities. From my observation 'Carex' would appear to be worthy of wider distribution. It not only blooms well ahead of other large-flowered hardy rhododendrons, but at all seasons is a good looking plant in any company.
These five plants make a colorful and effective floral display; they are not only good garden plants, but get the rhododendron season off to a satisfactory and far earlier than usual start.