James and Elizabeth Caperci, Seattle, Wash.
Hybridizing? Well, we went through that phase years ago, and did quite a bit of it. Our goal at that time was simply to try to come up with something spectacular. But, as far as we are concerned, we found it rather difficult to improve on Nature. So, in later years, we have stayed mostly with the propagating of the species Rhododendrons.
We have had height dwarf hybrid rhododendrons named, with two or three more that we may have named in the near future. The most well-known, to date, is 'Maricee' which holds the A.E.
Award from the American Rhododendron Society. Strangely enough, 'Maricee' originated as a chance seedling from R. sargentianum. It has a good many of the characteristics of sargentianum, except for slightly longer leaves, larger florets, and white flowers.
Our recently named 'Sheila Ann' was also a seedling, of R. didymum. This one is really curious. If you multiply the description of didymum by 3 or 4 you have 'Sheila Ann'. It is not a true dwarf, therefore, growing to about five feet. In that it is easier to grow, and blooms when very young, it is an improvement over its parent.
'Patricia' is saluenense x campylogynum. This cross was made for the sake of curiosity to see what we would get by crossing two plants that we liked very much. It is being well received by both rhododendron enthusiasts and commercial growers, as it blooms profusely even when small, has an unusual color, a nice compact habit, is easy to grow, and easy to propagate. The rhododendron books list this one as a variety of R. campylogynum, which is not the fact, and a mystery to us as to where this idea came from.
I believe that almost everyone who has ever hybridized any dwarf Rhododendrons, has tried crossing R. racemosum with something or other, and we are no exception. R. racemosum by R. cremastum resulted in 'Candi'. A bright, very satisfactory result, I might add.
The two different progeny of our efforts with R. carolinianum x R. saluenense, namely 'Debijo' and 'Carousel', are requested often by our Eastern rhododendron friends. Their hardiness is one of their main attractions. The fact that they are very floriferous, as well as their nice, upright pinkish trusses, is usually a pleasant surprise.
'Kim' and 'Bobette' are two others that developed from one cross, that of R. campylogynum x R. cremastum. Their delicate pink or yellow bells always cause comment when they are exhibited. These two are a little more difficult to propagate than the others.
Happily, we can report that all of these little dwarf hybrids have come through this severe winter with no problems.
We made quite a few other crosses in the past, and have been asked many times why we have not had some particular one named. One answer is that we do not believe in having a plant named unless we feel that it has unusual merit, and has been received favorably by the public upon being, exhibited several times.
As for growing rhododendrons, we are lazy gardeners who like to do things the easiest way we can find, which is the only way to enjoy a garden, and the best "helpful hint" we can offer. Most rhododendrons are not hard to grow, and do not take a great amount of care. Common sense is the best thing to use in their care, and they will reward you in many ways.