Some Thoughts Regarding Rh X 'Norman Gill' and Progeny
C. Edward Simons, Jr., M.D., Seattle, Washington
In the search for the genetic potential to produce the "perfect" Rhododendron, the hybridizers, amateur and professional, have over the past century and a half explored myriad coatings, and materials. Certain key grexes, clones, and cultivars have become apparent over the years as outstanding in their ability to produce superior offspring. Whole "sets" of progeny have resulted. A few of these which come to mind are Rh. 'Aurora,' A. M., Rh. 'Lady Bessborough,' F.C.C.. 'Moser's Maroon,' A.M., the Loderi's, 'Royal Flush.' and 'Boule de Neige.' Among the species, a few have produced an inordinate genealogy. Among the greatest are fine forms of griffithianum, haematodes, griersonianum, elliottii, fortunei, wardii, thomsonii, campylocarpum, dichroanthum, and catawbiense. Until quite recently overlooked as a general source of quality genes has been Rh X 'Norman Gill.' This cultivar is described on p. 198 of The International Rhododendron Register as follows: "Norman Gill cl. 'Beauty of Tremough', F.C.C. x griffithianum; (R. Gill & Son); large flowered, pale heliotrope; A.M. (R.H.S.) 1922; A.M. (R.H.S.) 1936, after trial at Exbury." On page 87, A.R.S. Rhododendron Information lists: "Norman Gill, Rating 5/3, Hardy to +5, Tall, Late May, 'Beauty of Tremough' x R. griffithianum; R. Gill and Son. Plant habitat vigorous. Leaves 5" x 2½". Best results in partial shade. Flowers, very large, white, with red basal blotch, in a tall truss. A.M. (RHS) 1922. (¼ arboreum x ¾ griffithianum). This parentage should, if correct, produce hefty plants with good trusses of large florets in varying shades of pink, but of tender constitution, probably H2-3 RHS. Such a plant, indeed, is Rh. 'Norman Gill,' an upright, sturdy, candelabra-like plant with probably the largest florets of any rhododendron. There is a catch, though. Rh 'Norman Gill' is unexpectedly hardy - H4 RHS - hardy anywhere in Britain, or on our own Pacific Coast. It has withstood 6°F here in Seattle without bud damage and only slight leaf burning. The plants parts are thick and fleshy, suggesting polyploidy, and the leaves have a surface sheen suggesting parentage other than that of record. (It's a wise child that knows its own father!) Could Rh. maximum have crept in through such as Rh. 'Halopeanum' (syn. 'White Pearl'). The demeanor of the plant would suggest this and account for the extra performance.
The late Messrs. Fred Rose and Halfdan Lem utilized this difference, Mr. Rose making and Mr. Lem raising the cross with Rh. 'The Hon. Jean Marie de Montague'. (The latter is another griffithianum-arboreum hardy hybrid product, apparently produced by the late Otto Schulz, Head Gardener of the Royal Porcelain Factory of Berlin who sold in about 1902 most of his unusual Rh. hybrids to C. B. van Nes and Sons of Boskoop, Holland, who introduced them.) Lem's resultant seedlings were christened 'Anna' (grex) after his wife. Several of these were grown on to maturity and produced robust bushes with large, built-up trusses of starfish-like florets up to 5 inches in varying shades of fading pinks with ruby-red throats, and of heavy substance throughout the plants.
Mr. Lem went on with this line of breeding crossing 'Dido' x 'Anna' to produce Rh. 'Lem's Cameo', A.E., S.P. A. (1971) (A.R.S. Quarterly Bulletin, No. 1, 26:11 and A.R.S. Quarterly Bulletin, No. 4, 25:228) Crossed by Lem with 'Marinus Koster', F.C.C., Rh. 'Anna' produced the Rh. 'Walloper', another family of titans. Rh. 'Red Walloper', 'Lem's Monarch', and 'Point Defiance' all have huge trusses of thick, large, open-faced florets in shades from near red to palest pink, exhibited on the thick stemmed, upright, and angular plants characteristic of Rh. 'Norman Gill' heritage.
A third line resulted from Rh. 'Anna' x 'Loderi Venus' grown on by the Flora Markeeta Nursery of Edmonds, Washington, and producing Rh. 'Markeeta's Prize', the best new plant of the show at the Seattle Worlds Fair Show (1962). This plant is intermediate in habit between 'Norman Gill' and 'Loderi', and has a truss close to Rh. 'Hon. J. M. de Montague' in color, but of 'Loderi' dimensions. Three or more siblings in graded shades of pink, but of similar habit, exist.
Propagation and distribution of clones from the above line of breeding have been produced on a limited basis in the Puget Sound area. Few are really good "doers" on their own roots, and perhaps should be grafted onto vigorous under stock e.g., Rh. calophytum hybrids, 'Cotton Candy' or 'Anna Rose Whitney', to provide a suitable base for the excessive demands of the huge inflorescences.
Their use in the garden must be as specimen, accent, or show plants, and a few might be more than enough for most gardeners. They will need facing down with lower plants or ground covers as they mostly present a somewhat upright, skeletal starkness when out of bloom.
Are these the last of the line? Why does the RHS Stud Book (1967 Part II - Hybrids) show but two crosses with 'Norman Gill' x griersonianum = 'Agnes', A.M., and x 'Naomi' = 'Shepherd's Morning'. Where are the yellows, blues, and whites in plants of this type and quality? In the future will we hear of more from Rh. x 'Norman Gill'?