A Tribute to Rhododendrons of Yesterday's Gardens
By Robert Walker
The tendency today is to buy only those varieties that have a recognized rating forgetting that many of the older sorts had certain qualities that would still fit in well with that "new look".
To begin with, take, for instance, that old favorite, R. 'Chevalier Felix de Sauvage'. This is a compact growing rhododendron of merit, fitting in well with today's styling in homes. I don't recall that it has a single star of rating, yet here is a variety that has unusual beauty. The color is a deep salmon-red with darker markings on the upper petals. This variety has uniformly good foliage, and is all exceptionally good, early bloomer.
Have you ever seen R. 'Lord Roberts' in bloom at twilight? The glow of this dark red rhododendron seen after the sun has set is a sight not soon to be forgotten. May is the normal time for it to bloom.
R. 'Boule de Neige', a white variety, is dwarf and compact in habit of growth, and can probably stand a good deal of sun exposure. I don't think you can buy this variety today in any of the nurseries.
R. 'Multimaculatum', a rare variety is, as the name implies, white with many spots, but what its name does not imply is that it is a fast grower, like, for instance, R. 'Mrs. G. W. Leak'. Give it plenty of room or a spot in the background. This one blooms early in June.
R. 'Album Elegans' is another old-fashioned white. The flowers are somewhat small, but it is a terrific bloomer and what it lacks in individual size it makes up for in numbers. When colors clash in your garden, it is well to remember that white is a harmonizer. It flatters all other colors except yellow, which is often used the same way.
R. 'Marchioness of Lansdowne' is a gaily spotted pink variety, seldom seen today. The habit of this one is bushy and compact, and it is a good, dependable bloomer.
Most everybody today that has and enjoys a garden knows R. 'Pink Pearl'. This lovely, shell-pink variety is still the popular favorite wherever rhododendrons are grown.
R. 'White Pearl' is another old-fashioned favorite. When the flowers first open they are light pink. It is only in the second week of bloom that they slowly begin to turn ivory white. It is tall and fast growing in habit. A large, 7 to 8 foot specimen of R. 'White Pearl' was easily the outstanding exhibit of a prizewinning entry, awarded first place, at the Portland Men's Garden Club show a few years ago.
No list of old-fashioned rhododendrons would be complete without mentioning the name of Waterer, and probably the most useful and valuable of the lot would be R. 'Michael Waterer', a lively red that you can plant in either sunshine or shade, full exposure or not, as you wish. This one blooms in May. Then there is also R. 'Gomer Waterer', blush to white in color, and a late bloomer.
R. 'Fastuosum Flore Pleno', as its name implies, is double, at least partly so, all oddity if nothing else. The color is lavender-purple, and it has a two-star rating.
For those of you who live in colder climates, try R. 'Roseum Elegans', rosy-lavender in color, R. 'Mrs. C. S. Sargent', pink, R. 'Ed. S. Hand', cerise and R. 'Lee's Dark Purple'. They all have a reputation for being able to stand a lot of cold weather.
R. 'Princess Juliana' is a lovely pink variety that often will put on a first class show in the autumn as well as in the spring. In other words it blooms twice a year. Even my four star, rhododendrons don't perform like that, yet this lovely pink one does not have a single star of merit.
In closing, let me mention R. 'Madame Wagner', a two-toned dwarf pink, R. 'Rosa Mundi', a light pink, which is probably the earliest hybrid to bloom, and is dwarf and compact in habit of growth. R. 'Sappho', a tall growing white with purple blotch, R. 'Cynthia', another tall growing cerise, and an old favorite still popular today, as is also R. 'Alice', a grand medium pink with a two-star rating, R. 'Madame Masson', a good white. R. 'William Austin', a good scarlet, R. 'Lady Clementine Walsh', a late blooming blush to lilac turning white as the blossom matures, and R. 'Lady Grey Egerton', a pale lilac.