'Dame Nellie Melba': A True Story
Reprinted from California Chapter Newsletter
Rhododendron 'Dame Nellie Melba' was named after a Australian opera virtuosa. Dame Nellie Melba was born in Richmond, Australia May 19, 1859 and died in Sydney, Australia, January 23, 1931. She was a coloratura soprano and made her first appearance in America with the Manhattan Opera Company in 1907. Her first appearance in England was at Covent Gardens, May 24, 1888. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1918 and made her farewell opera appearance in Covent Gardens in 1926. During her career she met the famous Sir E. Loder of rhododendron fame on one of her many singing engagements at Covent Gardens and it is rumored that they became more than good friends causing quite a scandal in Victorian England.
Rhododendron 'Dame Nellie Melba' ('Standishi' x R. arboreum) is a bold plant. As bold and dashing as Bizet's Carmen (not to be confused with 'Carmen' (didymum x forrestii var. repens) a truly diminutive creature). Instead of being a wallflower she sings out like the coloratura she really is, getting 10 feet in 10 years with an equal spread - although the real 'Dame Nellie Melba's' spread wasn't even approaching those dimensions. Leaves are a dark forest green 5½ x 2½ inches in good proportion to her figure. Her flowers are a bright attractive pink with crimson dots. The truss is about 4 to 5 inches in diameter and is large rounded and upright. Truly a rhododendron for center stage. 'Dame Nellie Melba' has two faults which no lady likes to admit to. Her leaves freckle easily in the sun, so be gracious, and offer her a shady spot. She is also slow to "bloom". So sit back, turn on your stereo and listen to the opera Lucia, Dame Nellie Melba's most famous role, and think of what a gracious lady you've got growing in your garden.
I forgot to mention Rhododendron 'Dame Nellie Melba' was hybridized by Sir E. Loder and won a Award of Merit in 1926, the same year Dame Nellie Melba ended her opera career.