A Few Kings
Ross B. Davis Jr., Wayne, PA
A professor who tried to teach me horticulture more than forty-five years ago made the statement that rhododendrons were the kings and azaleas the queens of the plant world. This is undoubtedly correct, although there are still some misguided plant enthusiasts who will expound the virtues of roses, hemerocalis, etc.
We in the American Rhododendron Society are concentrating on the kings and queens. Many of us spend much time and effort in collecting, in hybridizing, and in establishing display and test gardens. These are all worthwhile endeavors and should be continued.
There is another avenue that should be, but does not seem to have been, explored. Where can Joe Public find or obtain certain plants which, to many of us, seem almost "ordinary"? The nurseryman, like the rest of us, is trying to earn a living and usually supplies only what most customers demand. In the rhododendron it is usually: red, white, or pink, so he stays with the ironclads.
For example, in designing a planting plan it is not practical to specify 15 R. 'Scintillation', A. E. 2-2½' because the landscape contractor bidding on the project would inevitably ask, "Where are they to be found?" To my horror, the successful bidder may ask this question one week before the contract completion date.
For approximately twenty-five years I have increasingly pursued an objective, namely: to determine those rhododendron that could and should be available in the nursery trade in the Philadelphia area. My reasoning is that unless a clone is available to the general public its future is questionable. The specialist, the collector, and the arboretum can, and will, fend for themselves.
After propagating and growing hundreds of clones, the following list is the result of my distillation for the Philadelphia area. The criteria used were hardiness (-10° F., wind, sun, etc.), a good plant habit, resistance to pests and disease, ease of propagation, speed of make-up, early age of flowering, and last, but paradoxically overriding the other factors, a good flower or flower-effect which is superior to the usual trade ironclads. All plants were tested for five or more years.
1. 'Ben Moseley'
2. 'Richard Bosley' (syn. Bosley #1020)
4. 'Gigi', A. E.
5. 'Glenda Farrell' (1)
6. 'Gretchen' #1
8. 'Janet Blair'
9. 'Nearing Pink' (2)
10. 'Parker's Pink', A. E.
11. 'Ruth Davis'
12. 'Scintillation', A. E.
13. 'Tom Everett'
Small-Leaf Rhododendron: (3)
1. 'Carolina Rose'
2. 'Conewago' #3
3. 'Mary Fleming'
4. 'Shrimp Pink' #1
(1) Perhaps further testing is necessary.
(2) Propagation seems to require correct timing.
(3) Early propagation beneficial. This list will change with time and would, obviously, be different in other areas.
A suggestion to overcome the availability problem might be for those of us who have such plants to do some proselyting of one or more local nurserymen and to provide cuttings or plants for his testing and/or use. Perhaps, once the value of such selections becomes evident to the local nurseryman, he might then continue with some of the more exotic varieties. He and the public might then recede from the red, white, and pink syndrome.