Growing Rhododendrons in Tasmania
H. R. Malone, Tasmania, Australia
Tasmania: A large island located as a separate state and some 300 miles south of Melbourne is in the path of the "Boring 40's". A very equable climate which ranges from 65°F. to 75°F. through most of the summer at our northwest end of the island. Winter temperatures seldom go below 5° below freezing and rainfall averages 40". Most of our soil in this area is basaltic with a ph of 5.3. We have some dolomite areas in the state but quite a large part of the settled area is suitable for rhododendrons. We have formed two societies here, one in the northwest and one at the southern end at Hobart, the capital. We can grow all types of rhododendrons without too much trouble. Hardier Malesian rhododendrons thrive on a verandah and I have a couple of R. lochiae x R. macgregoriae types in trees outside where they seem to exist quite happily without a great deal of growth. Quite likely we might have trouble with some of the alpine varieties susceptible to warmer temperatures.
My own particular conditions are an improvement on the above generalized Tasmanian conditions. I have a block about 8 miles from the sea, up about 600 ft., located in a rain forest valley where the rainfall is nearer to 80 inches a year and the humidity is so high that I have been known to be working in my singlet at the bottom of the valley with the temperature only a few degrees above freezing.
The area I have turned into a garden is about 4 or 5 acres on a tongue of land between two streams, a very pretty waterfall on one and with a dam on the other to give adequate water by gravity to the whole garden. Tree ferns Dicksonia antarctica and blackwoods Acacia melanoxylon fill the deeper part of the valley with lesser numbers of Tasmanian laurel Aropterus qlandulosa myrtle nothofagus cunningham II and Lesether wood Eucryphia lucida Snowberry Galtheria hispida. This is the background to my planting.
In the deeper valley I have grown a range of R. maddenii seedlings with a wide range of the better known hybrids flanking the paths as well as some of the bigger leafed types, R. sinogrande, R. basilicum, R. magnificum, R. falconeri deeper in the valley. The valley of the second creek is shallower, more open to the sun and an ideal place for deciduous azaleas. Several hundred seedlings from 5 to 10 years old are beginning to make a fine display with a similar number 2 to 5 years old being used to extend the area. Every year I raise new seedlings but am now fast running out of area. In the last couple of years, I have begun to raise some of the American species, R. prunifolium, R. bakeri, R. minus, R. calendulaceum, R. occidentale, R. vaseyi and R. roseum and will be interested in completing the range sometime in the future. R. occidentale and R. vaseyi are the only American azaleas we see much of in Tasmania so I am looking forward to seeing mine flower.
My interest in rhododendrons commenced when I shifted from near Brisbane in a sub tropical climate to Rosebery, a small mining town isolated on the west coast of Tasmania. Being isolated I satisfied my interest in rhododendrons by raising them from seed. Information came from books so I encountered all the normal difficulties as well as lots of new ones because of my lack of knowledge. As our home was situated on a normal household block of about 1/5 of an acre which included house, garage, glasshouse and clothesline area, there wasn't very much room for a garden. A wide range of azalea and rhododendron seedlings were growing on and taking more and more room. I was planning for retirement so I purchased this present block of about 22 acres and for 3 years before retirement I spent weekends clearing blackberries and planting out rhododendrons. They were not all mine. Some I was able to obtain were at least 40 years old. These were carried by trailer some 100 miles and planted out, often in summer. Some were so heavy that the planting location was determined by where the barrow tipped over.
Our garden is now beginning to be known and we have opened it to the public. We sell rhododendrons and azaleas that we raise ourselves and this gives us the opportunity to bring in a very wide range of named plants. But my love is still in the raising of seedlings and as new hybrids and species come into flower each year, there is always something new.
I would be happy to hear from any chapter members and should any look like visiting Tasmania we would be very pleased to see them and perhaps provide a couple of beds for a stopover. We can of course put in contact with Society members and recommend gardens to see.