A Garden Visit with the Species Study Group
Arthur W. Headlam, Bentleigh, Australia
No matter how many rhododendrons there are in one's collection, and the number is generally governed by the size of one's yard, there is little doubt that visiting another enthusiast's garden to see the rhododendrons in flower, and see how some of the problems associated with growing these beautiful and sometimes temperamental plants have been overcome, is one of the pleasures in store for the novice as well as the more experienced growers.
Whilst numerous books have been written on the subject of culture, there are usually some exceptions to the rules, and at a first glance a plant may be seen growing in a position not recommended in the Handbooks, but a careful study often reveals that, perhaps in an adjoining property a tree provides some protection against late afternoon sun, the house, particularly if more than one story, or even a group of trees on the other side of the street may again provide some shade and break the force of the wind.
It is interesting that a particular rhododendron may vary considerably in well being and healthiness, often in reasonably close proximity, but a careful study will generally reveal some factor causing the inconsistency.
Extensive garden visits are a regular feature in England, and an indication of the popularity of these outings may be gained by a study of the R.H.S. Yearbooks as well as the Rhododendron and Camellia Group Newsletters. Visits to the National Rhododendron Garden at Olinda are a popular outing in the spring, and the Species Study Group meets regularly to have general discussions on the many species in the garden. Recently, whilst going through my slides to make a selection for a special Study Group meeting, I was particularly taken with a group of three species, a description of which follows:
Subsect. Lapponica, R. hippophaeoides var. hippophaeoides, which has been tastefully sited in a prominent position in one of the rock gardens, where it stands out like a sentinel and attracts considerable attention with its acridly aromatic green leaves and powder blue flowers.
Collected in Yunnan at 9/11,000 feet, where it is often found in boggy ground, the leaves, as the specific name indicates are the shape and color of sea buckthorn.
Next, Subsect. Maculifera, R. morii, a shrub of up to 25 feet, collected in Formosa (now Taiwan), 6/10,000 feet, attracts attention when in flower, up to 15 in a loose truss, white flushed rose, widely campanulate. A very beautiful rhododendron.
And, finally, Subsect. Tephropepla, R. tephropeplum, an attractive small shrub, usually from 3 to 6 feet tall, with good dense foliage, slightly scaly above, glaucous and with dense black scales beneath. Flowers in trusses 3/9, tubular campanulate, pink or reddish purple, occasionally perfumed. Collected S. E. Tibet, Yunnan and Assam, 8,000 to 14,000 feet.
Once having watched a group of rhododendrons as just described progress through the bud stage, and finally the flowers appear, to be admired and photographed, there is little chance of not being able to identify them on some future occasion.
Nurserymen have the advantage in this respect as they are handling rhododendrons every day of the week; nevertheless, there are several nurserymen members of the Species Study Group at Olinda, which can only be an advantage as it widens the spectrum of knowledge within the group.