A Welsh Garden
Dr. I. B. Wilson, Menai Bridge, U.K.
It is remarkable how the ARS fosters enthusiasm for "rhododendrons" among so many people scattered around the globe. I grow in a maritime area just above 53 N but favoured by Gulf Stream influence and by local features of the narrow Menai Strait separating Anglesey from the North Wales Mainland. We are about 25 miles from the famous Bodnant Garden of Lord Aberconway. I cultivate about three acres intensively and have some room for the larger species in another area under trees. This is an area kept under control by sheep grazing so I have to wait for the plants to grow to a good size, when the sheep won't eat them too! Summer temperatures rarely go above 80°F but this year has been quite exceptional with the hottest July on record, that is with temperatures between 80 and 90 over most of four weeks. Nonetheless, I usually have to do some watering in the drier spots under trees. Winters are quite mild with little snow that lingers at all, but quite damp! Frosts are usually short lived and rarely severe enough to produce a hard crust on the soil (under unheated glass in our unusually severe 1980-81 winter the lowest recorded was 27°F).
I have been learning to grow this genus for about 12 or 13 years, starting with just a few old 'ponticum' hybrids already in the garden. I would like to grow all the species available and some of the hybrids, but space, time, and not least, finance have kept this mania under control. I enjoy propagating and growing from seed. With my recent membership of the ARS I have benefitted greatly from the seed exchange, so marvelously arranged, and I have many seed lots growing vigorously. I have had seed shares in recent expeditions to the Sikkim and Nepal Himalayas and to Mt. Omei in China. I haven't really thought of what to do when these many hundreds of seedlings grow beyond my 'nursery' provision in embarrassing surplus. I vaguely hope there will be lots of people around who would like to foster them! I have about 250 species, dwarf to potential giants, in stages of growth from an inch or so high to 6 foot. This year I have hand pollinated as many as I could for the ARS Seed Exchange. I overwinter some of the bud tender species under cold glass and some of the really tender ones (mainly R. maddenii) get crowded warmth in a pool enclosure, together with a few vireya newcomers! I have a number of hybrids also, including some of American origin (via Peter Cox of Glendoick) but the species are my favorites, from the delightful lavender colour of the dwarf R. laudandum var. temoense, through the delicate pale yellow of R. hypenanthum 'Annapurna' to the brilliant red of the larger, and slightly tender eriogynum (which survives outdoors here perfectly). Some of the plants raised from my own seed give me pleasure; I am especially fond of a seedling from the natural hybrid 'Pipit' (R. lowndesii x R. lepidotum, also from Peter Cox) which is quite dwarf and with flowers half as wide again as 'Pipit' and a lovely cream colour.
I hope this brief summary gives you some idea of my biases and delusions of grandeur! I really do not think I will have room for R. sinogrande, R. magnificum, R. protistum and the other giants, even to allow for their growth in my lifetime. But will that affect my choice when I avidly scan the pages of the next seed list or hear of another expedition?