A Branch Of Beauty
Kallista, Victoria, Australia
In our hills, each year around the end of October and early November, the various horticultural societies hold a four day flower festival, the two largest featuring rhododendrons. Quite some years ago, when I was wandering around the biggest show of all, held a few miles away from here at Ferny Creek, my attention was caught by the winner in the section called "A Branch of Beauty". The title of this floral art section was of itself rather intriguing whether one was a floral artist or not.
Photo by Felice Blake
The winner was a branch, quite a large branch, of a most exquisite rhododendron, not previously known to me, R. 'Elspeth'. The flowers were arresting in their loveliness. Rosy red in the bud, the flowers opened pink, changing to cream, but retaining a delightful deep rosy margin on the corollas. Along with other admirers, I hastened to find the owner and we all went away with promises that the rhododendron would be propagated. A little less than a year later I was presented with a small plant.
I found that R. 'Elspeth' is an old hybrid, having been raised by Slocock. It has R. campylocarpum as its seed parent, but the pollen parent is unknown. This beautiful rhododendron received the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Merit as far back as 1937. The mid-green leaves have that pleasant slightly rounded habit passed on by the seed parent. R. 'Elspeth' is a good looking plant the whole year around.
It is, however, a plant for the patient grower, but shouldn't we all be patient? It does take some five years or so to arrive at the flowering stage, so it is not as quick as some. In this case the reality measures up to the anticipation! Eventually, and I repeat eventually, it can grow to some fifteen feet, but that certainly would take many years. My plant flowers freely each year, but I still cannot pick "A Branch of Beauty".
This rhododendron seems to have dropped out of many recent catalogues, no doubt with the plethora of newer hybrids flooding the market. Browsing through some old copies of the R.H.S. Rhododendron Year Books, I have come across several references to this rhododendron growing in the Pacific Northwest region. Perhaps some of our members there are still growing this one.
It seems to me that R. 'Elspeth' is certainly worthy of being more widely grown. It has a quiet charm that is sometimes missing from many of our newer hybrids.
Felice Blake, a frequent contributor to the ARS Journal, grows both hybrid and species rhododendrons.