Gracious 'Vanessa Pastel'
Kallista, Victoria, Australia
Among the myriad of hybrid rhododendrons available, some emerge as being unusual and irresistibly appealing to the discerning grower. One unusual hybrid flowering mid to late season that always appeals to me is the gracious and charming 'Vanessa Pastel'. It is a good garden plant, quite sun hardy, very well behaved, growing into a fairly low wide plant. When grown in an open position, it is well clad down to the ground with four and a half inch mat green leaves. The beautifully shaped three inch flowers, eight in a truss, are a delicate cream delightfully flushed shell pink with a deep scarlet throat, brimful of quality, and arresting in their loveliness. This one is reliable in its generous flowering year after year.
Photo by Felice Blake
'Vanessa Pastel' has the distinguished parents 'Soulbut' (R. souliei x R. fortunei 'Sir Charles Butler') x R. griersonianum. It was raised by Lord Aberconway in 1930, but was not introduced until 1946 when it received the RHS Award of Merit on 28th May that year. This was followed by the award of a First Class Certificate in 1971. With that parentage, this hybrid must be good!
It is interesting to trace the parental characteristics in the children. Here the influence of R. griersonianum shows in the leaves, although regrettably lacking the parental indumentum and more importantly in the flower's distinctive and lovely scarlet throat. From our own somewhat limited experience in hybridizing, we have noted that hybrids with R. griersonianum in the ancestry often show this type of distinctive throat. One would also conclude that R. souliei has influenced the shape of the flowers. The colouring would seem to be a combination of both parents and grandparents.
I first saw this rhododendron nearly twenty years ago in a nursery specializing in the unusual. It has been said that everyone who sees 'Vanessa Pastel' wants to grow it and I was no exception. In those days it was rather rare here, even now one does not see it as often as one would expect. This is surprising as it is easy to propagate and flowers at a comparatively early age. Perhaps, as it generally flowers after our main rhododendron shows, it is inclined to escape the public eye. To me it is a real charmer and a delightful addition to any garden.
When seeking this rhododendron, make sure you obtain the true 'Vanessa Pastel', and not 'Vanessa' which although of the same parentage, to me lacks that indefinable quality which is so apparent in its sister 'Vanessa Pastel'.
Felice Blake is a regular contributor to the ARS Journal. In the spring of 1989, she will travel to the Pacific Northwest, attend the ARS Convention in Victoria, British Columbia and speak at several chapter meetings.