Bob Scott: Magic with Maddeniis
In Kensington, California, on a hillside facing the San Francisco bay in view of the Golden Gate bridge, lives rhododendron hybridizer Bob Scott. Bob has been hybridizing here on a small city lot for the past thirty-five years. One marvels that so many outstanding rhododendron hybrids have originated here on such a small piece of earth.
Bob's interest in rhododendrons became well established while managing the rhododendron dell at the University of California, Berkeley, Botanical Garden which he did for the better part of twenty years. During this period he realized just how much the Maddenia subsection contributed to the overall genus. He enjoyed their early bloom time, some starting in February; their fragrance, from fresh delicate scents, to spicy citrus, to sweeter and more complex aromas; their tendency to prolific bloom, sometimes rivaling the azalea group; their delicate and elegant flower forms; and their interesting foliage and peeling bark, the icing on the cake!
As his interest grew, he began to see how, through hybridization, one might enhance the garden value of this group. So he began to establish criteria for a hybridizing program. His goals in these early days of his hybridizing career, remember it was 1955, were to concentrate on creating small, compact, and more floriferous rhododendrons. He was also searching for brighter pinks, deeper yellows, more interesting and unusual foliage and new growth, and yes, a delicious maddenii fragrance.
The non-maddenii rhododendron species which he chose to begin his quest to intensify color, while reducing size and creating compact habit, were xanthostephanum, tephropeplum, moupinense and leucaspis. He also depended on racemosum of the Scabrifolia subsection to increase the quantity of flowers in some of his hybrids.
1963 gave us the first named Scott hybrid 'Pink Snowflakes' (racemosum x moupinense). To this day, this picture-perfect, semi-dwarf gem is a superior plant at any time of the year. It has proved to have flawless habit from a young age through its present 27th year. It is unbelievably floriferous in late winter creating a pink and white effect. It clothes itself with glossy dark green foliage and multiple buds of mahogany red. It appears to be hardy to at least 0°F. Oh what a winner it is!
'Lemon Mist' (xanthostephanum x leucaspis), was created in 1966, a semi-dwarf, butter cream, floriferous gem of impeccable habit. The original plant is now, after twenty-four years, just 3' tall and 8' wide. It did not take Bob long however, to take this gem and give it some maddenii blood in hopes of creating the elusive, rich, dark yellow while maintaining the compact habit of 'Lemon Mist'. We would love to have seen his face when 'Meadowgold' (burmanicum Cox form x 'Lemon Mist') bloomed for the first time in 1968! To this day, there is no darker yellow rhododendron in existence. This plant provides great color plus a near perfect habit on a semi-dwarf plant which likes to bloom its head off!
Other notable hybrids of this period are: 'Helen Scott Richey' [(racemosum x moupinense) x mucronulatum 'Cornell Pink'], a rich, pure sparkling pink that begins to glow in January; 'May Schwarz' ('Candy' x tephropeplum), a superb candy-dish of pure pink and one of Bob's favorites (a pity that this plant hates to root); 'Millicent Scott' (racemosum x 'Saffron Queen')F2, a floriferous wonder of pink and yellow that creates a pastel peach effect.
The only goal not yet met was fragrance, so Bob began to explore the possibilities. He found the right combination when he crossed 'Else Frye' with (johnstoneanum x cubittii) the result being 'Rose Scott' which bloomed in 1969. It is a pure light pink with a deep rosy throat (deeper than any maddenii at this point in time) and with just a touch of yellow to enhance this masterpiece. The fantastic fragrance is enjoyable from more than 60 feet away! Its plant habit is low and compact with deep, glossy green foliage, and to this day it remains one of the most fragrant rhododendron hybrids.
While his initial hybridizing efforts were being satisfied with amazing success, Bob set out to develop medium sized plants with compact habits and larger, more unusual flower shapes and colors. He also sought to maintain and enhance the beautiful foliage and new growth in order to provide year-round attraction.
'Sabrina Adler' (ciliicalyx x moupinense) brings a most floriferous, pale pink pastel cloud of sublime beauty for Valentines Day! All of the flowers reach out to touch one another, leaving hardly a hint of green. The shrub is of medium height with extremely dense branching habit, dark glossy green foliage, and wonderful amber peeling bark. Everyone seems to return for another glance as 'Sabrina Adler' blooms.
Photo by Parker Smith
Could the stripes of rhabdotum be transmitted to a better shaped plant with larger, more colorful striped flowers? The results came in 1968 with 'Starbright' ('Else Frye' x rhabdotum) which yielded a very large, creamy yellow turning white, open flower with delicate pink stripes. Like fine china, it always merits a second and much closer look. A second rhabdotum hybrid, 'Butterhorn' ('Eldorado' x rhabdotum) created a stunningly rich, tubular yellow flower with a dense, low plant habit and an uncommonly long blooming period. Even though there were no stripes, considering the color and texture of the flower, its bronzy new growth, plus its dense growth habit, 'Butterhorn' was an instant winner.
Photo by Paul Molinari
Bob also sought to maintain the very large, creamy, tubular-campanulate flowers of cuffeanum, while discarding its notoriously poor leaf qualities and plant habit. He succeeded magnificently with 'Lake Lorraine' (burmanicum Cox form x cuffeanum Kingdon Ward form). This is an extremely well mannered plant with good, glossy green foliage. The chartreuse flower buds, followed by the very large, rich and creamy flowers, stop you in your tracks!
| 'Lake Lorraine'
Photo by Parker Smith
In 1968, Bob began using chrysodoron in his hybridizing. He sought to utilize its wonderful oblong-elliptic foliage and its beautiful yellow flowers. The result was the recently named 'Parker Smith' [(johnstoneanum x cubittii) x chrysodoron]. This fragrant, medium-sized, clear sparkling yellow has all the attributes he sought with the use of chrysodoron while also having fragrance, so rare in yellow rhododendrons. It produces many double flowers, as its johnstoneanum parent often does. A final significant attribute is that it blooms for up to five continuous months beginning in December.
In 1970, Bob was forced to retire from his job with the university having been diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis. Although this diagnosis did occupy his thoughts for some time, it did not keep him down for long. In 1971, he proceeded with his crossings, a full-time hybridizer now. By this time, Bob had produced somewhere in the vicinity of 100 crosses, and his inventory of candidates for naming was growing beyond comprehension. Only the very best should be chosen for naming, so he began a long process of evaluation to insure this goal.
His hybrids began to be more complex, and to include some of his second generation crosses. He also did a number of crosses with chrysodoron and burmanicum Kingdon Ward form in 1971. The progeny showed great promise, but Bob felt that better results would come through further hybridization. His hunch was correct, 'Saffron Meadow' [(burmanicum K.W. x chrysodoron) x valentinianum] was a major achievement. It is a mounding jewel of medium height with the rounded chrysodoron type foliage that shimmers with the reflection of its profuse bronze hairs. Its flowers are large and deep glowing yellow with an even darker throat. The character of this plant brings another dimension to this group of rhododendrons.
| 'Saffron Meadow'
Photo by Parker Smith
In 1976, 'Scott's Valentine' [(johnstoneanum x cubittii) x (moupinense x 'Rose Scott')] made its debut. This hybrid achieves all of Bob's hybridizing goals in one plant. Its flowers are a large bright pink with a fragrance equal to that of 'Rose Scott'. It is a spreading semi-dwarf with extremely glossy foliage and bright red new growth. The flower buds have picture-perfect, colorful scales of red, silver, bronzy-gold and green.
A plant that barely escaped extinction at the hands of a greedy gopher has recently been named 'Opal Dawn' ('Else Frye' x 'Lemon Mist'). It is named for the unique opalescence and many subtle hues present in its elegant flowers of sparkling white, soft pink and golden yellow tones which exude a fresh, lemony fragrance. All this is found on a neat semi-dwarf gem which many have been extremely eager to add to their collections.
In 1978, 'Joy Ridge', a flower of unusually heavy substance, immediately attracted Bob's attention. From a rich golden center flows a watercolor of yellows and creams with a kiss of red on the corolla's starchy edge. The plant has a dense and compact habit with glossy leaves and is adorned with large bronze buds. As it begins to open its flowers, one is reminded of joyous, glowing candles.
'Beverly Court' (a complex cross involving 'Else Frye', chrysodoron, johnstoneanum, cubittii, burmanicum, and moupinense) was created in 1979. This plant buries itself in coral pink splendor rivaling any other for amount of bloom. It is an extremely compact, low-growing and well-clothed plant. Soon after forming next year's flower buds, these swell and their silver-edged scales cry out for attention all through the seasons prior to blooming.
| 'Beverly Court'
Photo by Paul Molinari
In 1975, there came another unsuspected surprise, the cross of [(burmanicum x moupinense) x (johnstoneanum x cubittii) x chrysodoron) was thought to yield a large yellow. Instead, a very dark rose red was the result! The first hint of a red maddenii had emerged. Bob was unhappy with what he thought was a muddy color that developed with age, so he continued to search for improvement rather than name something he considered "unfinished." After many unsuccessful attempts, there was a breakthrough in 1980. A clear light pink flower with a striking deep red throat resulted in the newly named 'Lake Merritt' ('Rose Scott' x 'Scott's Valentine's sister seedling'). This exciting new hybrid was named for the attractive lake near the 1991 convention site in Oakland, California.
While a convention tour of Bob's garden is not possible, most of his plants can be seen on the tour of Sonoma County at Enjoy Rhododendron Nursery. Many of his creations will also be for sale at the convention plant sale.
At the present time the evaluation process is continuing with many plants still being evaluated. Bob continues to be very critical of what he will name. Among this group of "candidates" we see many jewels. Some have superb pastel tones with bright markings and dark centers, others dazzling sunset blotches. There is a group of reds, a pale lavender pink group, and an apricot group, to name only a few. Bob's current hybridizing efforts include later season bloom with the Scott touch, nuttallii type hybrids in an assortment of colors, and even redder reds! Who knows what other surprises await us?
Thank you Bob, for all the treasures you have given us! Bravo and Onward!
Paul Molinari owns and operates Enjoy Rhododendrons, a wholesale nursery in Occidental, California.
Parker Smith is District Five Director and a landscape architect in Sebastopol, California.