Notes on Selected Illustrations from J. G. Millais' Two
Volumes Rhododendrons and The Various Hybrids, Part IV
Clive L. Justice
Vancouver, British Columbia
R. fortunei x R. thomsonii, R. 'King George'.
R. campylocarpum, R. fortunei x R. thomsonii, R. 'King George'.
This coloured plate of three trusses from Millais, 1917, a watercolour by Winifred Walker, shows at top a full rounded truss of clear yellow Rhododendron campylocarpum. It is probably from the primrose yellow-flowered taller plant form they had in Cornwall and Devon than from the sulphur yellow-flowered lower bush form that J. D. Hooker described and saw in South Lodge from Reuthe in Germany. Writing in the Rhododendron Society Notes, J. G. Millais took it on himself to propose a distinction between the light yellow tall R. camplyocarpum and the darker yellow smaller plant that Hooker had described when he found it in Sikkim. He suggested the tall growing, pale flowered plant be named R. camplyocarpum var. pallidum (RSN Vol. II Part II, 1921). On the Sikkim 2000 trek at an area in the Teesta River Valley well above Lachen, possibly between Yongdi and Gogong, we observed a cluster of big tall rhododendrons covered with yellow flowers on the west side of the valley. Unfortunately we were away across on the east side of the river from them and much too far to make any kind of identification. They might well have been Millais' camplyocarpum var. pallidum (Justice 2000).
The middle truss of Winnifred Walker's painting is Rhododendron fortunei x R. thomsonii. 'Luscombei' was probably the first named hybrid of this cross named for Mr. Luscombe who introduced it in the mid Victorian period. However, as Millais relates, "Recently Sir Edmund Loder has made the same cross, and the result is a much handsomer plant with larger leaves and flower...two seedlings have flowered" (Millais 1917). Most probably the pictured pink truss is one of Sir Edmund's crosses. The lower truss, R. 'King George', is more than likely named for the reigning monarch during the teens, 1920s and 1930s, George V. George became King in 1912 after the death of his father King Edward the VII. It was introduced by the Dutch Nursery, C. B. van Nes & Sons, after 1917 and before 1922. Millais describes it as: "Fine large red, slightly tender" (Millais 2nd series, 1924). Slightly tender indicates Salley and Greer's listing of R. 'King George' as unknown rhododendron x R. griffithianum and is right in listing it as a cross made by Otto Schultz, the Berlin porcelain factory gardener. However Schultz sold all his griffithianum crosses to C. B. van Ness in 1902 (Leach) who had to have named it and introduced it after 1912 when King George V came to the throne, not in 1896 as stated in Salley and Greer. 'Loderi King George' is an entirely different rhododendron hybrid. It is blush white and has a four-star rating while the pictured red 'King George' gets only one star.
R. discolor var. Kirkii - Garden Hybrid
R. oreotrephes, R. insigne
R. discolor var. Kirkii - Garden Hybrid, R. oreotrephes, R. insigne
Lillian Snelling's painting of Rhododendron discolor var. Kirkii x Garden Hybrid at top, R. oreotrephes at lower left and R. insigne at lower right. In the Vol. 1, Part IV, 1919 issue of The Rhododendron Society Notes, W. J. Bean of Kew Gardens wrote a report on the Fortunei group of rhododendrons that included R. discolor (syn. R. Kirkii Hort; now classified as R. fortunei ssp. discolor). Bean writes of discolor:
Of the Fortunei group it is in my opinion the finest...it has the largest flowers of all the Fortunei group1. Under the name of R. Kirkii there is in a few gardens a rhododendron belonging to the Fortunei group. We have it at Kew, and Mr. Millais mentions it in his book, on page 169, as having flowered in his garden in 1915. I do not know how the name originated; I cannot find that one such has ever been published, but I suspect it originated in Messrs. Veitch's nursery at Coombe Wood, probably as a provisional name then thought to be distinct2. Although I have not seen it in flower, I feel certain that it is nothing but R. discolor. The leaves match those of that species and it flowered with Mr. Millais in July, which is the season of R. discolor and not that of R. Houlstonii with which he compares it. Moreover, the Wilson numbers given by Mr. Millais, viz., 885 and 885B, are those of R. discolor.However, Millais sticks to his guns with var. Kirkii in his Second Series, published five years later. In the Species and Hybrids chapter under R. DISCOLOR, R. Kirkii Hort., is legitimized by adding in parenthesizes (from a single plant in Veitch Nursery, Coombe Wood). And after the long description and argument that Bean discounts above, he writes on the hybrids produced with it and garden hybrids of which the illustration is one.
The first successful hybrids of this species (R. Kirkii Hort.) and late flowering garden hybrids was created by Mr. G. Harrow, of the firm of J. Veitch and Sons at Coombe Wood about twelve years ago. Most of the crosses went to Mr. J. C. Williams at Caerhays, but I purchased eight examples and Mr. Slocock had a few. These are all splendid hardy hybrids of good colour from white to deep rose (generally spotted). They flower in good shaped large trusses from late May til July and make a pleasant show at this season when rhododendrons are scarce. They are most variable in their time of flowering and often disappoint one in coming into bloom too early when there is already a wealth of flowers but on the whole they are good value, being hardy, beautiful and very floriferous...I grow a few in quite exposed places with some success but they do better in a wood.
Lillian Snelling's painting is undoubtedly of one of the eight that Millais purchased from Veitch. A deep rose, it is certainly spotted as she depicts or rather a dark blotch or flash. If it were not for the narrow leaves you could be viewing 'Mrs G. W. Leak'. It seems crossing discolor with garden hybrids was quite popular at the time, even Kew Gardens did it3.
The Chinese species Rhododendron oreotrephes and R. insigne had been introduced to England prior to the WW I, the latter by Wilson in 1910 from Mt. Wa, Sichuan Province, and the former by Forrest in 1914 from Lichiang ranges, then also in Sichuan Province. There is a collotype of R. insigne as a dwarf plant4 in Millais, Second Series, photographed in the C. Scrace-Dickins garden, Coolhurst, Sussex. It is from this plant of R. insigne that truss was taken for the painting of it by Miss Snelling. Rhododendron oreotrephes as painted is probably the most typical flower colour and truss size of a very variable species. There are at ten synonyms. Cox lists ten colour forms, and in the wild and cultivation heights are from 1.0 5m to 7.6 m. On a personal note I have a R. oreotrephes seedling raised from RHS seed (1956) that has a perfect cone truss of pale mauve flowers. It has consistently bloomed in late May for forty years, and might have reached 7.6 m but I keep it cut back to 2-2.5m in my leggy Triflorum thicket. Except for the white edged petals, my oreotrephes flowers match those painted by Miss Snelling. The mauve matches 'Countess of Athlone'.
So we can deduce Miss Snelling has painted three rhododendrons that must have been in bloom at much the same time: late May or early June.
1Bean's Fortunei group consisted of RR. fortunei, houlstonii, decorum, discolor, hemsleyanum, serotinum, vernicosum and auriculatum.
2 A very common nursery practice.
3 In the Rhododendron Society Notes, W. J. Bean concludes his discussion of discolor with the following: "Several crosses with discolor as one parent have been made at Kew, chiefly with such garden varieties as 'Pink Pearl', 'Strategist', 'Doncaster', 'Memoir', etc. But it has also been hybridized with some species - griffithianum (Auklandii), maximum and occidentale, the last of course an azalea."
4 Millais quotes Wilson as saying it grows from 4 to 6 m in the wild and Cox in The Larger Species says 1.5 to 3.7 m in cultivation, listing it as lime tolerant, late flowering and one of the best pinks.