Rhododendrons in Our Garden
by Wales Wood
Many amateurs, if not all, who fall victim to the hobby of collecting and growing Rhododendrons, share a similar experience. They start with perhaps one or two plants as a foundation planting; they become interested in the plants and acquire a few more. The number of plants increases yearly until all apparent space in the garden is filled.
At this particular stage of collecting, the dwarf and semi-dwarf Rhododendrons suggest themselves for their various possibilities of use as ground cover among the large growing varieties, for edging along paths and as specimen plants in the rockery. The dwarf and semi-dwarf groups may lack the floral show of the larger varieties, but they more than compensate for this in interesting variations of form, foliage and color. Ease of handling the smaller plants is a real asset. The blooming season of these plants extends. from the latter part of February to the latter part of June.
The following notes that I make here are on a few of the dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties that have proven satisfactory in our garden.
- R. leucaspis blooms in late February or early March, has cream to white cup-shaped flowers with large chocolate anthers and has proven hardy in our location.
- R. moupinense is white with some pink. Last year's late snow covered our plant while in bloom. The snow left this bloom uninjured while R. 'Bric-a-Brac', the offspring from R. moupinense and R. leucaspis, did not fare so well. All the buds on R. 'Bric-a-Brac' were spoiled by the weather.
- R. 'Cilpinense' (ciliatum x moupinense) seems to be one of the few hybrids that is an improvement over its parents. Our plant never fails to furnish us with a beautiful show of pink bloom each spring.
- R. 'Conemaugh' (racemosum x mucronulatum) blooms only a week or two later than its parent, R. mucronulatum, and we prefer its habit of growth to that of R. mucronulatum.
- R. keiskei has the best yellow color and is the only pure yellow in any of our so-called yellow rhododendrons. Our plant is quite old and now measures 2 to 3 feet in height.
- R. pemakoense is well worth growing for its profusion of bloom and habit of growth.
- R. pallescens perhaps does not belong in the semi-dwarf class. Its bloom resembles R. yunnanense however, it is a smaller shrub and more hardy than R. yunnanense. The milky white bloom with cinnabar red freckles and long stamen completes the delicate picture of this triflorum.
- R. deleiense, is liked for its shiny leather-like foliage and its waxy, bell-shaped pink blooms.
- R. cremastum, R. myrtilloides and R. campylogynum, all from the campylogynum series, are tidy little plants with attractive foliage and bell-type blooms.
- R. williamsianum both the prostrate and the more upright forms, are nice for foliage. Unfortunately, williamsianum and its numerous hybrids such as 'Humming Bird', 'Temple Bell', 'Thomwilliams', 'Arthur J. Ivens', 'Adrastia', 'Jock', 'Little Bill' and 'Moonstone' seem to take their own sweet time to bloom. All of these plants have a good compact habit of growth.
- R. impeditum has interesting foliage and is generous in bloom.
- R. chryseum is a good yellow to use with impeditum.
- R. imperator presents large blooms, topping miniature foliage. Our plant is very dwarf with red-green leaves and covers itself with magenta-rose solitary flowers, not royal purple flowers as described in F. Kingdon Ward's 1949 book on Rhododendrons.
- R. camtschaticum is a deciduous dwarf rhododendron, not over 6 inches high with reddish-purple flowers. It flowers freely and the foliage gives contrast in the rockery with its very vivid fall coloring.
- R. lepidostylum presents beautiful, soft blue-gray foliage. Our plant has not flowered.
- R. crebreflorum is interesting for its peculiar brisk manner of growth. We are anxiously awaiting its first bloom.
- R. radicans is a flat dark green creeper with large solitary violet flowers.
- R. calostrotum has attractive gray-green foliage in spring and summer, turning to bronze in fall and winter.
- R. concatenans has not bloomed for us, but is enjoyable for its glossy gray foliage.
- R. neriiflorum, gives forth each spring with an abundance of beautiful scarlet bells.
- R. sperabile has more attractive foliage and form than R. neriiflorum and also blooms well. The flowers are crimson scarlet bells.
- R. haematodes has not bloomed but we are fascinated with its chubby form of growth and its thick wooly leaves.
- R. 'Arthur Osborn' (didymum x griersonianum) bloomed for us last year and is well budded for the coming year. The bloom is almost a mahogany shade of red. The plant's habit of growth seems to be good, confining itself in the rockery.
- R. 'Nereid' (neriiflorum x dichroanthum) is a neat-growing hybrid and should be very satisfactory in the rockery.
Many of the hybrids recommended for the rockery, such as R. 'Dido', R. 'Bow Bells', R. 'Rubina', R. 'Red Cap', R. 'Medusa', R. 'Goblin', R. 'Erebus', and R. 'Mohamet' have grown too vigorously for our rock garden.
Digressing from the subject of dwarf and semi-dwarf rhododendrons, there are two deciduous azaleas that never fail to give us beautiful blooms each spring and beautiful fall foliage each fall. Azalea rhombicum gives forth with large magenta blooms and combines well with the bloom of our native dogwood. Azalea schlippenbachii produces a profusion of large apple-blossom pink blooms and is as lovely a sight as could be desired.
One matter that has concerned me is why the commercial growers in the Pacific Northwest have gone to so much trouble and expense to import so many hybrids from Great Britain and have imported so few of the rated species? In the past years, and even at the present time, the acquisition of good species is a great problem and full of disappointments.
There is also one question I would like to ask Dr. Clark after reading his article "Rhododendrons as a Hobby" published in the July, 1951 Bulletin. Does he really think that rhododendrons, as a hobby, give relief from frustration? I am of the impression that it works the other way.