The color illustration on the cover of the January Bulletin of The American Rhododendron Society is the well known R. 'Purple Splendor'. This plant of unknown parentage is mentioned simply in passing in the early publications. Millais Rhododendrons, 1921 makes mention of R. 'Purple Splendor' amongst the newer rhododendrons.
The dark purple colored blooms are either an immediate favorite to the initiated, or detested with an unending abhorrence, but for those who favor the intense color an esteem is manifested in the phrase "One of the very best."
For a number of years after the introduction of the Himalayan hybrids, the purples, mauves, and magenta colors were held in low regard by hybridizers, and the trend amongst hybridizers was to get as far away from the above mentioned colors as possible. Even amongst gardeners and fanciers only clear, pure colors were in demand and favor. No doubt. the many unsightly R. ponticum and its hybrids that bloomed so prolifically if not elegantly in many gardens and borders satiated the senses and prejudiced many against the color simply by its commonness.
The arrival of hybrids of clear color later pushed the so called "Old Type" colors into greater disfavor. R. 'Purple Splendor' of course, was shadowed with this blight and even though, undeserving as it was of this particular criticism it did not meet with any acclaim, and many times its true qualities were unheeded and eyed with skepticism.
In the 1952 Handbook of the Rhododendron Group of the Royal Horticultural Society, R. 'Purple Splendor' has been elevated to four stars, the highest rating of that Society. Such fine plants of allied colors as R. 'Purple Emperor', R. Susa', R. 'Blue Peter', and 'A. Bedford' are much more acceptable in the garden today than some years ago. This reversion of style in colors is most welcome and acceptable.
Waterer's catalogue of 1934 lists this brief description. "Fine rich, dark purple with a deep eye." Ten years later their 1944 catalogue sans any embellishment gave the identical short description. The 1934 catalogue lists under Waterer's New Hybrid Rhododendrons of Recent Introduction some seventeen plants. R. 'Purple Splendor' was not listed amongst them, but rather was listed under the heading General Collection. How many years had elapsed between the years the Millais 1921 mentioned R. 'Purple Splendor' as a newer plant and its inception as a hybrid in the garden?
It is agreed that the hybrid was made by Anthony Waterer, but since no record of its parents were kept R. 'Purple Splendor' like Topsy just happened. G. Donald Waterer writing of R. 'Purple Splendor' hybrids in the Waterer Nursery states the following in The American Rhododendron Society Quarterly Bulletin, Vol. 4 No. 1 page 13. "R. 'Purple Splendor' has sired a large flowered, blush and white with brilliant young foliage of R. 'Moser's Maroon' from which no doubt 'Purple Splendor' was derived." Evidently R. 'Moser's Maroon', a hybrid of French origin grown at Exbury antedated R. 'Purple Splendor', and since very little can he found about R. 'Moser's Maroon' one would probably agree with Mr. G. Donald Waterer, but I must confess that the selection of that parent for 'Purple Splendor' had been farthermost from my thoughts.