QBARS - v12n2 Forms of Rhododendron 'Elizabeth'

Forms of Rhododendron 'Elizabeth'

Alleyne R. Cook

In my previous article on R. repens I stated that because it is shy flowering as far as a garden plant was concerned its creeping habit was of little value and that its main use lay in the medium sized hybrids of which it was a parent. As is quite often the case a particular cross will give several different and distinct plants and the progeny resulting from the cross between R. repens and R. griersonianum has done just this with the result that there are now at least three distinctive forms of R. 'Elizabeth' being listed in some English catalogues.

R. 'Elizabeth Jenny'
Fig. 13  R. 'Elizabeth Jenny' growing in Windsor Great Park.
Cook photo

The most interesting and most useful of these is R. 'Elizabeth Jenny', the creeping form. (Fig. 13) It is the only rhododendron of garden value that creeps downwards or outwards instead of growing upwards. The original clone is planted on top of a rotten stump at the upper end of the bank of R. repens in Windsor Great Park. As there are numerous plants of Bodnant crosses throughout the Gardens it is very likely that R. 'Elizabeth Jenny' was given by Lord Aberconway to help swell the early Burmha Garden planting and that it was one from the original batch of 'Elizabeth' seedlings. As these Bodnant plants are not the named clones it is probable that he had rejected it as being rather inferior and not until the nurserymen realized its potentials did it become available to the public.

Several places where it could be used in a garden are obvious and there are sure to be many others. In Windsor Great Park it has been used effectively to cover a stump which having done successfully it has then crept down the bank for about 4 feet. It could be used on banks of all grades and what could be more startling in the spring than a sheet of scarlet, instead of such dull plants as periwinkle or ivy. It could also be used as a curtain along stone or rock walls in a manner similar to the way Rosmarinus prostratus is used in the warmer parts of the country. At first such a planting would be expensive but as it becomes better known and therefore cheaper this would be very practical. It is a natural for the rock garden where the flowers would show up against the rocks. Under its spreading branches could be planted early or late flowering bulbs or those that like a cool root run.

Comparisons between the flowers of R. 'Elizabeth Jenny' and R. 'Elizabeth' F.C.C. made at the rhododendron shows in Vincent Square make the former slightly smaller and little paler, but then I am not quite sure if the award plant is the one sold in this country or if the plant seen here is just another seedling from the cross.

Several English catalogues are now listing three different varieties of R. 'Elizabeth', these being;

  • R. 'Elizabeth'
  • R. 'Elizabeth' Wisley form
  • R. 'Elizabeth Jenny'
R. 'Elizabeth'
Fig. 14  R. 'Elizabeth' growing on Battleston Hill.
Cook photo

The first time I saw R. Elizabeth was on Battleston Hill at Wisley. (Fig. 14) The specimen was a rounded bush between 3 and 4 feet in height, the habit was open but in no way loose or untidy, and the flowers in their loose trusses were a good red with a darker centre. Having read about it and heard even more I promptly set up my camera to photograph it. As is so often the case in England the sun retired behind a cloud and it was some considerable time before there was sufficient light to take it.

Having done this and taken a quick look around the remaining flowering shrubs on the Hill I headed through the rose trails past the alpine house to the top of the rock garden. My eye was immediately caught by a small plant bearing the most vivid scarlet flowers. It was the most intense color I can remember seeing and what made it more so was the way it stood alone except for the duller red flowers of R. 'Humming Bird' some distance behind it, and some plants of the deep purple R. russatum beside it. My exasperation was immense when I found that this was also labeled R. 'Elizabeth' and that I had wasted so much time on the plant on Battleston Hill.

In the 1956 Rhododendron Year Book Francis Hanger gives the F.C.C. form of 'Elizabeth' as one of his five favorite hybrids and it is quite probable that he was thinking of this plant. (Fig. 15).

Form of R. 'Elizabeth'
Fig. 15.  A form of R. 'Elizabeth' growing on the Rock Garden.
The bamboo cane in the foreground is one of four which support
a shelter to keep off late spring frosts.
Cook photo

Even the award plant growing at Bodnant did not impress me anywhere near as much as this one. The reason is probably that Bodnant is full of magnificent reds of every size, shape, and shade, and for one to stand out is well nigh impossible. The plant at Wisley had only one red near it and could therefore be judged impartially. This bush was about 5 years old and maybe a foot high, yet the flowers covered nearly all the foliage and these flowers were of the finest red without a trace of blue. I watched this plant for four years and it flowered freely every year. If it is the award plant then it is curious that the catalogues are listing it as a different plant from the R. 'Elizabeth' they have been selling for some years.

I did see a plant of R. 'Elizabeth' in flower at the nursery firm of Reuthers which they were using for hybridizing and propagating purposes. In my opinion it resembled the Elizabeth on Battleston Hill rather than the one on the rock garden and it is likely that the one they had was the earliest one which Bodnant released to the nurseries for resale to the public. If this is so then the Wisley form will be the plant to propagate from in the future.