QBARS - v14n1 Rhododendron Notes

Rhododendron Notes

Color of flowers is a useful guidepost in landscaping. Nature places white flowers and soft hues in the deep shade of the forest, where their delicate beauty enhances but does not interrupt the feeling of serenity nor startle the eye. At the edge of the forest and across the meadow beyond, however, a feeling of gaiety prevails in the random weaving together of red and other bright hues, achieving unity through the blending effect of whatever green foliage predominates. This suggests a parallel in placing rhododendrons and while some large leaved ones would be unhappy in an entirely open situation, three trees of one kind could well represent a woodland or a single tree its edge in a small garden.

Leaf color, as well as size, is generally an indication of where the plant grew. Glaucous or gray-green leaves are not typical of deep shade plants. For example, Rhododendron thomsonii grows well and compactly in the sun in not too rich soil, but it is usually seen as a long drawn out specimen in deep shade. Bronze new foliage, such as on some of the triflorum Series, generally indicates a plant that likes sun. Such plants also tolerate light shade and are a useful transition between dark green and glaucous or gray-green.

- Ruth Jacobson, Seattle, Wash.

Gordonia alatamaha , the Franklinia, is one of the most beautiful flowering trees we have grown. It is a native of Georgia and closely related to camellia. It is said to grow to 30 foot high; the branches curve upward forming a handsome pattern. We grow it in full sun where it has bloomed wonderfully well the past two years from early September until frost. The leaves are large, often 5 or 6 inches long, and turn a brilliant orange-red in the autumn. The three inch flowers, each with a round cluster of golden stamens, bloom against the fall-colored foliage. This tree which is now 9 or 10 foot tall, froze to the ground during the severe freeze of November, 1955, then quickly sprouted from the ground.

Dr. Carl Phetteplace, in his article on R. auriculatum , in the last issue of the Bulletin, spoke of the late blooming R. auriculatum hybrids R. 'Lodauric' and R. 'Polar Bear'. Our plant of 'Lodauric' is quite old and is now almost six foot high and 8 or 10 foot across. It is the variety R. 'Iceberg' which has a green throat. It is the most handsome growing rhododendron in our garden and a good heavy bloomer even in the shade of a large fir where it has been growing for the past nine or ten years. This plant came through the severe winter of 1949-50 without damage, and suffered only slight bud damage in the November freeze of 1955. R. 'Polar Bear' is a big plant 8 or 10 foot high and as much through with fine foliage. It blooms in July or August, where 'Lodauric' blooms in June in our garden. This plant was 15 or 16 years old before it set the first bud. Of the two R. 'Lodauric' is our favorite perhaps because the flowers stand up better and last longer which may be because the weather is not as warm in June as in July and August. Neither of these plants have ever experienced foliage damage by frost. This has been a surprise because new growth is made so late that it has little time to harden before our first frost.

Much of the beauty in a rhododendron planting comes from contrast. The contrast of different types of leaves, big and little, round and oval, some long and pointed, some hairy, some light colored and some dark green. The contrast of growth habit, low and compact, open growing, medium size shrubs, small trees and tiny dwarfs. And the contrast of the different types of flowers, tight trusses and loose ones, small size and large. The Loderi are fine plants with enormous flowers, wonderful for woodland and for specimen plants but the growth habit of R. 'Loder's White' makes it a better all around plant for most homes. And these fine plants are not more beautiful than the smaller tight, perfect, pure white trusses of R. 'Helene Schiffner', contrasted against its very dark green leaves; or of 'Snow Lady' and 'Cilpinense', with their dark green hairy leaves and masses of pure white or apple blossom pink flowers early in the season. Red is often said to be the favorite flower color, but a collection of red rhododendrons ranging from blue-reds, through orange-reds to blood-reds and all the in-betweens is most monotonous and can form a tremendous color clash. Reds are more beautiful when contrasted and separated with whites, cream colors and yellows. And these lighter color rhododendrons are fine plants in themselves, in flower, foliage and growth habits. The longer you grow rhododendrons, the more you are apt to appreciate the graceful loose trusses of the species. I have yet to see a yellow better than a good form of R. wardii in flower, foliage or growth habit; a white finer than a good R. decorum , or R. discolor ; a red more effective than R. euchaites or R. thomsonii . A number of the hybrids have this graceful flower habit, outstanding among them is R. 'Elizabeth' with its very large flowers of fine red which simply cover a well grown plant.

R. 'Snow Lady' is one of our favorite dwarf rhododendrons. This R. ciliatum hybrid was awarded a P.A. by the American Rhododendron Society, a few years ago. It is the most heavily blooming rhododendron we know of, setting buds in clusters of 2 to 5 at the end of each terminal when it is three or four years old; it usually sets a few buds on year old rooted cuttings. It blooms in late April with pure white flowers of good size, set off by black stamens. Leaves are dark green and hairy. It makes a low compact plant, possibly 3 foot across when 10 years old.

- Bob Bovee, Portland, Oregon

On May 13th the Philadelphia Chapter Awards Committee traveled to Mr. Gable's to consider his plants for awards. Several other Chapter members were privileged to go along and the privilege included the coldest, muddiest drenching I have ever had. Since the trip to Stewartstown had taken each of us several hours, we could not easily return the next day. It is certainly to the credit of 'Atroflo' that it could be given the A. E. after having been pelted for hours by a heavy downpour.

Many references to dwarf rhododendrons in the bulletin have recommended full sun as a need for compact plants, full of bloom. Undoubtedly this is true of the northwest, but in my experience, at least, in the Philadelphia area, dwarfs and species need partial shade-not only to thrive, but for survival.

At Morris Arboretum, 'Mossieanum', an old amoenum cross, with a trunk 3" in diameter, has assumed the graceful shape of a dogwood tree. Clothed in a vibrant rich pink, it is a fine example of an old variety.

Heavy, frequent rain, and hot weather in the 1959 Philadelphia area summer, did some odd things to plants. A new bush of mucronulatum came to the garden with several small rue anemone plants in the root ball. Reputedly blooming from May to June, the little white buttercup-like flowers were in evidence constantly from June into October.

Mr. Russell Harmon of La Bars Rhododendron Nursery, Stroudsburg, Pa., showed me a crimson counterpart to 'White Find', the white vaseyi, on a recent visit. The crimson vaseyi is to be released in a few years, and is an eye stopper, combined with 'White Find'.

To those in the colder areas of the northeast, another La Bars cross - maximum and catawbiense - will be of interest. It has been tried in New York State, and has flourished there despise low minimum temperatures. It is a nice pink, and the blooming date June 21st-helps fill a gap in eastern rhododendron flowering.

- Besti Kelius, Philadelphia