QBARS - v18n4 Rowallane

Brian O. Mulligan

I was particularly interested in Dr. Milton Walker's comments on his visit to this quite outstanding garden, published in the July issue of the Bulletin , since I paid my first visit to Rowallane in March 1929 and was able to see it once or twice a year for the next decade, and at irregular intervals during the war years. During this period a steady correspondence was maintained between the talented and knowledgeable owner, Mr. Hugh Armytage Moore, and myself, so that I came to know both the plant material and his ideas, methods and practices in the garden rather well.
In fact I believe that Rowallane gave me excellent training at that time, in the 1930's, on the placing of trees and groupings of shrubs in the landscape, at which Mr. Moore was an acknowledged master, which has subsequently proved most valuable. I was surprised that Dr. Walker omitted to say anything about the history of the garden, which was established and maintained by Mr. Moore for a period of well over forty years, and was recognized as one of the best of its size and type in Great Britain.
The plant of R. pseudochrysanthum which Dr. Walker considers as probably the oldest and largest of its kind to be found in all of Great Britain first flowered in April 1931, when about a foot high, as I noted on the 21st of that month, when at Rowallane.
Two days later Mr. Moore wrote me: " R. pseudochrysanthum is fully expanded today, and I am taking it to London tomorrow. It looks lovely, but may not last until Tuesday - an eight-flowered truss, corolla 2 ins. long 2½ ins. across, interior delicate shell-pink, no spotting, exterior flushed rose-pink, filaments white, anthers ten, straw-colored, stigma greenish-yellow. In one or two minor particulars this does not agree with the description in The Species of Rhododendron , but I am satisfied that our plant is true to name and think it a very choice species." He was unsuccessful in obtaining an award for it from the Royal Horticultural Society on that occasion, probably because the flowers were past their best. I believe, but have no direct evidence to prove it, that he received his plant from the collection at Exbury (Mr. Lionel de Rothschild). It is certainly of great interest to learn how large it has grown in the intervening 32 years.
This species is also mentioned in the R. H. S. Rhododendron Year Book , 1948, in the article "Rhododendrons at Tower Court," by N. K. Gould & P. M. Synge, p. 12, where it is stated that it was introduced from Formosa by E. H. Wilson, had flowered only once and was at that time 5 ft. in diameter. Probably, therefore, this and the Rowallane plant were of the same age and origin.
Another much better known rhododendron which originated at Rowallane is the dwarf form of R. hanceanum known as 'Nanum,' mentioned (and coveted) by Dr. Walker. Proof of this origin is to be found in the same issue of the Rhododendron Year Book , on p. 19, where Mr. Moore, in an account of his garden, speaks of "our attractive pygmy sport of hanceanum ." Presumably it was raised there from seed, but I have no record of this in my own notes, though I well remember the plant. The form generally in cultivation in this country may be the clone 'Canton Consul', which is listed in The Rhododendron Handbook , 1963, Pt. 1, R.H.S., 1963), or else another similar to it. It is certainly not the original, which should perhaps be distinguished as 'Rowallane'.
The earliest reference I can find to this plant in cultivation is contained in a footnote on p. 160 of A. T. Johnson's book, A Woodland Garden. (Country Life, Ltd., London, 1937):"A pygmy form of R. hanceanum , which has only just flowered, is even better, the blooms being like those of oreotrephes in a bright daffodil-yellow." It is illustrated opposite p. 146.
There is another pertinent reference in the Quarterly Bulletin of the Alpine Garden Society , vol. 8, no. 2, p. 133, (London, June 1940) by Mrs. G. Anley: - R. hanceanum var. pygmaeum may be ivory (when it combines well with pink) or bright yellow." This name, pygmaeum , appears to antedate nanum , but so far as I know no proper description of the plant has ever been published under either epithet. There is a brief one under the latter by H. H. Davidian, in his Revision of the Triflorum Series of Rhododendron , in the Rhododendron & Camellia Year Book - 1963 (R. H. S., London) -"The inflorescence is racemose with 5-10 yellow flowers."
In February 1944 Francis Hanger reported in the Journal of the R. H. S. , vol. 69, (2), 43, that "My favorite small-growing yellow rhododendron is the dwarf form of R. hanceanum which does not exceed nine inches in height and is now quite eighteen inches through at Exbury." It is very probable that Mr. Moore would have sent a plant from his original to Mr. L. de Rothschild at Exbury, as well as to other gardens, so it would be of interest to learn whether any of them are still in existence.
It is clear from Mrs. Anley's remark that a paler colored form had already appeared by 1940, but all other early references describe it as yellow. In a later one, Shrubs for the Rock Garden , by R. E. Heath, (W. H. & L. Collingridge Ltd., London, 1954), it is "pale yellow."
I am grateful to Dr. Walker for reminding me of these old notes and correspondence; sometimes they are useful.