QBARS - v28n3 Awards to Rhododendrons Made by Royal Horticultural Society

Awards to Rhododendrons Made by The Royal Horticultural Society
by Members of the Staff, Royal Horticultural Society

Awards to Rhododendrons are made by the Council of The Royal Horticultural Society.
(1) on the recommendation of the Rhododendron and Camellia Committee meeting in the Society's Halls in London
(2) on the recommendation of a subcommittee of the Rhododendron and Camellia Committee meeting at Wisley to judge Rhododendrons selected for trial at Wisley by the Committee sitting in London or sent in by invitation for trial at Wisley.

Awards and Certificates

The Awards given to rhododendrons are:

  1. First Class Certificate. Instituted 1859. Given on the recommendation of the Rhododendron and Camellia Committee to rhododendrons of great excellence. Given at Shows or after trial at Wisley, abbreviated to F.C.C.
  2. Award of Merit. Instituted 1888. Given on the recommendation of the Rhododendron and Camellia Committee to rhododendrons which are meritorious. Given at Shows or after trial at Wisley, abbreviated to A.M.
  3. Preliminary Commendation. Instituted 1931. Given on the recommendation of the Rhododendron and Camellia Committee to a new plant of promise, whether a new introduction from abroad or of garden origin. Given at Shows only, (abbreviated to P.C.).
  4. Highly Commended (abbreviated to H. C.).
  5. Commended (abbreviated to C.). These two awards are given on the recommendation of the Rhododendron and Camellia Committee to noteworthy plants after Trial at Wisley.
  6. Botanical Certificate. Instituted 1878. Given on the recommendation of the Scientific Committee to plants of exceptional botanical interest.  In considering the propriety of recommending the Certificate the Committee will pay due regard to (a) the special botanical interest of the plant exhibited and (b) the desirability of encouraging the introduction and exhibition of novelties even though they may not be of any immediate commercial value or of specially decorative character. In estimating points of botanical interest, the Committee will specially consider (a) peculiarity of morphological or anatomical construction (b) noteworthy physiological endowments, adaptation to varying conditions etc., (c) novelty, whether of introduction or cultural origin, (d) geographical distribution, (e) potential value for garden purposes, or economic uses.
  7. 7. Award of Garden Merit. Instituted 1921. Given on the recommendation of the Award of Garden Merit Committee to plants which either are well known to the Council Committees Garden Staff and Fellows or have been tested and grown at Wisley in the same manner as they would have been grown in the open in a private garden, are of good constitution and have proved to be excellent for ordinary garden decoration. Abbreviated to A.G. M.)

Awards Made in London

Originally awards to Rhododendrons were made on the recommendation of Floral Committee B until the Joint Rhododendron Committee was set up in 1931. This joint committee subsequently  became the Rhododendron Committee in 1946 and the Rhododendron and Camellia Committee in 1953. At the present time should no quorum of the Rhododendron and Camellia Committee be present, the plants entered are submitted to Floral Committee B who co-opt the available members of the Rhododendron and Camellia Committee.
No rules existed or exist for the guidance of Committee members when recommending rhododendrons for award. Reliance was and is made on the knowledge and experience of members of the Committee of Rhododendron species and hybrids. The Council of the Royal Horticultural Society may decline on occasions to accept a recommendation of the Committee and may rescind raise or lower the award recommended.
This system of making awards to rhododendrons remained satisfactory for many years. The number of species and hybrids in cultivation was not too great as it was not until the 1920s and 1930s that quantities of Rhododendron species collected in Western China and neighboring countries earlier in the century by Wilson, Forrest, Farrer, Kingdon-Ward and others came into flower in Britain. Awards were not made indiscriminately, but while it was realized that many Rhododendron species were variable a rational system of horticultural naming (i.e. use of the terms grex, clone and cultivar) had not been introduced. It must be admitted that in light of the development of modern horticultural nomenclature there was and is resulting ambiguity. Thus the F.C.C. awarded in 1934 to R. scintillans was made to the species as a whole and not to the particular seedling raised at Exbury from seed collected in the wild. As it happens in this case variability within the species was relatively unimportant as the species as a whole is desirable and few if any forms are unworthy of cultivation. Under the modern award system, the Exbury R. scintillans , which is exceptional would have received a clonal name but this would not prevent an award being given to the species as a whole. R. dichroanthum , however, which received an A.M. in 1923 is a very variable species and some of its seedlings are considered by some to be very ugly, particularly in subsp. scyphocalyx. Under the modern system the A.M. would only have been applied to the clone exhibited. The award of the A.M. to R. lacteum in 1926 is sometimes the cause of disappointment for the seedling so honored had flowers of sulphur-white and not of the coveted and much publicized clear yellow which is found in several other seedlings raised from collectors' seeds. It should, however, be borne in mind that this was probably the first occasion on which this species had been seen in public; that the color of the seedling approaches more nearly in color the translation of the specific epithet "milky" and that it was and still is an attractive plant. At this date the award would have been made to the species as a whole but again selected clones may still be considered for the same or higher awards.


The arrival on the scene of these many Rhododendron species gave at the time a great stimulus to the hybridizer. The large number of interspecific crosses made between the newly introduced species added considerably to the problems of naming. Particularly with crosses where one or both parents were of hybrid origin the offspring was often very varied and a number of the seedlings were considered worth retaining and either individually named or perhaps referred to under the name given to the cross with the addition for instance of "A form" or "A.M. form". As will be appreciated this was unsatisfactory and confusion between various seedlings of the same parentage could and did occur.
In 1953 the R. H. S. published The International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants" edited by W. T. Stearn with among other recommendations one for the use of the terms grex, cultivar and clone. Naturally, the Society has adopted the use of the terms which it had recommended and each award is subject to the bestowal of a clonal name on the plant exhibited. The Society is the International Registration Authority for Rhododendron names and will only recognize a clonal name which has been accepted and registered; thus any clonal name used for a plant which has received an award must have been accepted for registration.
The adoption of the use of clonal names has had more than one happy result. Not only is each seedling of a grex eligible for a clonal name but it is also eligible for an award.  Thus the following clones of Hawk grex (R. 'Lady Bessborough' x R. wardii ) have received individual awards Crest (F.C.C.), 'Hawk' (A.M.), Exbury Hawk' (A.M.), 'Jervis Bay' (A.M.). It will be seen from this that the epithet Hawk has been used both as a grex name and as part of a clonal name (a practice that is no longer accepted) due to the fact that the cross as a whole was originally referred to as Hawk and that the first seedling of the cross selected for submission for award was also referred to by this name. The name Tally Ho was also used as both a grex and clonal name and in 1933 two separate seedlings raised in separate gardens of this cross ( R. eriogynum x R. griersonianum ) received the FCC on the same day. The difference between them was very slight and it is most unlikely that awards would be made on this basis today.
If however as the result of making the cross again a very distinct seedling was obtained that seedling would be eligible for a clonal name and for submission for award under a clonal name.


The use of the term clone may also be applied to forms of a species. In many cases species vary quite considerably, particularly in flower characters. When a species is exhibited for award this factor is taken into account when the Committee decides whether or not any award should be recommended. If a species is relatively uniform and is considered sufficiently meritorious the award could be given to the species as a whole. If on the other hand the species concerned is known to be variable then any award recommended would be subject to the application of a clonal name and the award only applies in such cases to this particular clone of the species and its vegetatively propagated offspring.
As an example a fine form of R. pocophorum raised from Kingdon-Ward's seeds received an A.M. in 1971. As this is a variable species, of which some forms in cultivation are rather poor, the A.M. was given to this clone which was named 'Cecil Nice'. In the future anyone wishing to grow R. pocophorum would normally try to obtain 'Cecil Nice' knowing this to be a fine form of the species.
Had the award been given to the species as a whole nurserymen would have been entitled to advertise any form, poor or good, of R. pocophorum as having received an A.M. which could, in some instances, lead to disappointment for the customer.
On the other hand when R. thomsonii received an A.M. in 1973, the award was made to the species in view of the merit and relative uniformity of the species as a whole.
This award does not however, prevent the recommendation of a future award to a selected clone of R. thomsonii should that clone be considered outstanding in a species which is considered in all its cultivated forms to be highly meritorious.

Award of Garden Merit

Up to 1969 some 86 rhododendrons had received the A. G. M. of them 26 were species and 60 hybrids, including azaleas. This award in some ways counterbalances those made at Vincent Square, where a species which receives an award may be difficult to grow, be rare in cultivation and perhaps flower too early for safety from frosts in many gardens although a desirable plant. For instance R. pocophorum comes into flower too early for many gardens subject to frost and is most unlikely to be considered for the A. G. M.