JARS 42n3 - The Quest For Gold

The Quest For Gold
Felice Blake
Kallista, Victoria, Australia

The quest for the perfect golden rhododendron hybrid has been the goal over the years for many a hybridist, amateur and professional. We have had a "go" at it ourselves and have been quite encouraged with our own modest results. It seems, however, that the main quest has been with the elepidotes (non-scaly rhododendrons) and many hybrids boasting a "golden" name have been let loose on the market. But, how often over the years has the reader of these notes been disappointed by the glorious sounding names which so often have turned out to be something not much better than cream or pale yellow, not the really hoped for but somehow elusive gold. Of course, some very good deep yellows have been bred in the elepidotes, but these are comparatively few.

Perhaps the seekers of gold only look for their goal in the elepidotes and are seeking a typical hybrid with a large formal truss. Perhaps the seekers of gold have not even thought of looking at the lepidotes (scaly rhododendrons). An exception might be Rhododendron 'Chrysomanicum', which admittedly is quite lovely and different, if you are lucky enough to have it flowering in fine weather. But wait until it rains and lovely R. 'Chrysomanicum' is soon spotted and tatty. Or maybe they are satisfied with the likes of R. 'Eldorado' or R. 'Saffron Queen' for a different type of rhododendron.

In my search for gold, apart from those delightful little dwarfs where we have all shades of gold in abundance, I think I have found my goal in the beautiful R. 'R. W. Rye'. This is the child of R. chrysodoron , the golden gift from the Earl of Stair to the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, and R. johnstoneanum . Who better to breed it than the Earl of Stair himself, way back in 1938 at Lochinch, Stranraer, in southwest Scotland. This rhododendron was introduced in 1951 when it received the Award of Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society.

R. 'R. W. Rye'
'R. W. Rye'
Photo by Felice Blake

After eight years from a cutting, which I was fortunate enough to obtain from a well known garden in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, west of Sydney, my plant is now about four feet high by three feet across. It is clothed in deep green medium-sized leaves fringed with hairs, with a lighter and scaly under-surface. The beautiful golden flowers come in flat topped trusses of four usually, early in the season. The quite large flowers are wide opened (rotate-campanulate as the experts would say) with very pronounced lobes, deeper in colour in the throat.

Each year when this rhododendron flowers, it demands and receives much attention from our garden visitors. Many a cutting has been rooted and given to friends. It is reputed to be "slightly tender", perhaps in frosty areas it would need some protection. In our climate it does need some protection, but for a very different reason - our scorching sun in summer. This rhododendron is easy to propagate, cuttings taken here in January are all well-rooted just a month later using a powder hormone and a heated propagator with misting.

Rhododendron 'R. W. Rye' is an interesting shrub all the year around, quite arresting in flower. It is a great mystery to me why it is not generally available in the nursery trade. One rarely sees it mentioned in rhododendron literature and even more rarely in catalogues. Easy to propagate, flowering in two to three years from cuttings, R. 'R. W. Rye' is a joy to all those gardeners who grow it. Who was R. W. Rye, was he a friend of the Earl of Stair, or perhaps his trusted gardener? No, I do not know, but perhaps one of our Scottish members could enlighten us!

From JARS v42n4 1988: Kathy Van Veen, Portland, Oregon, supplied information about Mr. R.H. Rye. He was the Earl of Stair's gardener at Lochinch for 35 years starting in 1921.

Felice Blake, a frequent contributor to the ARS Journal, enjoys growing a wide variety of rhododendrons at her home in Australia.