Meerkerk Hybrid Test Garden Results, 1996
Ever notice that sometimes you'll doze off for just a moment, and surprise! It's already time to rush off and do that chore. Well, guess what? It's time to make another report on the Meerkerk Hybrid Test Garden. Lots of things have happened at Meerkerk over the last few years. We got a new manager, Kristi O'Donnell, who really knows how to get a bunch of people enthusiastic about pulling weeds. We also made some big changes at the test garden.
Clive Justice made a master plan for Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens in 1990, and one of his ideas was to put some order into the plan of the Hybrid Test Garden. At first I just hated the idea. But I was overruled and so in came the "wagon wheel" design. I cried as each picturesque meandering path was straightened and subjected to the cruel logic of the wagon wheel. I wept with the felling of each graceful shade tree, victim to the harsh policy enforcing full sunlight throughout the test garden.
But as I was wiping the tears away, I discovered that now I could tell exactly when each plant was placed, just by seeing where it was in the wagon wheel. Even worse, I was beginning to like the idea. Could it be that logic and rigid procedure were just what a test garden needed?
The wagon wheel consists of six pie slices, one planted each year. Each year the oldest pie slice is dug up and replanted with new varieties. Thus each plant spends six years in the garden, unless it dies first. We are now planting about 30 or 40 varieties each year, and so we are in constant need of new plants.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the donors of plants to the test garden, including Briggs Nursery, A Sandy Rhododendron, Benjamin's Nursery, Whitney Gardens, Greer Gardens, Hammond's Acres of Rhodies, Kellygreen Nursery and Sweetbriar Nursery. Many of our most special plants have come from individuals, including Warren Berg, Joe Davis, Elsie Watson, Loyd and Eddie Newcomb, Frank Fujioka and Greg Kesterson, Paul Christensen, Yasmin Workman, Clint Smith, Merle Sanders, Bill Robinson, Jack Lofthouse, Bill Stipe, Al Johnston, Bernie Nelson, Mr. Lennon and Mr. Fisher. Many thanks are owed to all of you. Without your help the test garden simply would not be able to function.
We invite contributions of plants from all breeders of rhododendrons. If you would like us to try some of your plants, write or call: Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens, P.O. Box 154, Greenbank, WA 98253.
The most surprising aspect of the new test garden design is the way it has proven to be a magnet for visitors. Its continually fresh and changing palette of garden size rhodies has made the test garden Meerkerk's biggest attraction for rhodie aficionado and brown thumb alike. We find that people actually talk about the new plants they saw at the test garden, spreading the word about the most appealing plants.
A great many people have contributed their time in rating the plants at the test garden. Elsie Watson, Yasmin Workman, Greg Kesterson, Bill Stipe and Frank Fujioka have each rated the plants repeatedly. I would like to thank these star performers and all the other raters for their work. Jim Ramsey, Lew Naddy, Bob McKinney and Don and Lillian Milliken also deserve special thanks for being perennial volunteers at Meerkerk. We are also fortunate to have the skilled services of plant photographers Bill Heller and Dennis Hendrickson to record the plants at the garden.
The basics of rating the plants have remained unchanged. Raters are told to be free in expressing their own individual prejudices when rating the plants. There are no preconceived rules or notions. If you like it, you give it a high score, "5" being tops. If you hate it, you give it a low score, down to a "1." Each year, I try to describe the flowers in the spring, and the foliage in the late summer.
This report has a format different from the previous reports (see Spring 1991 and Fall 1992 issues of the Journal). Instead of arranging the plants alphabetically and describing each one, this year I am arranging the plants by ranking. The best ones are presented first, each with a full description. As plants fall lower on the list, their descriptions become briefer. Out of mercy and kindness, we have not given low ranking plants descriptions. We'll leave that to your imagination.
The tables that follow have two sets of numbers. The "ratings" come first and show the average rating of each plant for flower, foliage, and the overall appearance of the plant during flowering. A "5" is perfect, "3" is average, and "1" is awful. The "rankings" are listed after the ratings and give the ranking of each plant for flower, foliage, and overall appearance. A "1" means that the plant was the best of all the plants for that category, while "63" means that it was the worst. The overall ranking of each plant is indicated by its position in the tables. The first plant to appear in the first table is the top ranked plant (#1). Each successive plant is ranked lower than the one above until finally we arrive at the last plant in the last table, the lowest ranked plant of all (#63).
The nomenclature of the plants submitted to the test garden isn't always the best, and some have meaningless I.D. numbers. If an unnamed plant is found to be really worth growing, you can be sure we'll take the effort to get it a real name. Otherwise, the number will serve to remind you that an unnamed plant was tested and attained a certain level of performance.
The Best Plants
Here are the best plants: the top 10 percentile with their ratings and rankings. Every one of these plants is outstanding. (See Table 1.) The first three numerical columns show the average numerical ratings for flowers, foliage, and the overall plant respectively, all rated during flowering. A rating of 5.00 is perfect, while 1.00 is awful. The second three columns show the relative rankings for flower, foliage and overall plant. A ranking of 1 is given to the best plant for a given category.
Descriptions of the Best Plants
'Centennial Celebration', named after the Washington State Centennial, is a very nice yak ( R. yakushimanum ) hybrid. Its other parent, 'Purple Lace', has imparted an exquisite frilliness to its trusses of lavender orchid flowers that often smother the plant so completely that they hide the foliage. In six years, this plant had grown to 3 feet tall and wide forming a visible trunk but with fairly dense foliage on a symmetrical plant. The leaves are slightly shiny and darkish, retaining three flushes but tending to twist.
'Centennial Celebration' was named for the Washington State
celebration of its centennial. Its ruffled pink flowers make quite
a display and contrast well with its dark green foliage.
Photo by Bill Heller
There is a certain graceful symmetry to the 'Dreamland' looks that especially appeals to me. Its pastel pink flowers are pleasingly arranged above its perfect foliage. The leaves are dusty gray-green, each leaf exactly like its neighbor and perfectly arranged. This is a slow growing plant, neat in every way. There's nothing splashy about this plant, but sometimes quiet perfection will fill the bill just fine.
'Ginny Gee' adds a bright carefree sparkle to the garden. Its tiny pink and white flowers cover this neat little bun of a plant with a kaleidoscope of visual activity. It's one of my favorite plants, I think, because of the contrast of the pink and white in the flowers. Of course, there are the other eleven months. 'Ginny Gee' never fails to look neat and clean, filling a small space at the front of the bed.
'Mavis Davis' covers itself each spring with a stunning display of burnt orange and yellow flowers in loose trusses. The contrast between the orange and yellow enliven the picture and really set this plant apart from the rest. When the flowers are gone 'Mavis Davis' still holds its own, making a fairly dense rounded plant with rather wavy dullish leaves. In six years this plant had grown 4 feet high and 5 feet wide.
'Wigeon' forms the cutest prim little bun of a plant. Its brownish-tinged leaves are neatly arranged giving the plant a clean look. Then comes spring and suddenly 'Wigeon' becomes covered with lavender flowers, making the plant a bright little punctuation point of solid color.
'Bambino' has a color that jumps out at you when it is in flower.
Its foliage tends to have the light color of its grandparent,
'Britannia', but when it flowers, all else is forgiven.
Photo by Bill Heller
I like to see 'Bambino' up close. It's the complexity of those peach colored flowers, arranged in complexly styled trusses. The graceful calyces and peachy corollas seem to form lacy swirls atop the foliage. After the flowers fall off, Bambino becomes a plant of average symmetry and density, with somewhat crinkly dullish leaves.
Some Good Plants
The next 10 plants represent the 75 percentile to 90 percentile cohort. These are all plants that have some very good characteristics. (See Table 2.)
|'Senator Henry Jackson'*||4.03||3.38||3.60||6||17||7|
|* Unregistered name|
'Senator Henry Jackson'* is a rare bird. Pure white rhodies are few and far between, and here's a good one. And when the flowers have faded, this low grower with rolled dusty gray-green leaves does a journeyman's job of adding structure to the garden. 'Yaku Angel' actually looks best after its average yak-type flowers have fallen off. Then it gets to show off its dense and symmetrical habit, its perfectly uniform and orderly narrow rolled leaves are liberally dusted with gray tomentum.
'Platinum Pearl'* is your typical large rambunctious rhody with a big truss of light pink flowers, each with a blotch for good measure. If I were a species nut, I would love 'Meerkerk Magic', a hybrid that has that "species look." Its trusses sport pink flowers with lots of little spots. We've planted some more plants of this hybrid, so we'll have another go around with this one in a few years.
The name of 'Meerkerk Magic' makes this plant one of the more noticed
plants in the test garden. This upright plant has a refined, somewhat
subdued look that makes it a good plant for the woodland garden.
Photo by Bill Heller
'Henry's Red' has nice trusses of dark red flowers on a fairly dense rounded plant with average green leaves. 'Ben Moseley' displays pleasing pink trusses on a rather dense rounded shrub. Its light colored wavy leaves tend to be somewhat irregularly arranged. 'PJM Regal' forms a rather dense but irregular upright shrub with nice looking leaves that have a reddish tinge. Its flowers are like the PJM Group, except with a richer color.
'Yaku Prince' sports undistinguished yak-type flowers on a nice but typical yak-type shrub. 'Pirouette' gets its large trusses with numerous flowers from 'Pink Petticoats' and its fading tendencies from R. yakushimanum . Everybody loves its flowers, but the shrub is open and its leaves tend to be irregular.
Although 'Bergie Larson' is a bit tender, it's still one of my favorites. It has colorful orangey flowers in a floppy truss, but I like its shiny dark green leaves, uniformly shaped and placed on a fairly dense upright shrub. In crosses it tends to pass on its good foliage.
A Lot of Average Plants
Now we come to the average plants. These form the cohort of 25 percentile to 75 percentile, and are listed from best to least. Some have exceptional flowers or foliage, but are wanting in other characteristics. Most are pretty average in all features. (See Table 3.)
|'Anna H. Hall'||3.39||3.32||3.14||38||19||29|
|'Arthur John Holden'||3.44||3.20||3.20||34||21||23|
|('C.I.S.' x' Fabia')**||3.43||3.14||3.14||35||27||28|
|( R. wardii x 'Idealist')**||3.08||3.25||3.25||49||20||22|
|Unnamed, code YM-75**||3.62||2.81||3.13||21||45||30|
|Unnamed, code 5864**||3.57||2.82||3.02||24||44||37|
|'Fort Bragg Glow'||3.57||2.84||2.92||23||43||45|
|( R. calophytum x R. bureavii )**||2.67||3.57||3.00||62||8||41|
|* Unregistered name ** Unnamed cross|
Out of this large group of average plants, I will describe only those which have outstanding characteristics. 'Sonata' is best appreciated when its modest trusses of orangey toned flowers have passed. That's when you can appreciate 'Sonata's best feature, its dark green neatly arranged foliage. 'Phyllis Korn' puts on quite a show with its big creamy flowers with contrasting red blotch. These make up for its tendency to form a bare trunk, topped with rather unkempt foliage. 'Frank Galsworthy' gathers oh's and ah's of admiration every time it puts out its big, richly colored trusses of purple and yellow flowers. When the flowers are gone, the foliage tends to be sparse and the leaves dull, floppy and messy looking.
Below Average Plants
The next group of plants were below average, making up the 10 percentile to 25 percentile cohort. Some of these plants may be useful in certain situations and in climates other than in the Northwest. (See Table 4.)
|* Unregistered name|
The only plant in this group which has any above average features is 'Burma'. Its trusses of dark red flowers are large for the size of the plant and put on a nice display if you can ignore the rest of the plant.
The Low Achievers
These plants represent the bottom 10 percentile. Although these plants did poorly at the Meerkerk Hybrid Test Garden, they might do well under other conditions or in another climate. (See Table 5.) Out of kindness I will not describe any of these plants. Please remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some of these plants may have features which you will just love, despite their being unappealing to those who rated them. Also remember that these plants may be poorly adapted to the Northwest. In other areas they may even be outstanding plants.
|* Unregistered name ** Unnamed cross|
Hybrids of the Year
Each time we put out a report from the test garden, the members of the Northwest Hybridizers Group vote on the plants they consider to be the very best. This time three plants have been chosen to receive this award.
'Dreamland', our 1993 Meerkerk Hybrid of the Year, is just a great plant that adds grace wherever it's grown. Our nurseryman friend tells us that this plant virtually jumps into the arms of his customers.
'Ginny Gee', our 1994 Meerkerk Hybrid of the Year, needs no introduction. Everyone already knows and loves it. We gave it an award just to remind you that you like it.
'Mavis Davis', our 1995 Meerkerk Hybrid of the Year, is destined to make its mark in the quest for the Holy Grail of rhody breeding: the true orange. In the meantime, we can just grow it and revel in its glowing colors.
* Name is unregistered.
Pat Halligan, a member of the Whidbey Island Chapter, authored the series of articles on how Northwesterners, Northeasterners, Southeasterners, Midwesterners and Californians rate their rhododendrons.