Meerkerk Hybrid Test Garden Results, 2000
It's time again for another test garden report from Meerkerk Gardens. It seems like I just wrote the last report yesterday. Time flies when you're having fun, and seeing so many new rhodies every year certainly is an enjoyable experience.
The test garden is really rolling along now, and each year sees a new crop of plants to be tested. In the spring, the garden makes quite a show, and it has become one of the popular attractions for visitors to Meerkerk Gardens. Its wagon wheel (pie-shaped) design provides a unique perspective on rhody hybrids. Each spring the test garden provides a dazzling display of floral exuberance that only a wide ranging collection of young vigorous plants can produce. Since the plants are retained for only six years, the display is constantly being renewed. The mature plants that have completed their cycle are readily sold to an eager public, and provide funds for Meerkerk Gardens.
Kristi O'Donnell, the garden manager, has done a wonderful job of coordinating activities and whipping up enthusiasm for the garden. We are very grateful to those who have donated plants to the garden, including Bruce Briggs (Brigg's Nursery), Frank Fujioka, Dave Hammond (Hammond's Acres of Rhodys), Harold Greer (Greer Gardens), Jasmin Workman, Elsie Watson, Chris Hoffman (A Sandy Rhododendron), Clint Smith (Benjamin's Rhododendrons), Warren Berg, Bill Stipe, Laura and Dave Kentala, Hideo Suzuki, Hans Hachmann, Bill Heller, Bernie Swenson, Bill Robinson, David Leach, Paul Christensen, Sweetbriar Nursery, Ned Brokenbrough, Merle Sanders, Mrs. Nuirez, Gordon Heyduck, Greg Kesterson, Jack Lofthouse, Jan Kelley (Kelleygreen Rhododendron Nursery), Jean Lennon, Joe Davis, Lew Naddy, Loyd and Eddie Newcomb, and, of course, yours truly. Without these contributions, the test garden would soon cease to exist.
Equally important are our dedicated volunteers, who have planted, weeded, deadheaded and, yes, even torn out plants that have completed their tenure at the garden. Actually, I like that last activity best. By six years, many of the plants are huge, and it's a lot of fun to wrestle with them. Sometimes it seems as if the plants are winning...but only temporarily, until Keith Bowers arrives with the tractor. Our volunteers at the garden include Jim Ramsey, Ted and Roberta VanderSluis, Lew Naddy, Don Lee, Greg Kesterson, Gene and Margaret Pflug, Elsie Watson, Frank Fujioka, Don Kohlenberger, Peg Jacobson, David and Terri Schaal, Pat Sasson, Margaret Saul, Frances Maxwell and Mel and Marilynn Wright.
Finally, there are the raters. We let each rater judge the plants according to his or her own feelings. There are no set rules, except that we use a form to indicate numerically how well the rater likes the plant. We show them where the forms are and they're ready to go! Volunteers who have rated plants include Greg Kesterson, Elsie Watson, Frank Fujioka, Helene Valdez, Don Smart, Harold Horchover, Peter Wolff, Fred Kirby, Liga Jefferds, Ed Buell, Dennis Hendrickson, Gary Hall Sr., Anna Tamurz, Bill Stipe, Edith Doyle, Linda Sue Schoenhael, Steve White, Ted VanderSluis, Jeanine Smith, Gene Pflug, and Jasmin Workman. These are the people whose opinions form the basis of this article.
We give special thanks to Bruce Briggs, who generously gave plants to the test garden over the years, and who always found time to give rhody lovers his support. We will all miss Bruce.
Just as in years past, we've been rating the plants according to the raters' individual prejudices. Raters have the use of a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being horrible, and 5 being great. Of course, most plants seem to get 3s and 4s, since people just hate to give plants really low scores. I guess they just feel sorry for the poor little scrubs. In any case, it all averages out. The cream always seems to rise to the top.
There are three categories that are rated, the flower display (FL), the foliage display (FOL), and the overall effect (PLT). Each was rated 1 to 5, and the results of many individual ratings were averaged to obtain the figures shown for each plant.
These rating averages were ranked from highest to lowest (1 to 124) for each of the three categories (FL, FOL, PLT). Then the three category rankings were added together for each hybrid to obtain its overall ranking score (4 to 372, not shown on the tables). The overall ranking score for each hybrid was then ranked to determine the final rank of each hybrid (1 to 124). The plants are placed in the tables in order of rank.
Some of the names of hybrids tested at the garden are not registered. Unregistered names are identified in the tables. Most of these unregistered names are already being used in the nursery trade. Some of the hybrids have identification numbers. Interested persons can find out more about these plants by contacting Kristi O'Donnell. If we think that an unnamed plant is truly outstanding, we will work to get it named and properly registered. Fortunately, most of the unnamed plants will mercifully remain that way.
|Table 1. The Best Plants|
|The hybrids are arranged in order of overall rank, from 1 to 10. 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.|
The Best Plants
Just as in college football, we too have a "top ten." Each of these plants is truly outstanding and has risen hea and shoulders above some pretty stiff competition (Table 1).
'Rosalie Hall' . One rater commented, "I've got to have it!" I guess that tells the story. 'Rosalie Hall' displays full pink trusses above an exquisitely neat symmetrical dome of dark green foliage arranged in perfect order. Everybody loves this plant. What more can you say?
'Chief Sealth' . Do you like Rhododendron calophytum ? If so, you'll love this plant, because whatever calophytum is, this plant is even more so! This early bloomer erects huge macabeanum -type trusses of large cream colored campanulate flowers with a purple blotch. The leaves are monumental in size, but they are remarkably resistant to sunburn. Give this plant a lot of space. Although it is quite symmetrical, dense and compact in full sun, it's going to get big...and in a hurry!
'Horizon Monarch' . Huge yellow trusses top a big plant with stout stems and large leathery leaves. Although this plant tends to be a bit irregular in form, its floral display screams for attention. This is a great plant to put in the back of a bed where you need a big, bold accent. Some people say that this plant is probably a tetraploid based on its oversized parts, heavy substance and its breeding behavior.
'George's Delight' . This plant gets covered with trusses of yellow flowers with a pink picotee. The rainbow effect of the massed flowers really catches your eye. This mid-sized upright plant is fairly symmetrical, although the foliage is a bit uneven. But all is forgiven during flowering season.
R. 'George's Delight'
Photo by Warren Berg
'Queen Nefertiti' . Here's a big plant with trusses to match. This plant displays massive upright trusses of large red pink flowers held above dark green foliage. This plant grows upright and tends to get big, so you might plant this one in the background where it'll grab your attention anyway.
'Fragrant Red' . Years ago, I saw a truss of this plant at a hybridizers' meeting, and remarked that red rhodies are never fragrant. At least until then. Now we have a fragrant red rhody, and it's a great plant as well! This plant sprouts big fuchsia red flowers in good sized trusses, on a well behaved rounded mid-sized to large plant with nice neat foliage. You can find a photo of this plant in the spring 1995 issue of the Journal.
'Horizon Dawn' . Here's another big plant with large splashy trusses of great big light yellow flowers on a mid-sized upright dense shrub. Its impressive floral display complements a well mannered growth habit. Plant this one where you want great gobs of color and bold foliage.
'Mardi Gras' . Bright pink flowers in yak-type trusses fading to a blush cover a neat little bun of a plant. During the rest of the year, its dark green shiny leaves make this plant a nice addition to the garden.
'Tabitha' . I've always been partial to red flowers, so when I first saw this plant bloom just as winter was turning to spring, I was delighted. Although some of the flowers may be frosted, it always seems to put on a show despite the weather. During the rest of the year, this plant forms an upright shrub with dark shiny leaves, each in its proper place. Last year these plants were blooming in December.
'Marley Hedges' . Here's a plant that sports huge upright trusses of spectacular flowers with light centers and dark purple rims. This picotee effect provides lots of color and pattern to look at. The foliage is a lot like other purple rhodies, except that the leaves are dark green and shiny.
The Top Five Lepidotes
Raters tend to downgrade lepidotes compared to the typical rhodies, probably because great big flowers tend to dazzle the eye. These smaller plants fill a different niche in the garden, and so I have added a special category for the top five lepidotes. Of course I'm not partial toward lepidotes, but I have noticed that I tend to rate them higher than do other people.
The top five lepidotes are included in Table 2.
'Vibrant Violet' . Here's a low cushion of a plant sporting 3-inch (7.5 cm) balls of darkest purple-blue flowers, set off by its dense foliage of tiny bright green leaves. Raters judged its flowers best of all the lepidotes.
'Wee Bee' . This tiny shrublet is covered by a dense coat of little leaves of perfect shape and arrangement. And then it throws in a profusion of little two-toned bells of reddish pink and white each spring. The raters really liked its overall show.
'Liz Ann' *. If you like bonsais, you'll love this plant. Everything about this plant is artistic: its crooked trunk and branches are covered with white peeling bark. Then in bonsai-like sprays are its tiny leaves, a dark shiny green which contrasts with its exquisite miniature white flowers.
'Saint Merryn' . Each spring, this cute cushion of a plant smothers itself in the most intensely purple-blue little flowers that you could imagine. The ultra dense tiny olive colored leaves make this little plant into a perfect mound. When this plant is in bloom in early spring, it makes a brilliant exclamation point in the garden.
'Ramapo' . I hear this plant isn't too highly regarded back east, but in our garden it has proved to be a fine dwarf plant. Its dense blue leaves are powdered with gray, making a plant which provides a great contrast to the other rhodies. The foliage is the real show, but each spring it throws in lavender flowers just for good measure.
|Table 2. Some Good Plants|
|( bureavii x yak)**||3.42||4.25||4.02||61||3||4|
|(yak x tsariense )**||3.63||3.74||3.66||38||20||22|
|(yak x 'Alice')**||3.60||3.79||3.63||43||16||25|
|'One Thousand Butterflies'||4.25||3.33||3.25||7||50||50|
* Name not registered
** yak is R. degronianum ssp. yakushimanum
Some Good Plants
Now we come to the next set of plants, ranked from number 11 through 30, excluding the five best lepidotes which I placed in their own category and have already discussed. All of these are very good plants, and I will describe these very briefly, except where I think a plant is exceptional in one way or another. These plants are included in Table 2.
'Goldkrone' displays simple greenish yellow flowers in open topped trusses atop a rounded medium shrub densely clothed in rounded leaves.
'Golden Torch' makes quite a bright display of two-toned pink and yellow hose-in-hose flowers in yak-type trusses. This plant forms a dense low mound with dark green leaves.
'Silver Skies' has wonderful yak-type foliage and exquisite porcelain-like white flowers with a pink picotee.
'Tahitian Dawn' * has upright trusses of frilled pink flowers with a hint of yellow. These are displayed on a large dense shrub with red new stems.
( R. bureavii x R. degronianum ssp. yakushimanum ) crosses, like 'Teddy Bear' , are all really nice plants, with characteristically dark green shiny indumented foliage and yak-type flowers. Since these crosses are such uniformly good foliage plants, I am surprised that breeders aren't falling all over themselves to cross these plants with all sorts of rhodies with outstanding flowers. Then they could mix and match the progeny to come up with plants with both great foliage and flowers in later generations.
'Hachmann's Polaris' puts up purply pink frilly flowers in medium sized ball trusses. Its dark buds contrast nicely against its foliage.
( R. degronianum ssp. yakushimanum x R. tsariense ) (Warren Berg) displays bright flesh pink flowers in loose trusses on a fairly compact yak-type plant.
'Shrimp Girl' , although it does not rank in the top ten in any category, is a remarkable plant. It makes a wonderful display of shrimp pink flowers atop a nice rounded plant. These flowers lie flat on the foliage but are so dense as to completely cover the top of the plant This plant was undoubtedly downgraded because it lacks traditional trusses, but it's still a dazzler.
'Julischka' is covered with striking trusses of hot pink picotee flowers with white centers on a rather open growing plant with nice foliage.
'Papaya Punch' displays brightest sunny yellow flowers with a red blotch and spots in big frilly trusses. This plant is fairly dense and rounded, but its dull twisted foliage detracts from its appearance.
'Hydon Dawn' forms a dense low shrub that puts out a good mass display of reddish pink trusses which fade to blush.
'Looking Glass' sports unusual small striped funnel-shaped flowers in flat topped trusses and makes an unusual accent in the garden.
'One Thousand Butterflies' has wonderful pink flowers, which hide its yellowish leaves during the spring.
A Lot Of Average Plants
Most of the rhodies we rated, as you might expect, were average plants (Table 3). All of these are well worth growing in the garden, but I will comment on only a few of the most remarkable plants.
'Skookumchuck' sports red flowers with a lighter center in dense upright trusses on an upright plant. White stamens complete its floral effect.
'Horizon Snowbird' displays wavy white flowers in large full trusses. It forms a compact mound of matte green leaves.
'Blue Dawn' has nice bluish lavender trusses on a rather open growing plant.
'Katrina' puts out bright purple-red flowers with a dark blotch in medium sized full trusses. Plant this where you won't notice its leggy habit.
Photo by Elsie Watson
['Red Olympia' x ('Lem's Cameo' x 'Burgundy')] makes quite a show of large trusses of frilly rich red flowers atop a big upright bush.
'Grandma's Hat' holds big full rounded trusses of violet-purple rimmed flowers with maroon blotches. The flowers are as wonderful as the rest of the plant is awful. Plant this one in the back where you can enjoy its eye catching trusses without being bothered by its floppy growth habit.
'Songbird' is similar to 'Saint Merryn', but its flowers are not as brilliant. It tends to hang on to dead flowers, spoiling its appearance.
'Rosa Regen' * has a simple and elegant species look. Spaced white flowers, pink buds, and dark foliage make a delicate effect.
'Goldflimmer' * combines a nice rounded plant with relatively average flowers. The real show is its variegated foliage, which is a greatly appreciated change of pace.
|Table 3. Average Plants|
|'Red Olympia' cross+||3.85||3.17||3.18||23||61||54|
|'Jo Ann Newsome'**||3.20||3.50||3.40||81||39||44|
|'Yaku Sunrise' cross+++||3.69||2.88||2.59||35||82||102|
|'Pioneer Silvery Pink'||3.55||2.77||2.83||51||89||85|
|Invalid name #1*||3.09||2.95||2.90||89||76||76|
+ ('Red Olympia' x ['Lem's Cameo' x 'Burgundy']). 'Burgundy' is the registered name of a Glenn Dale azalea. This 'Burgundy' is a grandfathered name for ('Brittania' x 'Purple Splendour') named by Fred Rose in 1958.
++ 'Hachmann's Feuerschein'
+++ ('Yaku Sunrise' x ['C.I.S.' x 'Jingle Bells'])
* Name not registered.
** These plants were rated fewer than six times.
Below Average Plants
These plants did not perform well at Meerkerk Gardens, but that does not mean that they wouldn't do well for you (Table 4). Some are just too fastidious or don't take sun too well, and others just don't like our climate or soil. Some, like 'Small Gem', suffered from dieback and never became healthy plants.
Some of these plants consistently appeared to become infected with petal blight, or maybe it was frost damage. Whatever it was, it ruined the flowers. These included 'Ivory Coast', 'April Dawn' and 'April Gem'.
Others just didn't have much to show. The simple flowers of 'Joe Paterno' just couldn't compete with its neighbors. Others, such as 'April Dawn', had muddy colors that spoiled the display. 'Caroline Gold'* displayed small blandly colored flowers on a sprawly bush.
Some plants were not highly rated but still had worthwhile qualities. One plant that comes to mind is 'Malta', which has really nice little balls of flowers with pink mottling and yellow overtones. Although the bush is unruly, it blooms very early and is worthy of a place in the garden because of its unusual colors.
Several of the poorly rated plants had fewer than six ratings, and several other plants could not be included because of insufficient numbers of ratings. None of the highly rated plants were insufficiently sampled. The main causes of insufficient sampling were lack of flower production and death of the plants. Those that were in good health but were shy to bloom just never put on a good enough show to be highly rated. Those that were in poor health generally looked awful and were poorly rated as a result.
|Table 4. Below Average Plants|
|yak 'K. Wada' cross+||2.63||2.69||2.50||116||94||110|
+ (degronianum ssp. yakushimanum 'Koichiro Wada' x
* Name not registered.
** These plant were rated fewer than six times.
The Low Achievers
Before rejecting any of these plants offhand as being inferior, please remember that given different care, another setting, or another climate, these plants might actually turn out to be quite nice (Table 5). Some of these plants are eastern hybrids that just can't compete with the gaudy things we grow out here on the West Coast, but back out on their home turf, they are quite respectable plants.
|Table 5. The Low Achievers|
|'Caroline Gold'* **||1.90||1.64||1.68||124||124||124|
* Names not registered.
** These plants were rated fewer than six times.
How People Rate Rhodoes
Because we give almost no instructions on how to rate the rhodies at Meerkerk Gardens, the distribution of rating scores shows how people view the plants (Figure 1). The graph of Rating Scores as a function of Decimal Ranking shows how people rated the flowers. The first thing you notice is that they are "higher than average." On the ratings form, 3 is defined as average, yet the median rating is 3.4. The highest rating is 4.8, only 0.2 from a perfect 5, but the lowest rating is 1.9, almost a full point above a rock bottom 1.
Also notice that the vast majority of plants (80 percent) were rated between 2.7 and 3.9, a spread of only 1.2 points. In contrast, the top 10 percent were rated from 3.9 to 4.8, a spread of 0.9 points; and the bottom 10 percent were rated from 1.9 to 2.7, a spread of 0.8 points.
Ratings for foliage and overall plant followed the same pattern as that for flowers but were somewhat lower. The extremes rated about 0.3 point lower, while the median rated about 0.15 point lower.
So what does all this mean? People tend to notice outstanding flowers and plants, good or bad, but tend to be passive about differences between mediocre plants. So if you want to impress your friends and neighbors be sure to plant truly outstanding varieties of rhodies which grow well in your area.
|Figure 1. How people view plants.|
Crosses Of The Year
I know you've been waiting for this all along, on the edge of your seat to find out which plants won the coveted Cross of the Year awards. Well, actually I suspect you peeked at the ending before you read the rest of the article. The Northwest Hybridizers' Group has the unique privilege of voting to determine which plants will claim the exalted title of Cross of the Year. This year, the winners are...envelope, please!...and the winner for 1996 is...
The 1996 winner is 'Rosalie Hall', whose stunning pink trusses dazzled everybody who saw it. It is difficult to propagate, so it will probably be a plant for the very lucky to show off.
The 1997 winner is 'George's Delight', which covers itself with yellow flowers with pink picotee edges. The contrasting colors give the plant a rainbow effect which is very pleasing.
The 1998 winner is 'Marley Hedges', which displays huge upright trusses of purple rimmed flowers. The star-shaped flowers with their picotee edges accentuating their shape are very appealing.
As usual, it was very difficult to choose the best plant. My favorite was 'Chief Sealth', followed by 'Tabitha', but then I breed lepidotes. The lesson here is that you'll probably just love the same plants that others consider mediocre. I don't think you can go wrong with any plants rated "good" or better. Some of my favorites, such as 'Shrimp Girl', 'Liz Ann'* and 'Saint Merryn', are in the "good" category. They were probably downgraded because they don't fit the typical rhody image, with big round trusses. But these plants each have their place, and they admirably fill needs totally unsuited to your typical rhody.
On the other hand, "below average" plants and the "low achievers" are either poorly adapted to our conditions, or just are not very pretty. In any case, if you live in another climate, you may find that these "dogs" turn out to be pretty nice pooches. For example, 'Ramapo', an eastern hybrid, is not very highly regarded in its own home. But here in the Northwest, 'Ramapo' is really quite nice.
In any case, don't rely too heavily on ratings alone. Look for plants that you like, and remember that often plants that don't fit the mold are often really quite pretty. 'Airy Fairy' comes to mind. Here's a really scraggly plant with a scattering of small pink flowers. But the effect is absolutely stunning when it is used in the right place.
So get out your shovel and start digging. Now go out and find something nice to fill up that hole!
* Name is not registered.
Pat Halligan, a member of the Whidbey Island Chapter, last reported on the Meerkerk Hybrid Test Garden results in the fall 1997 issue of the Journal.