JARS v59n2 - The Mass Chapter's Sunny Display Garden

The Mass Chapter's Sunny Display Garden
Susan Clark
Concord, Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Chapter has almost finished its new display garden in Wellesley at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society's new home. On this sunny, open hillside we have installed curving berms, accented by some gorgeous pieces of native granite, grass paths, and over 120 different rhodies and azaleas. Conspicuously missing from this rhodie garden are the masses of the familiar elepidotes, with their showy blooms and huge evergreen leaves.

The Massachusetts
Display Garden in Wellesley, MA
The Massachusetts Display Garden in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
Photo by David Clark

The core of our unusual collection are the lepidotes, which we moved from our old display garden's "New England Hybridizers Garden." These are mostly Weston Nurseries' and Gus Mehlquist's hardy, early-blooming workhorses, bred for New England's tough growing conditions. We have supplemented them with hardy species, like Rhododendron dauricum , Carolinianum Group and R. canadense . They start the season with much needed color, at a time when most gardeners are thinking only of forsythia and tulips.

These hardy, little-leafed rhodies, in their exposed, raised beds, came through last winter's snowless bitter cold quite well. They looked lovely in the winter landscape, with their colorful buds and many with bronzy leaves. There were a few casualties, but most of this garden fared well and bloomed beautifully this spring, surprising and delighting garden visitors.

Weston Nurseries' summer-blooming azaleas also put on quite a show in the garden. Many of them are fragrant and even in this damp summer they proved mildew-resistant, with glossy, gorgeous foliage. The azaleas are rounded out with a number of native species, selections of Rhododendron atlanticum , R. kiusianum and R. prinophyllum , and the species R. viscosum , R. arborescens and R. schlippenbachii . All of these are easily grown, floriferous plants and deserve much greater public appreciation and use. Their brilliant foliage display brightens the fall garden for another season of color.

R. 'Weston's Lollipop'
'Weston's Lollipop'
Photo by John Perkins

Already showing signs of future greatness are a Styrax obassia , a Stewartia pseudocamellia , a huge F othergilla major , Hamamelis 'Diane', and two Enkianthus campanulatus . These vertical accents anchor the curving beds and provide interesting contrast with the rhodies and azaleas. They are excellent companion plants for sun-loving rhodies, with similar growing requirements, and we want to encourage the public to use them more often.

Early rodent-proof spring bulbs are planted under the larger shrubs. And drifts of unusual perennial groundcover s recommended and donated by Leo Blanchette, of Blanchette Gardens in Carlisle, MA, provide additional interest: Aster ericoides 'Snow Flurry', Astilbe chinensis 'Pumila', Geranium cantabrigiense 'Biokovo' (white) and 'Karmina' (pink), Ruellia humilis (wild petunia), Sedum spurium 'Pink Glory' and Veronica 'Waterperry'. More familiar groundcovers, Asarum europaeum , Epimedium versicolor 'Sulphureum', Phlox divaricata and stolonifera complement the plantings.

Our sign is now up in the garden, but we still have visitors looking with baffled curiosity for the "rhododendrons." So we explain again and again that these indeed are rhododendrons and that there is more to rhododendrons than the ones they are familiar with. We talk eagerly about the merits of plants bred for New England and how, for so many of our sites, it is these "other" rhodies that do the best. What a list of attributes these "other" ones have: early bloom, late bloom, fall color, winter color, fragrance, cold tolerance and mildew resistance. We hope to inspire the public to try these great plants.

Susan Clark is a member of the Massachusetts Chapter.