Rhododendrons In Bloom Today

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we've had a cold, wet and windy spring, so plants are late blooming this year. However, I've finally got a bit of good colour showing now in early April.

R. 'California Gold' is a R. maddenii hybrid, and tender for us so I keep this beauty in a container and bring it in whenever frost is predicted. It's a bit of a nuisance to do, but whenever I see it blooming, I'm glad I took the trouble. The large flowers are soft yellow with brown anthers that show up nicely against the petals. The outer edges of the petals are just a bit frilly, so really nice and, they have the added bonus of excellent fragrance. When in bloom, 'California Gold' perfumes the sunroom and adjacent dining room. One other attractive attribute is the dark red shedding bark.

R. 'California Gold'
R. 'California Gold'

R. 'Shamrock' is another pale yellow flowered hybrid in bloom today. Among my acquaintances, I find some people aren't impressed with 'Shamrock'. They think it's too pale with a bit too much green in the flower colour to stand out well. Well, that's just crazy talk! I think this is a sweet, tough little plant and I value it for its early blooms. It is often out in mid-March although this year it's a couple of weeks later. The parents are a dwarf form of R. keiskei and R. hanceanum nanum and 'Shamrock' has inherited their small stature. And, for those who wish it had showier flowers, put it next to something blue like 'Muscari' as the colour contrast is very attractive.

R. 'Shamrock'
R. 'Shamrock'

My third "bloomer of the day" is lovely R. dendrocharis. This species rhododendron has flat-faced, open flowers of bright pink. The leaves are tiny and very dark green. In the wild, R. dendrocharis usually grows as an epiphyte, so it needs excellent drainage. Other than that, I've found it easy to grow. I keep it where it gets dappled shade and protection from the noonday sun during the summer.

R. dendrocharis
R. dendrocharis

Rhododendrons: Not flowering

There are several reasons for rhododendrons to have few or no flowers:

  • Application of nitrogen-rich fertilizer can cause excessive vegetative plant growth and suppression of flower bud formation.
  • Plants pruned in the late summer or fall will have few blooms due to removal of flower buds. The proper time to prune is in the spring immediately after flowering has finished.
  • Cold weather can kill flower buds. Buds change color from green to brown. Select varieties cold hardy for your garden location.
  • Some hybrid rhododendron varieties do not bloom profusely every year.
  • Light is the primary factor that stimulates flower bud development.  Rhododendrons should be planted where they receive sufficient light so that they set flower buds, but not in too sunny a location that leaf damage occurs.

Variegated Evergreen Azaleas

Until recently, there were very few variegated evergreen azaleas available in the United States. These include the Satsuki varieties:

• ‘Keigetsu’. One of the earliest blooming Satsukis with light pink flowers and a red margin. The green leaves are flecked with white on a low spreading plant.

• ‘Uki-nishiki’. White flowers with many variegations of stripes, flecks, etc. of a dark purple. The leaves are flecked with yellow.

• ‘Shira-fuji’. The flowers are variable, generally white with purple variations. The leaves have an attractive distinct white margin on a dwarf plant.

• ‘Shinyo-no-tsuki’ sport. Very large white flowers with crimson blotches that bloom in June. The leaves sport cream stripes longitudinally throughout.

• ‘Fuji-no-mine’. A dwarf cultivar admired for its unusual foliage, the leaves are variegated with many flecks of yellow. Pink flowers with a darker circle that bloom in June.

American growers began introducing variegated azaleas in the late 1980s and early 1990s. One of the most popular and now widely available is ‘Silver Sword’, a sport of ‘Girard’s Rose’ with a distinct white margin bordering a dark green leaf. Other Girard plants with white margined foliage included ‘Girard’s Variegated Gem’*, a sport of pink-flowered ‘Girard’s Border Gem’*, and ‘Hot Shot Variegated’* with bright orange-red flowers. These varieties tend to have a lighter green color in their leaves.

Two southern varieties of the white-margined types discovered in the 1980s are ‘Southern Belle’, a sport of ‘Pink Ruffles’, and ‘Red Ruffles Variegated’. Another lovely choice is ‘Silver Streak’, a Greenwood hybrid with white-margined foliage and purple flowers; it is a sport of ‘Deep Purple’.

Finnerty Gardens

Finnerty Gardens has one of Canada's best collections of rhododendrons. The spectacular three-acre plot is tended by the Finnerty Garden Friends, a special group of University of Victoria alumni and community members who advise on the planning and development of the year-round garden.

The Gardens were developed when, in 1974, the estate of Mrs. Jeanne Buchanan Simpson of Cowichan Lake was left to the University. She and her husband George, beginning in the 1920's, built up a notable collection of rhododendron species at their Lake Cowichan home. Many plants were grown from seed obtained directly or indirectly from famous plant explorers of the day. Theirs was the largest rhododendron collection in British Columbia.

The Buchanan Simpson's gift transferred to the University the responsibility for the well-being of a significant collection of a popular genus among Victoria gardeners. The University decided to move many of the rhododendrons to the campus where they would form the nucleus of a new garden that was created at the south end of the campus.

The Simpson plants were up to 50 years old and presented a challenge to the transplanters. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Simpson had been unable to maintain the garden properly. The rhododendrons had to struggle for survival without the benefit of summer watering and in competition with the invading "jungle". You will recognize these sometimes distorted giants in the Garden today. Most of them are R. decorum or R. fortunei. In their growth-form they resemble these rhododendron species growing in their native Asian habitats.

The collection now includes more than 200 rhododendron species and azaleas along with an extensive planting of hybrids, most of them of early origin. The accession list includes about 1600 entries for trees and shrubs. All are catalogued and identified by a number that refers to a master list, which is available for veiwing

The rhododendrons may be seen in flower from mid-January until late June, also extensive collections of spectacular perennials from July onwards. Companion plants such as Garrya, Chimonanthus, Hamemalis, Mahonia and Eucryphia extend the season through most of the year.

 

Leopard's Bane Daisy

Leopard's Bane (Doronicum spp.) is a curious sight in the springtime garden. We tend to think of yellow daisies as a summer and fall plant, and they seem out-of-place among Bergenia, Aquilegia, and late tulips. That being so, they are welcome and cheerful sight when spring days are dull and rainy.

They are not fussy as to soil, just moisture retentive, but well draining, a nice mix of sand and humus suits them fine. Even though they mostly go dormant during the summer, they should not be allowed to dry out, and if planted in light dappled shade that should not be a problem.

They will naturalize in a woodland garden, and several of the named varieties do come true from seed. The rhizomes can be divided in early fall to share or replant. In fact, they improve if divided every four years or so. The blooms also last well when cut for the table.

Flowers come as single or double daisy forms, in various shades of yellow. Dwarf forms, such as 'Gold Dwarf' at only 10 inches tall, tend to bloom earlier in April. Blossoming then progresses through the doubles, such as 'Spring Beauty' and 'Gerhard', to some of the large flowered ones like 'Miss Mason' and 'Harpur Crewe' which bloom into June, and stand to 2 feet tall.

The heart-shaped basal leaves are a nice shade of soft green that contrasts well with dark rhododendron leaves, and if planted among Hostas, Astilbes, or Campanulas, their foliage will fill in spaces for the summer months.

Aren't we so lucky to have so many choices of undemanding plants that can fill gardens with color and beauty, and we hardly have to lift a finger to make them thrive?

Happy planting!

Warren Berg's hybrid Rhododendrons

Some outstanding Rhododendron hybrids were developed by the late Warren Berg, who had a wonderful woodland garden in Pt. Ludlow, Washington. Warren was a plantsman extraordinaire and very much a part of the great Rhododendron hybridizing community in the Pacific Northwest.

Warren was one of the plant hunters who joined trips into Asia, particularly China, just as China re-opened to western plant hunters in the latter part of the 20th century. He often used seed of species he'd collected to grow plants and evaluate their potential both for local garden use and as parents in crosses. He wanted to create good, easy to grow small plants for modern gardens. He also wanted nice foliage displays as well as a range of flower colours.

Warren named his cultivars so people would recognize the hybridizer, and want to collect as many of his cultivars as possible. He often used "bee" in the hybrid name – the "bee" coming from his last name. So, you'll find plants named 'Patty Bee', 'Peter Bee', 'June Bee', 'Honey Bee', etc. There are exceptions, depending on who was being honoured with a cultivar name, hence the plant names 'Ernie Dee; and 'Ginnie Gee'. One of my favourite rhododendrons is 'Golfer', named for Warren's wife Patricia who was an avid golfer. 'Patty Bee' was also named for her.

R. 'Patty Bee'
R. 'Patty Bee'

One of Warren's favourite parents for hybridizing was R. keiskei 'Yaku Fairy', a dwarf, yellow-flowered species from the Japanese island of Yakushima. In addition to providing small plant stature, this species gave him genetic material for his yellow flowers as well as good foliage. And, it was a plant that would cross readily with other species to provide a range of flower colours.

R. 'Wee Bee'
R. 'Wee Bee'

For yellow flowers, look for 'Patty Bee', 'Peter Bee', and 'Golden Bee'. Good pink forms are 'Wee Bee' and 'Too Bee', and forms that are white, or open white flushed with pink include 'Ginnie Gee', 'Ernie Dee', 'June Bee' and 'Wanna Bee'. For one of the most outstanding foliage plants around, you can't beat the aforementioned 'Golfer'. This cultivar has lovely pink flowers, but what I really love is the new foliage that is so covered by indumentum that it appears white. By the end of summer, as the foliage matures, the indumentum is gradually lost, but is replaced with attractive blue-green leaves. They are all "good do-ers" both in the garden or in containers. So, "bee happy" and treat yourself to one of Warren's beautiful creations.

 
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