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Rhododendron and
Azalea News

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Spring 2008  Vol. 11  No. 1
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Ask the experts for their favorites

Tracy Ilene Miller, a freelance garden writer, was able to pinpoint Mike and Maria Stewart on their personal choices of rhododendrons. This was not an easy task. Tracy also teaches journalism classes at the University of Oregon and Northwest Christian College. This is how Tracy began a most interesting article for Digger magazine.

"Their big blooms loom large in consumers' minds,
but their dwarf forms and interesting foliage are bringing
rhodies into scale with modern landscapes."

She discusses the shift away from the large rhododendron of yesteryear to smaller varieties that "fulfilled gardeners' other needs and wants: for low-maintenance, hardy plants that maintain more than one-season interest."

Though large rhododendrons still have their place as foundation, background, or specimen plants...the newer, smaller varieties are being added to mixed borders and the landscape to providing year-round interest.

former ARS president Mike Stewart...

Mike served as president of the American Rhododendron Society from 2003-2005 and owns the Dover Nursery in Sandy, Oregon. Mike and his wife, Maria, love their profession and are always willing to share their knowledge of rhododendrons with others. Tracy did a fantastic job of getting an "admission" by the Stewarts. You may have their choices in your garden already...if not...why not! There is still time to add one to your list. If you are not near Dover Nursery, at least you'll know the plant by name.

R. 'Nancy Evans' - This rhododendron fits into the category of extremely high-quality yellows...a color much sought after in the market. The blossoms bud in orange-yellow and open into yellow, waxy funnels with a bit of wave and peach and orange.

Beyond the color are the other good qualities of this plant that is in high demand...and often used to parent new hybrids. The compact grower fits smaller yards with its slow growth to approximately 3 feet tall by 4 feet wide. The complete the attraction...they merge green and bronze...and are extremely glossy at maturity.

R. campylogynum Myrtilloides Group - This dwarf rhododendron is also in great demand for its small about 15 inches...and unique form. It grows in a natural bonsai shape and covers itself in early spring with small pink to lavender, thimble-shaped flowers perched on single stems. The small, glossy leaves contrast to the cinnamon-colored bark on a heavy stem, resembling an azalea.

R. 'Rosevallon' - The oblong leaf is one of the standout characters of this red-blooming rhododendron. Customers are attracted to the leaves with tops in a soft, blue-green and undersides of deep burgundy that glow in the sun. The growth habit is variable from 18 in. to about 4 ft. and sports a deep red flower bud that opens to a rounded, free-flowering red.

R. austrinum - There are 16 species of azaleas native to the United States...and this is one is hardly-known on the West Coast...but should be. What's striking about this East Coast native are the blossoms...for both shape and scent. The flowers bloom in red tubes with orange mixed in and a yellow flower that is up to 2 in. long and a quarter-inch wide. The anthers and stamens extend like long, delicate eyelashes. And, then there is the honeysuckle. With a hardiness down to -15F, these plants are versatile and are planted in all locations.

R. 'Pomegranate Splash' - This newer hybrid from Frank Fujioka offers a distinct flower of red, pin, and white. The striking multi-tone blossoms will attract customers...but the formal look of the plant makes it an attractive addition to the landscape as well. The leaves are uniformly distributed around the stem and hang downward, almost like an umbrella. They form on a compact plant that reaches only 5 ft. in 10 years.

These are five of Mike and Maria's choices. Do you have them? Do you want them? Remember Spring is here!

Jerry Simnitt and his nursery...

Look...Tracy also touched base with Jerry Simnitt, of the Simnitt Nursery in Canby,Oregon. He, too, admitted to letting the world know which rhododendrons are his choices.

R. 'Teddy Bear' - The official term is indumentum, and it is the cinnamon-brown coating on the leaf bottom that gives the plant its furry name. The leaf characteristics are only one reason this Yak cross seems to see itself. The glossy tops of the leaves contrast well with the light pink...with a hint of purple, midseason blooms whose wavy edges fade to white. The hardy -10F...keeps compact with a dense growth habit, reaching between 4 and 5 ft. tall.

R. 'Blue Peter' - This is a tried-and-true class that hails from the early part of the 20th century. The flowers are old-fashioned lavender with a darker, almost blue blotch, and the large, dark green foliage is more open and grows wider than some of the newer compact plants. People like for its show and for its tolerance of heat and sun.

R. 'Scintillation' - This midseason bloomer is in high demand and won a 2005 award from the American Rhododendron Society. It is hard to -15F, and attractive for its dark green, glossy foliage that is somewhat rounded...with a waxy, slightly crinkled face. The plant and the flowers both grow slowly in mounds...about 5 ft. in 10 years. The flowers are large and full with a light flare of bronzy, golden tones.

Tracy adds: It isn't hard to get growers to talk about plants. The tough part is getting them to narrow down their list of favorites to just a handful. You have done a great job, Tracy. We love their admissions! Hope many of our readers will want to add one or more of their favorites to their own gardens!


The Rhodora

On being asked, Whence is the flower.
In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook.
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.

The purple petals fallen in the pool
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool
And court the flower that cheapens his array.

Rhodora! If the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for Being;
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!

I never thought to ask; I never knew;
But in my simple ignorance suppose
The self-same power that brought me there,
Brought you.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, submitted by Cynthia Frank of the Noyo Chapter.


Gardening to honors

Gordon Wylie will attest to being a devoted rhodie lover...and avid supporter of the American Rhododendron Society...and the "keeper of the keys" to make everything that is done is done according to the law. He has faithfully keep the board of directors and others in line with the law. And he does all of this with joy.

Let's take a look at what he had to report in the Eugene Chapter's February 2008 newsletter.

  • garden n. A plot of land used for the cultivation of flowers, vegetables, herbs or fruit. Often gardens: Grounds laid out with flowers, trees, and ornamental shrubs and used for recreation or display.
  • gardener n. One who works in or tends a garden for pleasure or hire.
  • honor n. High respect, as that shown for special merit. A mark, token or gesture of respect or distinction.

meaning of garden...we shall see...

Why, some readers might wonder, do the words of the title for these comments appear together and how do they relate to one another in the context of our Eugene Chapter. We shall see, we shall see...But not right away as a few twists and turns unfold before getting to the point.

gardening replaced hunting...

Gardening has only been a relevant word to our species, and hence existing as a concept or whatever language...for the last ten thousand years. Archeologists reckon that’s when man began deliberately cultivating food crops as homo sapiens began shifting from a hunter/gatherer society in our relentless march to dominate the planet. Ornamental gardening is a more recent development, dating back perhaps 3500 years.

our favorite species...


Our favorite species was a late arrival to the decorating party. Though scattered earlier manifestations seem likely, the first known example is the diminutive Rhododendron hirsutum, reported as being cultivated in Britain in 1650.

Fast forward to the nineteenth century, when intensified plant exploration and collection began penetrating Asia. There, tucked away among the region's vast and rugged topography so ideally suited to isolated populations and thus evolution of new species, an incredible array of ornamental genera began to emerge. And, of course, the discoveries included many rhododendron species new to the Western world. Those numbers have continued to grow into the hundreds we know today; indeed, newly discovered species continue to emerge with the efforts of modern day explorers. Along with myriad hybrids from over a century of blending the species, they provide the wondrously diversified palate now grown and enjoyed in gardens throughout the world. escape route...


Gardening is often a solitary pursuit with many hours whiled away in everything from mundane weed pulling to the loving and careful, just right placement of a newly acquired treasure. Or how about 'no work required' in the simple pleasure of contemplating the promise of a swelling flower bud. In short, whether for five minutes or five hours, welcome distraction is always available by merely stepping out ones' door in an always welcome escape from the often hectic responsibilities that assail us all.

An escape which provides a real sense of renewal and energy for the challenges just a thought away. What other avocation? But wait, there's another significant aspect to our hobby...sharing and learning with fellow gardeners. In 1945 a group of Portland enthusiasts, joined by a few others southward in the Willamette Valley, formed the American Rhododendron Society. From that modest beginning the Society has grown to include over sixty chapters in the United States, Canada and Europe. Annual conventions, regional conferences, and a highly-respected quarterly Journal unite amateur and professional rhododendron fans around the world. At the local level, newsletters and meetings offer agendas of interesting programs, advice, plant auctions, flower shows and, perhaps best of all, like-minded friendships.

awards given to worthy members...


Which finally brings me to the real reason for these meandering threads. No one of the above just happens. Perhaps, we don't often stop to think about it, but someone has to have invested extra time and effort into making sure everything comes together for the rest of us to partake in the enjoyment and learning. And a few of those some ones really go the extra mile over a substantial period of time.

The ARS has recognized that reality by providing different awards its chapters may grant in recognition of outstanding contributions by individual members. Specifically, the awards are a Citation for Service, and Award of Merit (which are in essence the same)...or the prestigious and highest accolade a chapter may present, the Bronze Medal.

local members help to choose awardees...


Our Eugene Chapter has traditionally conferred awards acknowledging these special contributors as a part of its Early Show and Dinner Meeting. So put on your thinking caps and let me know who - and why - you think should be recognized. A look at the Members' Handbook and Roster issued in 2006 has a list of past honorees which might help focus your thoughts.

Time is short so get the suggestions to me within the next couple of weeks. Don't miss the chance to be part of watching a friend's face light up as a name is called to come forward for recognition!

Editor's Note: And, this is the way it is throughout all of American Rhododendronland! Each chapter growing and growing and recognizing. It is the BEST of the BEST of organizations to be affiliated with.


S is for Styrax...the Snowbell


There are shade trees...and there are shade trees!

If you like a massive great lump of branches and leaves that nothing will grow near, there are maples and conifers that will do just fine. But, if you like graceful branches, dainty leaves, and fragrant flowers gently sheltering your blooming rhodos and perennials, then the Snowbells are the trees for you.

some Snowballs grow to 25 ft....


Of the 120 or so species ion the world native to Asia, Europe, and southern United States, only a handful are generally available. Although most are shrubby forms, attaining heights to 12 feet, a select few will grace a woodland garden as a lovely light-textured tree to 25 feet or slightly more.

rare finds...


Rare finds would be Styrax hemsleyana, S. obassia, or S. wilsonii, but the most popular and...certainly the most widely used among plant breeders is S. japonicus. This species, from Korea and Japan, was introduced into cultivation in 1862, awarded an FCC in 1885, and has been gaining popularity ever since. he is hard to Zone 7, and forms a graceful spreading tree, with fan-like branching.

plant where you can walk under it...  

The pure white bell flowers appear in late spring and dangle enchantingly beneath the branches. For this reason, it should be planted where you would walk under it, to enjoy the blooms to best advantage. Round seed pods are produced and decorate the branches through the winter.

other selections...   Selections have been made for features such as pink flowers...'Pink Chimes'; for weeping branches...'Pendula'; for prolific blooms...'Snowfall'. There is also a very different selection by the late J. C. Raulston called 'Emerald Pagoda', which has larger, leathery leaves, much larger blooms, and greater heat tolerance than the species. It truly is an outstanding plant, and should be much more widely known.

All these selections will thrive in moist loam soil of moderate acidity and good drainage. Bear in mind their propensity to grow late in the season...which will cause soft growth that doesn't harden off quite properly and might result in a bit of tip die-back in winter. A position out of cold winds...with soil a bit on the lean side...should keep this to a minimum and the tree quickly compensates with the new growth in spring.

finding the right spot...  

Find a place next to your garden tea table...along a path where you walk to admire your best rhodos...or by the bench where you sit to watch your fish swimming lazily around the pond...and you've got a place for a Styrax.

Happy Planting!

- Colleen Forster, Fraser South Chapter

Henry David Thoreau comments on life  

I have learned this at least by my experiments;
if one advances confidently
in the direction of his dreams,
and endeavors to live the life which
he had imagined,
he will meet with success
unexpected in common hours.


American Rhododendron Society
Executive Director: P.O. Box 525,  Niagara Falls, NY 14304
Ph: 416-424-1942   Fax: 905-262-1999   E-Mail:
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