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Rhododendron and
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Spring 2011  Vol. 14  No. 1
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Valentine Day...legends and flowers

Helena Stewart, North Island Chapter, likes to remind us of the Love Day with quotes and flowers.

"Flowers have a mysterious and subtle influence upon the feelings, not unlike some strains of music," Henry Ward Beecher.

"...If music be the food of love, play on."  William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.

Valentine's Day is known as the most romantic day of the year...a fact flogged endlessly by florists to husbands desperate on February 14...and sons who live leagues away from their mothers.  Nonetheless, it is a rare woman who is not moved when she is presented with a huge bouquet of red roses on Valentine's Day

the rose...


The rose has been known as the symbol of love and romance since Roman times when it was the favorite flower of Venus, goddess of love and beauty.  Historians tell us the tradition of giving red roses on Valentine's Day started in the 1700s when Charles II of Sweden first introduced the Persian custom of "the language of flowers" to Europe.

Books were later published that outlined exactly what each flower signified so whole conversations could be carried on by young lovers just by using flowers.

All this came in very handy during Victorian times when expressions of feeling were restricted by etiquette and conformity so men and women had to use the beauty and color of flowers to express emotions they couldn't express any other way.

Wooing became an intricate game of unspoken messages sent via flowers.

definitions of love for other flowers...

  • A campanula or Canterbury bell, for example, said, "I am grateful to you."
  • A red carnation said: "My heart aches for you"...while a yellow one meant: "You have disappointed me."
  • A striped carnation was a definite refusal: "Sorry, I can't be with you."
  • You had to be careful with color: while a blue poppy signified love at first sight...a yellow one could mean extreme betrayal, a broken heart...or jealousy.
  • A pear blossom meant lasting friendship, shame, or bashfulness...while a dandelion implied that the fair damsel was a coquette.
  • Some herbs and shrubs sent dangerous messages: a sprig of coriander said "lust" and a bit of mint indicated suspicion.
  • Marigolds were associated with pain and grief...lettuce declared the loved one cold-hearted...and hydrangea accused him or her of frigidness and heartlessness.
  • Heaven help the messenger who sent a lime blossom which indicated (horrors) fornication.

expression of love in different forms...


But many flowers beside the rose meant love in its many forms.

  • Mallow meant the sent was consumed by love.
  • A little more provocative, a damsel who received an orange lily would know she was the object of desire and passion.
  • The forget-me-not was a flower that universally spoke of true love.

legend of the forget-me-not...

A poignant love story figures in the legend behind the forget-me-not.  It seems that a young man and his sweetheart were walking beside the Danube when they came across some blue flowers that grew on an islet in the stream.  The man leapt into the river to pluck them for his sweetheart, braving a strong current even though the girl begged him not to go.

He managed to pick the flowers and was almost back to shore when he was hit with a severe cramp.  Unable to fight the current and rapids, he took one last look at the white face of his beloved, flung the bouquet at her feet and cried as he disappeared:  "Forget me not!"  She never forgot him...and then wore the flowers in her hair until she died.

love in tulips, too...

A Persian legend tells of a youth named Farhad who fell in love with a maiden named Shirlin.  One day word reached him that she had been killed.  Mad with unbearable grief, he mounted his favorite horse and galloped over a cliff to his death like a Middle Eastern Romeo.  From each drop of blood that trickled onto the ground from his wounds a scarlet tulip sprang as a symbol of perfect love.

transformation plays a big role, too...

Transformation plays a big role in flower legends, too.  Greek legend tells of a beautiful young nymph named Daphne who was a hunter and refused to marry, dedicating herself instead to Artemis, goddess of the hunt.  Apollo, son of Zeus, fell in love with Daphne and when she refused him he pursued her through the woods.

In fear, Daphne called upon her father, the river god Peneus, for help.  Dear old dad changed her into a bay laurel on the bank of the river to protect her.  Heart-broken, Apollo took branches of the laurel in her memory and made a wreath that became the symbol of eternal love and striving for excellence.

All Olympic champions were thereafter crowned with a wreath remembering Daphne and, if you should go to Rome, you will see a magnificent statute by Bernini of Apollo clutching at Daphne halfway through her transformation.

words from George Bernard Shaw...


Floral legends are many...but one anecdote comes from the curmudgeonly George Bernard Shaw.  Novelist Arnold Bennett visited Shaw in his apartment and, knowing his host's love of flowers, was surprised to see that there was not a single vase of flowers to be seen.

Bennett said:  "But, I thought you were so fond of flowers," to which Shaw replied:
I am and I'm very fond of children, too, but I don't chop their heads off and stand them in pots around the house."


Reds in the garden


In February the color RED is the featured Valentine theme almost everywhere.  For rhododendron gardeners, it means just a few more weeks until we are greeted by the lofty big trusses of 'Taurus' and 'Peter Faulk' and the smaller 'Martha Robbins' and other low-growing reds.  A succession of reds will follow through May...usually ending with 'Lord Roberts' and 'Good News' in mid-June.

Doreen Johnson and John Winberg, Tacoma Chapter, are going to walk us through some beautiful reds for the love month.

From where did our current "market reds" come?  Lineage information discloses a few species and/or hybrids most likely to be used to produce the varieties familiar to us.  We shall consider the species R. forrestii, R. griersonianum, R. strigillosum, and the hybrids 'Anna', 'Britannia', 'Mars', and 'The Honorable Jean Marie de Montague'.

species R. forrestii...


The species R. forrestii is a slow-growing almost prostrate plant from the higher elevations of Tibet, etc. Its tubular blooms are bright red.

It is used as a parent to try for low, bushy plants with the desirable red color.  Its cross with 'Essex Scarlet' produced the ever-popular small bushy 'Scarlet Wonder'.  The beautiful blood dwarf 'Carmen' is an R. forrestii crossed with R. sanguineum, the latter is also blood-red.

Another notable hybrid is 'Elizabeth', which...while much admired for its blooms and reddish new growth...did not prove very hardy.  Then the cross of 'Carmen' with the hybrid 'Elizabeth' x R. elliottii was made by Bill Whitney to produce 'Ruby Hart', the best selling red at some nurseries.  It forms an extensive mound of glossy dark green leaves and covered every Spring with hundreds of waxy blood-red blooms.  Another R. forrestii hybrid that remains in production is 'Martha Robbins'.  Its bright scarlet blooms are produced on a low, spreading, hardy plant.

species R. griersonianum...


The species R. griersonianum is a parent for several well-known, still-in-production red hybrids.  Probably moist widely used are:  'Vulcan' ('Mars' x R. griersonianum) and the reverse cross (R. griersonianum x 'Mars').  Both are bushy, vigorous, hardy, sun-tolerant varieties.  Flower buds are set at an early age in a profusion of scarlet red.  R. griersonianum was crossed with 'Moser's Maroon' to produce 'Romany Chai', which in turn was crossed with 'Britannia' to produce 'Good News', another bushy, bright scarlet rhodie still sold today.  Interesting, also, is that 'Good News' inherited a dominant, late-blooming gene so consistently blooms in June.

species R. strigillosum...


The most well-known red species is R. strigillosum.  It is a beautiful big red which stands on its own merits.  Hybridizers, rather than trying to improve upon it, use it for producing variations and thus more choices.  Most of its hybrids are huge.

The one slower growing, smaller size is 'Maxine Childers', which is its cross with 'Elizabeth'.  The blooms are a waxy, fiery scarlet, and the leaves are textures.

One early-blooming giant is 'Peter Faulk', which is somewhat tender.  When Frank Fujioka crossed it with the hardy 'Noyo Brave', it was a frozen loss over an extra cold winter.  However, a huge, tree-like one prospered in Al Johnson's Port Orchard garden.  'Grace Seabrook' and 'Taurus' are large, early bloomers who are differentiated mainly by their bloom is 'Taurus' and green is 'Grace Seabrook'.  Dr. Frank Mossman made the cross 'Jean Marie' x R. strigillosum to produce 'Taurus'.  Cecil Seabrook...Tacoma Chapter member...using the same parents, produced 'Grace Seabrook'.

the Hononrable Jean Marie de Montague...

The 'Honorable Jean Marie de Montague' ('Jean Marie') is a R. griffithianum hybrid and probably the most widely sold red.  Its flowers are a true red and its foliage dark green and sun-tolerant.  Hybridizers, when using this variety, are striving to maintain these desirable traits while improving upon its growth habit, which is "sprawly".  Halfdan Lem crossed 'Jean Marie' with 'Red Loden', and the result was a big, red-trussed plant larger than 'Jean Marie' but still sprawling.  After Lem's death the plant was named for him and registered.  A small, more upright hybrid is the very dark red 'Black Magic' ('Jean Marie' x 'Leo').



Another R. griffithianum hybrid widely used for hybridization is 'Mars'.  It is sufficiently hard to survive on the East Coast and has an upright growth habit.  Although 'Mars' is a very dark red, it apparently carries a gene for a true red...which comes through on some of its crosses.



The hybrid 'Anna' ('Norman Gill' x 'Jean Marie') was a product of Halfdan Lem's and named for his wife.  It is described as rose in color with a deep red eye.  Then Lem was asked why he used 'Anna' as a parent, he replied, "Because it was available when I had pollen to be used."

Most hybridizers agree that 'Anna' is worthy because of its big trusses, good coloring, and lineage.

'Red Olympia' ('Anna' x 'Fusilier') is a hardy, bushy-freckled red beauty.  'Markeeta's Prize' and 'Markeeta's Flame' are both 'Loderi Venus' x 'Anna' (both reds from two deep pink parents).  Britt Smith had an 'Anna's Anna' which he considered the best of the 'Anna' line.  A few juvenile plants may be available for sale from time to time.



Despite formerly being used in hybridization, 'Britannia' has not maintained its popularity...because of its tendency to throw chlorotic leaves.  One of the best in this line...and still in 'Leo', a late-blooming red with R. elliottii as its other parent.  'Kluis Sensation' ('Britannia' hybrid) has a beautiful bloom of true red with dark speckling...but tends to sprawl.

conclusion on reds...


Are there expectations for new red hybrids in the near future?  Not many efforts are going into the reds at this time.  It is tough to improve upon what we already have.

One notable, comparatively new red is "Skookum' (yak/'Mars' x 'America'), a hardy, bushy, beautiful red, hybridized by the late H. L. Larson and raised by Fred MinchJohn Winberg crossed 'Skookum' with 'Mardi Gras', but still is in evaluation stage...not unregistered.

The ideal red could have large, tight-glowing red trusses with sturdy stems on bushy, upright plants.  To get this, is it better to study the genetics of the lines...or just cross two of the best and hope for a blockbuster?

Those of us not hybridizing can share the fun by raising seedlings and sharing the anticipation of what the next bloom period discloses.


D is for Doronicum...a companion plant


The Leopard's Bane (though far be it for me to imagine such an effect on any feline!) is a curious sight in the Spring garden...mainly because of the shock value.  I tend to think of any yellow daisies as a Summer and Fall staple...and they seem rather 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.

not fussy companions!...


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 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, or 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...and only in 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 the 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!

- Colleen Forster


Poem shared from across "The Pond"


John Hammond, of England, is a member of the Scottish Chapter and also a member of the Eugene Chapter.  John sent the lovely poem below to Frances Burns, editor.  Looks like the Winter wasn't too good in Great Britain either.


Beechwood fires burn bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year;
Store your beech for Christmastide
With new holly laid beside;
Chestnuts only good they say
If for years 'tis stayed away; Birch and firwood burn too fast
Blaze too bright and do not last;
Flames from larch will shoot up high
Dangerously the sparks will fly;
But ashwood green and ashwood brown
Are for a Queen with a golden crown.

Oaken logs, if dry and old
Keep away the winter's cold;
Poplar gives a bit smoke
Fills your eyes and makes you choke;
Elmwood burns like churchyard mould
Even the very flames burn cold;
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread
So it is in Ireland said,
Applewood will scent the room,
Pearwood smells like a flower in bloom,
But ashwood wet and ashwood dry
A king may warm his slippers by!

- Attributed to Lady Celia Congreve

more points of interest about poem...


This is the origin version of the poem, first published in The Times, March 1930.  On several occasions over the past eighty years, it has been rewritten, modified, or additional verses added; but none of the versions have the appeal or fluency of Lady Celia's original words.

Written in an age when many old houses had only open fires and candles to light up the long Winter evenings, the words are particularly relevant to a past generation.  Despite the passing years, these words continue to fascinate and haunt many of those who have an interest, or professional involvement, in woodlands and forests, as its contents tend to generate an interesting discussion based on traditional experience with tending open fires or wood-burning stoves.

However, the poem is relatively little known amongst horticulturalists in the wider community, some of whom have been investing more recently in wood-burning stoves...or fireplaces with an open a bid to become more eco-friendly.  But then, farmers and foresters always reckon that you get warm twice when you go logging...once when you cut the wood...and once when you sit down beside it!

Lady Congreve was a distant relative of Ambrose Congreve who is responsible for creating the remarkable Mount Congreve Garden, a world-class garden, near Waterford in Ireland.

Thanks heaps, John, for your sharing!


Easter Lilies


Nadine Boudreau, North Island Chapter, has research lilies and writes notes of praise as Spring approaches.

As Easter is nearing, we begin our plans for past traditions...whether it be religious services, parades, Easter eggs hunts, chocolate bunnies, Easter bonnets and, of course, Easter lilies.

Lilium longiflorum...many symbols...

The Easter lily, Lilium longiflorum, has been a symbol of purity, virtue, innocence, hope, and life dating back to Roman mythology.

One story is while Juno, the queen of the gods, was nursing her son, Hercules, excess milk fell from the sky.  While some of the milk remained above the earth creating the Milky Way, the milk that fell to the earth created lilies.

Biblical lore mentions the lily numerous times; it is said beautiful white lilies sprung up where drops of Christ's sweat fell to the ground in His final hours of sorrow and distress.

Churches fill the altars, as well as surrounding their crosses with lilies, to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and hope of life everlasting.



The lily is definitely a suitable symbol of such importance.  The stems are erect reaching up to 3 ft. tall, producing many narrow dark green, pointed leaves along its length.  The flowers are elongated trumpet-shaped with orange stamens.  The colors of the flowers are greenish white, turning to pure white.  Flower size is about 4 inches...but can reach 6 inches across, and depending on the cultivar can produce up to 10 flowers during its flowering period.

What Nadine loves is the sweet fragrance of the Easter lily.  Though she knows people who do not enjoy the scent and even say, They smell!

lilies came from Japan...


Lilium longiflorum is native to the Ryukyu Islands of Southern Japan.  The Japanese were the main producers of the lilies until World War II.  Production in the United States began in 1919, when Louis Houghton a World War I soldier from Oregon brought a suitcase full of lily bulbs home with him.  Louis shared his bulbs with neighbors and horticultural friends.  When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the supply of lilies was cut off.  The value of lilies soared...many hobbyists along the West Coast decide to go into business in an attempt to cash in on the 'White Gold'.

production in the United States...


Over the years producers have dwindled due to the complexity of growing, climate, quality, and consistency.  There are now just 10 farms in California/Oregon border.  This area produces over 95% of all bulbs for the potted Easter lily markets.

Bulbs require 3 to 4 years of cultivation in these fields, from a tiny bulblet to the mature bulb, before they are ready to be shipped to commercial greenhouses.  Bulb harvesting occurs in the Fall...between late September and early October.  The commercial greenhouse growers throughout Canada and the United States then have the tricky process of forcing the bulbs to be grown and ready to bloom for Easter.  And since Easter can be any day between March 22 and April 25, crop scheduling is crucial.

tips on buying and caring for a lily...


When selecting a lily plant for Easter look for a well-proportioned plant with dark green leaves all the way down the stem...with lots of flowers in various stages...some just opening, puffy unopened buds, and some tighter buds.

It is a good idea to remove the stamens before they shed pollen.  This not only lengthens bloom life...but also keeps the pollen from staining the white flowers and your tablecloth.

Keep your Easter lily away from drafts and in bright indirect sunlight.  They will last longer if kept on the cool side...60-65 degrees F.

Water plants when soil surface is dry to touch.  Do not let them sit in water.  If a foil cover comes with plant, remove cover when you water...let plant drain...then return plant to the pot cover.

life after Easter...


When plants have finished blooming, you can plant them outside in your garden.  Plant in a sunny spot amended with organic matter.  Lilies need good drainage...a raised bed is ideal...and planted about 4 inches deep.  The plants won't flower at Easter as they were forced by the greenhouses...but will flower naturally in mid-summer.

Nadine adds, I have had great success with planting my Easter lilies outdoors.  I hope you will, too!


A precious thought


I have read somewhere that no Japanese child will instinctively pick a flower,
not even a very young child attracted by its bright color,
because the sacredness of flowers is so deeply imbued
in the culture of Japan
that is children understand the blossoms
are there to look at...not to pluck.

-- Katharine S. White, Eugene Chapter


Choice rhodie for your garden...R. williamsianum


Rhododendron williamsianum, introduced to horticulturists of the western world in 1980 by Ernest "Chinese" Wilson is at once one of the most recognizable and one of the most enchanting of the lepidote or scaleless rhododendrons.



Its unique combination of almost orbicular, mid-green leaves, spreading and somewhat rounded or dome-shaped habit, and disproportionately large, candy-pink, campanulate flowers make it easy to recognize, and well-adapted to gardens both large and small.  Its densely mounded shape often has a somewhat brooding appearance, a bit like having a very large toadstool in the garden...but its solid presence makes a good anchor to a plant grouping, and can provide an effective screen, if needed.

Although never thought of as a large rhododendron, it can in time become quite massive, spreading up and out in large billowy curves that are certainly beyond the reach of vertically-challenged gardeners such as myself.

It was a species that has so captured the imagination of rhododendron fanciers that a veritable frenzy of hybridizing ensured.  After all, there were so many positive characteristics to try to attach to other rhododendrons:  small, tidy, glabrous leaves, with lovely bronze new growth, well-shaped, pretty pink blossoms that were large in relation to the leaf size, and a spreading compact habit that keep the blossom down where people could easily admire them.  Everything from haematodes to fortunei.

over 55 hybrids...


Looking through Salley and Greer's Rhododendron Hybrids, I gave up counting at the end of the C's, having reached something over 55 hybrids.  Each decade seemed to bring on a new wave of williamsianum crosses:

  •  Rothschild in the early 30s, including the iconic hybrid 'Bow Bells'
  •  Lord Aberconway in the late 30s and early 40s, with a whole series of hybrids beginning with
    "A" ('Adrastia', 'Adrean', 'Amata') as if he were trying to get in first in the Yellow Pages, but also developing the wonderful 'Cowslip, a williamsianum x wardii cross
  •  Hobbie in the mid 40s, with his 'Gartendirektor(s) 'Glocker' and 'Reiger'
  •  all the way up to Weldon Delp and Hans Hachman.
  • Even J. C. Williams of Caerhays Castle used this namesake rhodo in his inspired 'Hummingbird' cross with R. haematodesWilliamsianum is truly endemic to Sichuan, China, being found only there, and even within that province its distribution is very limited.  However, it is now in constant and widespread production and cultivation all over the world.

-- Brenda Macdonald, Fraser South Chapter


Something to think about


Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
But they don't get around
Like the dandelions do!


American Rhododendron Society
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