A few rhododendron thoughts

(Before I start – I’ve added a poppy gallery in the top menu bar. Please take a look if you want some blue in your life)

I’ve never really become enthused by rhododendrons. They don’t grow especially well on my heavy clay, and are horribly prone to having their flower buds and young growth wiped out by late frost. Plus, they are an even more complicated genus than primula – and I can’t cope with more than one enthusiasm.  Even so, I seem to have acquired thirty-one of them, if you include azaleas (which I suppose you have to these days).

The thing about these shrubs is that they light up a garden like fireworks when in flower, and you can’t miss themP1010737. This is not always a good thing. You need to be very careful.

This orange azalea was planted as an end-stop to the garden, about 200 yards from the house and well away from anything else. Even so, it’s a colour hazard. But it plays its part in combining with the yellow rh. luteum – whose heavy musky scent means June has arrivedP1010742.

Numerous hybrid rhododendrons are pink or strawberry-coloured with huge ornamental trusses of flowers, and I avoid them like the plague. Our ancestors loved them, planting them all over the place, but I stick to the species, where there is far more subtlety to be found: This is a flower from rh. cerasinum:P1010690

The flowers hang like bells, and it is not until you pick one up and peer inside that you find those five deep black reflecting spots, like drops of molten metal, with the veining creeping out all over the petals. There’s something threateningly volcanic about this flower.

Rh. Wardii (white variant) is less harmfulP1010740. In fact, it has a contrasting innocence.
Many rhododendrons grow into small trees in their native habitat. They do this frequently on Scotland’s west coast, or in Cornwall, but not here – except for one, the endlessly amenable rh. yunannense. Even so,  it has taken fifty years to reach this height. Most years it is frosted, but if it survives, and if it has produced any flower buds, it is magnificent, as it has been this year.P1010590

I remain in two minds, but I have to conclude that for all the irritating colour problems and the anguish of losing the flowers to frost year after year, I can’t do without rhododendrons. The garden would be a lesser place in their absence.

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13 thoughts on “A few rhododendron thoughts

  1. My goodness, I would never have guessed you would have such intense colors in your garden Kininvie. Does the orange (we used to call it Mercurochrome) keep you awake at night? (You know what Van Gogh said about orange.) I like the flower colors you call innocent –soft colors, like we mostly have here in Arcady, although that R. cerasinum bloom reminds me of a very pretty hibiscus.

    • What did van Gogh say about orange? Since he didn’t bother to grow his own sunflowers (unlike you), I’m not going to pay too much attention to him.

  2. I used to firmly dislike bold colours such as red, orange and bright yellow but lately I’ve changed my mind and realized that all colours are good, in the right place and in the right amount. And although I’m not a big fan of azaleas, I must admit that that orange big one looks very cheerful with anything else around. but I prefer the yellow scented one and the white one and that big pale lavender one is stunning. It’s kind of strange they are so sensitive to late frost, being native of your land, don’t you think?
    Thumb up for the meconopsis gallery, I love the effect with the background of that white rubus, it looks like a wild rose (well it is a kind of, indeed).

    • So you are now claiming that brambles are really roses? Honestly, Alberto, you are obsessed! Anyway, azaleas are, alas, not native to Scotland. America has them, as do the Caucasus, and the Himalayas are home to the rhododendron, but we can lay no claim to either. All we have is the Scots Pine, plus a few neeps.

  3. I like rhodos and azaleas as long as they are surrounded with lots of green as yours, ( and mine for that matter,) are, the perfume from luteum is amazing isn’t it.
    Meconopsis gallery is superb, one day maybe, although I have a few photos already from the last couple of years.

    • I wonder why no one has ever used azalea for perfume. All these soap manufacturers seem to like roses and lily of the valley, but not azalea. Strange.

  4. You make me laugh, Mr K. You can’t cope with a second enthusiasm so you only have 31 rhodo’s! Funny how our tastes change. I heartily disliked them a few years ago but have now planted four at the Priory and transplanted two others. I’m with you on the top colour – hazardous indeed (though I daresay I’ll change my mind on that too – in time). D

  5. Look, Dave, trying to get my head around the infinity of the primula genus is quite enough for my poor brain. Rhodos I just pick up along the way without trying to understand the brutes. Is it the right colour? Is it vaguely hardy? That’s quite enough intellectual endeavour. The fact that this method has brought 31 of them in its train is neither here nor there…..

  6. I’m often sticken dead at this phrase – but having spent far too much time on the west coast of Scotland, I cannae stand them. Although I do like the scented ones and appreciate those with giant leaves and nice bark, and the structure they give, but aside that I’m a heathen.

    They’re up there with midges for me, perhaps its an association thing? I see a rhodo and I start scratching…..

    As I was ensconced at a certain garden with a rather large collection of them, I kept schtum.

    Much prefer their Primula logo anyway, although both brigades are somewhat tricky in their taxonomy.

  7. Tour rhododendrons and azaleas are amazing especially considering the weather that you receive. Wisteria bloom magnificently here in Sydney, so considering how different are our climates it might be better to stay with the rhodos.

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