Passionate About Plants
Paul extols the beauty Rhodedendrons from his new home in Scotland
It was one afternoon during the Christmas Holiday when we decided to have a walk around Scotland's book town, a lovely town overlooking the Cree estuary, when the call of second hand book shops forced me into everyone. I always head for the gardening section where I spend time (and money) and that day was no exception. As my new garden is in Rhododendron country perhaps a few old books on the subject might be handy after all no one knows everything about gardening! Well then I stumbled across a book which inspired and enthused all in one. It was 'The Rhododendron and Camellia Year Book 1957'
Back in the eighties I met a gentleman by the name of Jim Russell (not a racing driver), a plants man / plant hunter of great knowledge, who had spent many a year growing rhododendrons. We were at the time growing rhodos. From micro propagated plants. He gave me a list of the varieties he thought were the best to grow for sale in containers and for small gardens. In 1983 he sent me propagation material of these varieties. Due to our soil type in Wereham it was difficult to keep them as mother stock! So when I looked through the 1957 year book and found he was on the committee that year I had to read more. In the book there is a symposium- my favourite rhododendrons where the committee members select their five favourite rhododendrons. They are all varieties which they grow in their gardens which ranged from Windlesham Surrey, The Great Park, Winsor, down to Rothchilds Exbury, up via Lord Aberconways Bodnant in North Wales to west Scotland Kiloram Isle of Colosay including Brodick Caslte Arran and one of my local gardens the Earl of Stairs's Lochinch Castle Wigtownshire( Castle Kennedy).
Finding Jim had written about his five favourites I just had to find out which they were, no doubt they would be different to the selection he gave me 25 years later. It was the first paragraph he wrote which captured me and enthused me, so I would like to share this with you.
"To choose five favourite rhododendrons is a task of great difficulty and even agony. There are so many favourites because of the beauty of their foliage or flowers alone; so many which I greatly admire in other climates because of their exotic appearance, their magnificent leaves or superb scent, but which are impossible in a very cold, dry Surrey garden with low rainfall and inevitable spring frost. I do not think I could include any plants which are not satisfying the whole year round because of their habit of growth and I very much appreciate a perfect proportion between leaf and flower. For these reasons my favourites are all species and most of them in the same series; none of them, with the exception of the last, is immediately rewarding as far as flower is concerned, but with due patience I think they are amongst the most satisfactory of all shrubs."
We all think of Rhododendrons as just big flowers but here was a plant lover telling us to look for garden plants which give us enjoyment all the year round and to be patience with our shrubs and they will reward us.
The five varieties of Jim's choice are R. caloxanthum, R. souliei, R. wardii, R. thomsonii, and R. yunnanense.
It might take some time to find them on the internet and even longer to get plants to grow, but I am determined to track them down so they can form the basis of a rhododendron collection in my garden here in the south west of Scotland.
When planting any shrub in our garden we should consider all the seasons just like Mr Russell.
Happy gardening where ever you are.
South West Scotland.