Monday, May 19, 2014

Seeing rhododendrons through rose-colored glasses

Roses give you more bang for your buck than most any other plant in the garden.  I have been preaching this fact for many years. That’s why very few “seasonal” plants reside at Hunt Manor. Even my daylilies and clematis repeat bloom. 

Purpureum Elegans

So, in the past, my head has not been turned by peonies, azaleas, iris or rhododendrons.

This year, I’ve been giving the rhodys a second look. Maybe it’s because we had a very harsh winter and I am dying to see something in bloom. Or maybe it’s because until now, I hadn’t appreciated the variety of colors available.

Catawbiense Album

Rhododendron is a genus of over 1,000 species of woody plants in the heath family. Although they are native to many areas of the world, most of the rhododendrons grown in gardens today are hybrids. According to the Royal Horticultural Society, there are more than 28,000 cultivars in the international registry, most bred for the showy flowers.

Percy Wiseman
I saw a bright yellow one outside the grocery store the other day and almost bought it, thinking how it would be a perfect companion for my native flame azalea. But alas, by the time I made up my mind, it was gone.

So I decided to scout around the area and see what other beauties I’d been missing. 

My friend Margaret refers to the hybrid rhododendrons as the “tame” ones in contrast to the native varieties that will be blooming throughout the mountains this summer.   

Nova Zembia

Edith Bosley
The Rosebay is the most common rhododendron in the Smokies. It is one of the largest and hardiest of evergreen shrubs, believed to be able to tolerate temperatures of 40 below zero. (Although the leaves do collapse and look wilted on super cold days.)

Native rhodys can vary in color
Rosebay thrives near streams and ravines at elevations below 5,000 feet. The flowers range from white to purplish-pink and the wood has been used to make tool handles.

Last year not many of the flowers bloomed, and I wondered if it was due to the 30+ inches of rain we’d had in June and July. Now I’ve learned that this variety only puts out a “big bloom” every two to four years. No one knows when the extravaganza will happen, or why.

The Rosebays by the trail and stream are mostly white
I know that come late June and July I’ll be looking at these natives with new interest and curiosity.

The name rhododendron comes from the Greek and means rose tree.

Rosebay is the variety that is growing all around me.

Maybe the rose trees and the Rosebay are trying to tell this rose lover something.


Hoehoegrow said...

They are lovely, and tbh, I don't think I appreciate them as I should. Like you, I am using more and more plants which 'earn their keep' in the garden. They have to have along flowering period, or be repeat flowerers, otherwise, I don't really think they work hard enough. Saying that though I am STILL a sucker for lupins, delphiniums, peonies ... the list goes on ...

Lynn Hunt said...

Jane, I know just what you mean. I love foxgloves and delphiniums but have learned to consider them as annuals here. Still, I splurge occasionally and buy a couple. The coreopsis I planted last spring did come back, so that was encouraging. So glad you stopped by the blog!

Sunil Patel said...

Hi Lynn, we have a rhododendron hedge all along one side of the back garden and it's the wild, native kind, It's well over ten feet high and dwarfs the arches and obelisks I have temporarily placed in front of it. At the moment, it's lit up in electric pink flowers all along its length and it looks amazing. It will act as a most suitable backdrop for a large border I'm planning to put in front of it.

Lynn Hunt said...

Sunil, your rhody hedge must be amazing. I sound like a broken record, but I can't wait to see what you do with your new garden. I could be wrong, but I don't think rhododendrons are native to the UK. I believe plant hunter John Bartram introduced them in about 1734.

Dee Nash said...

Here we would give anything to grow Rhodies. However, our soil is way to alkaline and harsh for them. Loving your take on them though.

Lynn Hunt said...

It's frustrating when you want to grow a plant but can't because of soil or climate considerations, isn't it Dee? That's how I feel about camellias. Supposedly there are varieties that will survive here, but it isn't worth taking a chance. So glad you stopped by!

Commonweeder said...

As the owner of a Rose Walk I was fascinated by the connection between roses and rhododendrons. I have long been aware of the glorious colors of hybrid rhodies because I have a friend with a collection of 400 blooming on an unlikely sunny hill.

Lynn Hunt said...

Commonweeder, the sight of 400 rhododendrons blooming on a hill must be a sight to behold! I'm so glad you enjoyed the posting. I had fun riding around the mountains looking for photo ops!

Commonweeder said...

What a great post. I am very interested in hardy, disease resistant roses and so glad that there is more and more interest in hybridizers moving in this direction. The Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden is now run on nearly organic principles and they have trials there too.

Lynn Hunt said...

Commonweeder, I wrote an article for the Christian Science Monitor about the Peggy Rockefeller garden after they stopped spraying. A rosé called Quietness won in their top 100!

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