What the Rhododendron Family has to Offer Us

It is the ambition, I think, of every garden-lover to grow some of the showy hybrid Rhododendrons. We see them perhaps in other gardens, or perhaps at one of the flower-shows – in the latter place in full bloom of course, and with perfect flowers which captivate us and make us determined to grow a specimen or two in our own gardens. Pink pearl, for instance, with its large rose-pink flowers carried in conical trusses, and its attractive evergreen leaves (they are very ornamental when the flowers have dropped) is one many people want. It is regarded as the most popular hybrid raised (it received an Award of Merit as long ago as 1897); there is still a great demand for it and it is among the most amenable of all the hardy hybrids.

Give it the right soil and tend it carefully during the first few years, and it will flourish luxuriantly in practically any garden. It would be a good plan to grow three together (if you have the room) to give a more striking colour effect.

To see a bed of them (a dozen or more) in full bloom in May is a spectacle which arrests one’s attention and settles one’s doubts about the choice of flowering shrubs for one’s own garden. With a dark background, say, an evenly clipped Yew hedge (glowing rose-pink against black-green) you have a perfect picture. Or, just as enchanting: a wide grass walk flanked by single rows of the shrubs, with Yew hedges at the back.

For most of the year there will be just the foliage: the charming light green of the Rhododendrons, so dense that no ground can be seen (and no weeds can root); and behind, the close compact contrasting green of the Yew. ‘All right for the large, old-fashioned garden,’ you might say; ‘but what about the small modern garden?’

In the smallest plots it is possible to find room for one plant. Pink pearl grows slowly (though strongly) and quite small specimens can be bought. It could occupy a bed (circular shaped preferably) on its own, either in the middle of a small lawn, or perhaps in a place in a border along with other shrubs. It would probably do better in the border, since it would get a little more shade there than in the middle of a lawn. Full shade is not necessary for many of the old hardy Rhododendrons (familiarly known as the Tron-clads’); but the colours are inclined to bleach when exposed to sun all day long – diis is especially true of the mid-summer blooming varieties: those that are at their best at the end of June, say. Pink pearl is one of the hardy hybrids I recommend for the average garden in this country.

Before considering any other varieties, let us look at the problems of planting and cultivation in general. (There’s nothing exceptionally difficult to tackle.)

Rhododendrons and Azaleas need a lime-free soil. If you garden on chalk, that is, if you find chalk boulders in your soil – even if they’re a good distance down – , it isn’t worth trying to grow these shrubs at all. A moist lime-free soil is of paramount importance in their cultivation.

It is seldom possible, however, by just digging to ascertain whether your soil contains lime or not (the presence of chalk boulders is an extreme case). But it is possible to have the soil tested by sending a specimen to a nursery which undertakes the work, or to one of the agricultural research stations. They will advise you. Or you can do the job yourself with a Lime-testing set which can be bought at any good horticultural stores.

It will be difficult, I think, to find the ideal soil in the vast majority of our gardens; but soils can be treated and improved. The natural way is to incorporate plenty of coarse sand and peat or leaf-mould with heavy clay; and plenty of peat with light soils. (I use three parts of sifted leaf-mould to one part of my lightish sandy soil, which is slightly limy, and put a 6-inch layer of leaf-mould (or decayed leaves, when I can get them) and some sand round the shrubs regularly every April.) This top layer or mulch is thus continually renewed, the old rotting layers feeding the roots which of Rhododendrons and Azaleas lie near the surface of the ground.

The artificial way is to feed the soil with the chemical preparation known as Murphy Sequestrene, which is obtainable at any chemist’s. It is a chelating agent, chelation being the chemical inactivation of the calcium or lime in the soil. Thus it is possible to grow calcifuge (lime-shy) plants in chalky soils. The treatment should be repeated yearly.

What is the best time for planting hybrid Rhododendrons ? April, most professional gardeners say. It is wise to order them some months ahead so that you get them in time. I’ve always planted mine in mid-April (a month when the sap is active); and I’ve got the nurserymen to spray the plants with the new plastic spray which retards the loss of moisture during the ‘shock’ period of transplanting and re-establishment. The evergreen leaves do not wilt so readily when they have been thus treated. Furthermore it is very necessary to keep the plants well watered during dry spells; and they should also be sprayed overhead as frequently as possible during the hot summer.

The actual planting is a straightforward job: dig a hole big enough to take the roots comfortably when they are spread out. With Rhododendrons however the ball of roots is intact and well covered with good leafy soil as a rule.

Firm the bottom of the hole, put the plant in, taking great care that the base of the stem or trunk is not below the surface of the ground. Fill up with a mixture of three parts of sifted leaf-mould or peat and one part of coarse sand. Press the soil well down round the roots – or even tread on it to make it firm: you cannot plant Rhododendrons too firmly. And if the weather is dry, keep the soil moist by watering regularly till the rains come. Rain water or soft water is best for these plants.

As regards the site: a partially shady one is best for all types of Rhododendrons. The owner of a small garden hasn’t much choice perhaps, and if his garden is in an exposed position, he would be wise to plant one or two standard trees to provide some shade during the sunniest part of the day. The small-leaved varieties (belonging to the Lapponicum Series, or Group) are better for a sunny position than the large-leaved kinds. Small plants such as the hybrids blue bird, blue tit, and the semi-evergreen praecox are often planted against boulders in the rockery, where they get a certain amount of shade. Praecox eventually makes a moderate-sized spreading shrub, but may be pruned back to keep it fairly small. The so-called Japanese Azaleas (evergreen) will certainly benefit from the shade and protection afforded by the rocks.

Most nurseries have good stocks of Rhododendrons. Hillier; Slocock; Reuthe; Waterer of Bagshot; are some of the best known specialists and list hundreds of different varieties in their catalogues. The newest varieties seem less hardy than the very old ones and in some districts may need protection during bad winters.

The old ‘Iron-clads’ are obtainable from the nurseries I’ve mentioned above and will no doubt appeal to people whose gardens are in high, exposed places. A word of warning, however: many grow to an enormous size and are therefore quite unsuitable for small gardens.

A number of them may be seen at Kew Botanic Gardens and in some of the pleasure gardens of the great houses, which are often open to the public, lady de rothschild, with white flowers flushed with carmine, is a gigantic shrub at Kew; it towers above one and leaves one feeling a little uncertain about the suitability of the other old hybrids. There are plenty of moderate-sized ones among them, however, and they’re all hardy enough for the average garden in this country.

I give a list here of all kinds – old and new – , though not just a catalogue-list, which makes tedious reading.

A famous raiser of hybrid Rhododendrons when once asked to name what he considered to be the finest hardy kinds for the garden, gave the following:

BLUE PETER LETTY EDWARDS

BRITANNIA MOUNT EVEREST

CORONA

SOUVENIR DE ANTHONY

WATERER

EARL OF ATHLONE

SOUVENIR OF W. C. SLOCOCK

FASTUOSUM

FLORE PLENO

UNIQUE

LADY CLEMENTINE MITFORD

He didn’t include pink pearl or old port, two special favourites of mine; but no doubt the ones mentioned were those he grew and had got to love. Several make medium-sized shrubs – room could be found for three probably in the smallest garden.

The eleven are included in and described with my selection. Album elegans. This is a very old hybrid which was raised by Waterer’s of Bagshot, and seems to be a little difficult to get nowadays – you might have to go to Waterer’s for it. The name is odd, since the flowers are not white (album means white), but an exquisite pale mauve which fades to white. It is tough and completely hardy, tall-growing, and has been used very effectively as a screen and as a hedge, and also as a background to smaller Rhododendrons. It blooms in late May around London – earlier in the south. Augfast. A smallish shrub not more than 4 feet tall as a rule and therefore suitable for limited spaces. It doesn’t like full sun, however, and should be given the front position in a partially-shady border. Set three together, if you can: two in front, 4 feet apart, and one behind; you will get a lovely splash of dark lavender-blue, in May. The name augfast is derived from the names of the species which produced the shrub, viz. R. fastigiatum and R. augustinii; the latter, by the way, has the bluest flowers of all the Rhododendron species. An excellent shrub to plant with augfast is the evergreen Mahonia aquifolium, Plant several: some behind as a background, and one or two on each side of the Rhododendron. Ascot brilliant is another of the old hardies, with brilliant red flowers, which come early. Unless your garden is well protected (has a wall round it, for instance), you will need some overhead shelter to mitigate the force of north winds and give some protection from late spring frosts. But fortunately the flowers often escape. If you want to see a really fine specimen in bloom, go to Kew in April. Baron de bruin. This is an old hardy variety which blooms late. Its dark red flowers are seldom damaged by frost and the shrub itself doesn’t seem to suffer when battered about by cold winds. Blue bird. (A.M. In 1943.) It is a lovely blue augustinii hybrid. The flowers are of an exquisite violet-blue shade, with a deeper blotch. They open in April and suffer little harm in a reasonably sheltered rock-garden. The plant looks best though, massed along the front row of a border. Blue peter is considered one of the finest of the hybrids and is of medium height. Good for a small garden. The flowers are perhaps the bluest of all we can find in the hybrids. It is a mid-season bloomer. In 1933 it received an A.M. And in 1958 a First Class Certificate. Raised by Waterer’s. Blue tit. Another ‘blue’ hybrid and very suitable for small gardens or for the rockery. It seldom reaches more than 3 feet in height, and makes a compact shrub, lovely in late April, with its smallish lavender-blue flowers springing from the tips of the branches.

Britannia received a F.G.G. In 1937. It is a special favourite with Rhododendron-lovers and has beautiful crimson-scarlet, gloxiana-shaped flowers in early June. They bleach, however, if exposed to full sun. bric-a-brac is a pure white Rhododendron, which in time makes a neat little bush about 2 feet high. The flowers open early and measure 2 inches across. It deserves a sheltered spot and we usually find it in the rock-garden. White Rhododendrons are rather rare and probably less popular than the coloured varieties. Butterfly is one of the yellow-flowered hybrids – a beautiful shrub. The colour is an exquisite lemon-yellow and each flower is blotched with deep chocolate. The flowers come freely in early May and need some shade. Very lovely massed with bluebells for a landscape effect. But you need a big garden or a woodland for it.

Christmas cheer. A curious name for a plant which blooms in March. But perhaps not too inappropriate when March snows cover the ground. The colour is blush-pink; the flowers force well in a greenhouse but lose some of their lustre grown under glass. This hybrid makes a useful compact shrub for a small garden. In the London district it will need some overhead shelter. Carmen is derived from the slow-growing, prostrate species R. repens, whose natural habitat is the cold mountainous parts of China. A mere shrublet and therefore best in the rockery. April blooming. The flowers are of a waxy texture and crimson and bell-shaped. Corona. A May bloomer and does well in a tub, where I have often seen it growing and flowering profusely. There is nothing unusual about that, though; for many hybrids do well in tubs. A fine shrub for a town garden. (It prospers in London). The flowers are coral-pink. A cold, rather exposed site is good for it and seems to toughen it; in the warm south it often grows lush. Raised by Waterer’s. An old favourite. Countess of derby. Another old favourite and often seen massed in large gardens. A tallish shrub and very hardy. It is a cross between pink pearl and the rosy-crimson cynthia, and is sometimes described as an ‘improved pink pearl.’ earl of athlone is a Dutch hybrid with rich blood-red flowers which are at their best in May. It was considered a rather tender shrub at first, but in the hands of the nurserymen it has become hardier through the course of years, the strongest-grafted plants being selected for stock and increase. It received an F.G.G. In 1938. I’ve seen it in full bloom with dark red tulips massed in front of it.

Elizabeth. This is another repens hybrid. A low, spreading shrub with blood-red, trumpet-shaped flowers, which come in clusters. It prefers a partially shady spot and is an excellent shrub for a narrow border.

Elizabeth hobbie carries large scarlet flowers in April. It is completely hardy but does best in a fairly shady position. faggeter’s favourite is a hybrid of R. fortunei, which species is a native of Eastern China. The colour is curious: a blend of pink, cream and lavender. The flower-buds are scarlet and begin to open in May. This hybrid has attractive green foliage; it is a charming shrub for a border. Fastuosum flore pleno. A very old hybrid which is still obtainable, however, and is prized by most collectors. The flowers, mauve, are semi-double and are rosette-shaped. They open at the end of May. Goldsworth yellow has been called the best yellow hybrid Rhododendron in cultivation. If you see it in bud, the colour is apricot; but in full bloom, the flowers are an enchanting shade of primrose-yellow, the petals spotted with green and bronze. Impeanum. This hybrid was raised at Kew Botanic Gardens. It is a perfect, low-spreading shrub for the rock-garden; its cobalt-blue flowers looking particularly attractive against the grey rocks. It usually blooms in late April. Lady Clementine mitford. An old hardy hybrid raised by Anthony Waterer. It’s at its best in early June and is medium-sized and has large trusses of flowers, their colour being a blend of pink and yellow – described by nurserymen as ‘peach’. Letty edwards was awarded an F.C.G. In 1948 and derives its yellow colour from the parent R. campylocarpum. Often the flowers are marked with crimson in the throat. This hybrid makes a medium-sized shrub and blooming in April really needs some overhead shelter.

Loderi. Acclaimed by all Rhododendron enthusiasts as the finest hybrid in the world! Unfortunately I can’t grow it successfully in my garden in South Buckinghamshire. It needs a warmer part of England. Regarded as the King of hybrid Rhododendrons and is a truly magnificent plant. The shrub is large, the flowers are enormous, scented and measure 5 inches across individually. There are many forms of the variety; loderi pink coral, loderi sir edmund (flowers opening blush-white) are two I’ve seen in several gardens in Sussex (near the coast), in which county the hybrid was raised. Mars. A tough old hardy hybrid: even so, it does better in partial shade. The colour of the flowers (June blooming) are described as pure red; there is however a touch of bronze in the colour. The plant received a F.G.G. In 1935. mother of pearl. This hybrid is a sport from pink pearl which it resembles in form and foliage. The colour is a lovely blush-pink; and it turns a pearly-white as the flowers age. They open in May. Mount Everest. A white, delicately-scented variety of moderate size. It blooms in early May and is best in partial shade. The colour is not pure, however: there is a touch of red about the flowers. Mrs. FURNrvAL has pink flowers with a brownish blotch and a yellow eye. As the colour soon begins to fade in full sun, partial shade is necessary. As regards providing this: the spreading branches of large trees in the vicinity will usually give sufficient shade; and often a wall or a fence will. Mum is one of the late bloomers and has white flowers with a yellow eye. It is a fine, very hardy shrub with attractive foliage and of compact habit. Myrtifolium. One of its parents is the Alpine Rose. (R. hirsutum), a native of the European Alps. The hybrid is a hardy, compact little shrub with rose-pink flowers in June. A good choice for a small garden. Nobleanum. If you lived in Cornwall or in the Channel Islands, you would probably have this Rhododendron in bloom at Christmas. It is among the earliest. But in the Home Counties the flowers seldom begin to open before February. But it’s good and heartening to see them then, for one knows that spring is on the way. The flowers vary from pink to crimson; and nobleanum album is white. They are slow- 17th and 18th centuries; and from these few, the first hybrids were raised. These earliest species came from Europe – R. ponticum; R. luteum (or Azalea pontica) and the Alpine Roses – ; and some from North America. But the most striking, the most beautiful came to us from Asia, particularly from the mountainous regions of India and China.

I give a descriptive list of about a dozen. It is actually a Species Poll, the plants having been chosen by some of the leading specialists in the country. They are the best hardy kinds for the average garden in these islands – though one or two would be a bit of a risk, I think, in districts as far north as London.

R. augustitiii (named for the botanist Augustine Henry, who discovered it in Hupeh, Southern China, at an altitude of 9000 feet). It is the bluest of all the species. You should ask for the truest blue forms when buying it: there are inferior, dull blues and nondescript shades. Unfortunately the superior ones are on the tender side and need some shelter in cold districts. This species flowers in May and usually escapes the worst frosts. It is scarcely suitable for small gardens, since it ultimately reaches a height of 10 feet; and to get a really striking effect of glowing blue, you should plant a group of the shrubs.

See them at Kew in May. They are quite startlingly beautiful. The branches are packed with 2-inch blue flowers, almost hiding the leaves.

R. barbatum (the specific epithet means barbed or bristly, referring to the stems and the leaves). Although this is included as a suitable species, it certainly isn’t any good in gardens in the Home Counties. Personally, I’ve never seen it prospering outside Devon and Cornwall and gardens on the western seaboard. It has been chosen simply for its magnificent colour. There is no red like it. It glows and astonishes you when you first see it. The dull green foliage is an excellent foil. Another point intending growers must consider: it makes a tall shrub or tree up to 15 feet in height and is not suitable for a small garden – even in the warm south. I would give anything to be able to grow it; but it does not succeed in Buckinghamshire.

R. campylocarpum (with bent fruits or seed-pods). Like R. barbatum, this species is found growing at an altitude of 12,000 feet in the Himalaya, the ideal place for Rhododendrons, for it is well above the damp, frost and fog level, and so cold that the flower-buds remain dormant till the spring arrives. The flowers in the best forms of this species are of a clear canary yellow; they are bell-shaped, about 21 inches across, come in clusters, and are slightly fragrant; the leaves are smallish (2 to 4 inches long) and a pleasing green colour. It is a slow-growing shrub, neat and bushy, reaching a height of from 4 to 8 feet. In exceptionally wet regions it grows lush and appears then not to flower very freely; it does best in the drier parts of this country. Many gardeners advocate disbudding the plant every second year to prevent it from exhausting itself by over-flowering. It blooms in May and I’ve often seen it associated with bluebells. A charming colour association: yellow above pale blue.

R. cinnibarum (cinnibar-red: referring to the flowers). The flowers, funnel-shaped, are a striking bright cinnibar red as a rule, and come in clusters of about 5, above the oval evergreen leaves. They bloom in early summer. The colour varies considerably, however; the yellow-orange shades are not so attractive, I think, as the red. This species reaches a height of from 6 to 10 feet and makes a thin, open shrub. Weeds soon spring up round it (it is not one of the compact weed-smothering evergreens). It should be underplanted with dwarf Heathers or with a low evergreen shrub such as the Holly-leaf Mahonia (Mahonia aquifolium).

R. discolor (different colours). Some fine specimens may be seen at Kew. They were about 8 feet tall when I saw them a few years ago and full of flowers – in mid-July. This species is one of the last to bloom and is therefore a useful shrub to have. Unfortunately it is too big for small gardens, reaching sometimes a height of 15 feet in the south; farther north it is smaller. The flowers, funnel-shaped, large and scented, are pink or white, marked with yellow-green at the base. The shrub prefers a shady spot.

R.fortunei (named in honour of Robert Fortune, the famous collector, who worked in China during the 19th century). A tall evergreen, 10 to 12 feet high, though seldom that height in this country. The large flowers, blush-pink, are delightfully fragrant and open in May. The largest leaves are about 8 inches long and pale green. It is a completely hardy shrub and seems to revel in an open position in the garden. The fortunei race of hybrids are noted for their delicate colouring and their delicious scent.

R. griersonianum (named for C. Gricrson, a friend of George Forest’s; they collected together in China). Like the gorgeous R. barbatum, this species is suitable only for the warmest gardens in these islands. It is included in the list because of its glorious red colour. It is a glowing geranium red – described by some gardeners as ‘a red-hot red’.

R. hippophaeoides (resembling sea-buckthorn). A smallish species, 4 to 5 feet high, and one of the easiest to grow. The flowers are very variable in colour; the most attractive is the blue or lavender-blue – there are deep purplish-blue, bluey-rose, and pink forms. The leaves are small (the species belongs to the Lapponicum Series); they are of a greyish tint and pleasing to see all through the year. The plant blooms in March and April and is completely hardy: certainly one for those on the look out for an easy species. It may be raised from seed and also from cuttings, these rooting very readily. The plant was discovered by Kingdon Ward in Yunnan, China, in 1913. In the wild it grows in exposed and often boggy places.

R. kingianum (named for Sir George King who died in 1909; he was director of the Botanic Gardens, Calcutta). Botanists regard the plant as a geographical form of R. arboreum. But its foliage is different, the leaves being much broader and more rounded. The flowers are a magnificent shade of deep scarlet and come in compact trusses; they open towards the end of June and can always be relied upon to give a good display.

R. russatum (reddened; the epithet probably refers to the reddish flower-stems). A small-leaved species and quite a dwarf – seldom more than 3 feet high, under cultivation. The flowers are a vivid purple, small and come in clusters of from 5 to 10. They bloom in April and are very striking when seen in a mass as, for example, when the shrub is used for edging a border.

R. sutchuense (from Szechwan, China). It was found in Western Hupeh, China, by the famous collector Wilson in 1901 and first flowered in Britain in 1910. The deep rose-pink kind (Var. geraldii) is the most beautiful; the magenta shades of other kinds are far less pleasing – magenta in flowers isn’t a favourite colour. The plant makes a rather big shrub in time (10 feet or more high) and is very fine in leaf; the leaves measure from 6 to 10 inches in length. As it blooms in March, it needs a sheltered spot.

R. thomsonii (named for Thomas Thomson, Superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Gardens from 1854 to 1861). This species recommended by the specialists needs a warm, sheltered garden in the London district or the flowers will suffer (unless the weather in March, when it blooms, is exceptionally mild). Often with these precocious shrubs, the flowers open undamaged and are beautiful for a short time, then overnight are completely destroyed by a frost. Cornwall is the best place for it – or some district with a similar climate. The blood-red colour is the species’ great attraction; and the leaves, sea-green, show off the flowers effectively. These are bell-shaped, measuring 2 inches across and come in loose clusters. R. thomsonii eventually makes a big shrub up to about 14 feet tall. It is suitable only for the largest gardens.

These are but a few of the species obtainable; most Rhododendron specialists give over a hundred in their catalogues (Hillier lists about 150); all desirable plants, all evergreen. R. sinogrande, with leaves 2 ½ feet long and 1 foot wide, is included and designated as tender and one needing shelter and a warm district.

Others (R. radicans and R. repens, for example), are prostrate creeping species only a few inches high and obviously best (and probably safest) in the rockery, among the stones.

R. ponticum is the mauve species we see naturalized in some of our woodlands, particularly in Surrey and Hampshire. It is not a native plant (no Rhododendron is), but is has established itself very well in many parts of the country. It is used as a game covert in woodlands and also for hedges and screens and is a favourite shrub with many gardeners. This species was introduced into Britain about the middle of the 18th century. From this and others, such as R. maximum (called the Great Laurel) from North America, the earliest hybrids were produced.

The scarlet R. arboreum is a glorious evergreen species, but tree-like and decidedly on the tender side. Around London it is best grown in a cool greenhouse. (At Kew a grand specimen is housed in the Temperate House and blooms there in February.)

There are dozens of other species. See them in bloom first, and also, before you make your choice, get as much information as you can about the plants, about their likes and their dislikes.

The owner of a small modern garden will naturally be compelled to choose the smallest kinds. Those described in the following Section are on the whole less intractable than the small wild alpine species, which, like all the wild Rhododendrons need growing conditions similar to those they get in their natural habitats – often the high mountainous regions of Europe and Asia, where there is an abundance of moisture in the soil (from melting snows) and the atmosphere; and cooling mists in the hot summer keep the foliage wet and moist. ‘Remove all seed-pods or dead flower-heads,’ is the advice given by growers and specialists. This is done to prevent the plants exhausting themselves through seed production. It doesn’t take long to pinch them off one or two plants. In a large garden, where hundreds are growing, the job is often neglected. In the wild it is never done – the seeds drop naturally or birds devour them.

The small compact evergreen Rhododendrons (or Japanese Azaleas, as they are popularly called) give a wonderful show of blossom in May. Like some of the miniature alpine Rhododendrons, they flower so profusely that the foliage is completely hidden. In their early days, and for a year or two, they are rather tender and need a little protection and nursing during severe winter weather.

As regards soil, they like lime-free, peaty soils as do all the genus; yet it musn’t be too rich for these Azaleas (use two parts of coarse sand, one part peat, and one part loam); too rich a medium causes the plants to make a lot of sappy growths, which are very susceptible to frost damage. Any deficiency in nutriment in the soil is easily supplied by yearly mulching with well rotted leaves in April.

The plants like partial shade – or most of them do – and in a small garden the best place for them is probably in a border near the house: shade and protection are supplied permanently by the walls. In exceptionally bad weather (frost and snow for days on end) the plants are effectually sheltered by cloches, or bell-glasses; they should be removed occasionally (when the sun shines) to provide ventilation. Severe and prolonged frost causes bark-splitting, which is often fatal.

The best-loved kinds are the Kurumes, which originated in Japan, and were derived from different Azaleas found growing on Mount Kirishima on the island of Kiushiu. Principally in the town of Kurume on the island, Japanese hybridists had worked for years on the plants, producing many beautiful garden forms, which are known to us as the Kurume Evergreen Azaleas, many of which were introduced by Wilson, the collector, into American and European gardens after the First World War. Close on a hundred are listed in specialists’ catalogues today. As with the hybrid Rhododendrons, choice of varieties is a difficult task: one seems as beautiful as another. Many, like some Polyanthuses, have hose-in-hose flowers, that is, one flower within another. Addy WERY has deep red flowers and beautiful dark glossy green foliage, the leaves, as in all Azaleas, resembling those of the Box (Buxus sempervirens), but colouring in the autumn. The plant needs some shade or its flowers will bleach. It received an A.M. In 1950. aya-kammuri. This is one of Wilson’s first introductions, grown in the Arnold Arboretum, Boston, Mass., before it came to Britain. A lovely small shrub, with rose (sometimes salmon-red) flowers touched with white. Azuma-kagami. Deep pink flowers, hose-in-hose. The plant doesn’t seem to mind full exposure (after a few years of hardening-off), provided the soil is kept moist.

Christmas cheer. (The Japanese name is ima-shojo, which is mostly used nowadays). The English name seems quite inappropriate, since the plant blooms in late April, and the flowers are a warm, bright red, hose-in-hose formed. One of the early introductions. Daphne is a charming white variety (hose-in-hose). It ought to be planted in shade, not that the flowers need it more than the others, but white in a subdued light (or in shadow) is always more beautiful; in full sun it stares and can be quite hard to the eyes. Hinodegiri is said to be an exceptionally hardy variety. It is certainly one of the most popular. It has bright crimson flowers which are at their best in early May. This shrub was one of those (50 altogether) that Wilson saw in Japan in 1914. He chose these from the hundreds of varieties which the Japanese had raised from indigenous plants.

Hinomayo. Among the loveliest for colour: an exquisite glowing shell pink, the flowers completely hiding the foliage. The first of the Kurumes that I ever saw in this part of the country. It grew in a shady dell at ‘Greengates’ which belonged then to Lord Hambledon. The estate is near Henley-on-Thames. Some specimens have been known to grow up to a height of 5 feet or more. The plant received an A.M. In 1921 and a F.C.G. In 1945. hoo (a delightful name). In some catalogues the plant appears under apple blossom. Another of Wilson’s 50. A dainty little evergreen: white flowers tinged with pink. It blooms at the end of April; it is regarded by most growers as on the tender side. Iro-hayama or dainty, described as Number 8 of Wilson’s 50. It was awarded an A.M. In 1952. The colour is a rose-lavender with a whitish centre and a pale brownish eye. It has proved to be quite hardy in most gardens. Kiren (daybreak). One of the hardier varieties, of low compact growth, with rose-pink, hose-in-hose flowers. It is listed as Number 22 of Wilson’s early collection. Shin-seikai is very hardy and has creamy-white flowers in May (hose-in-hose).

All these shrubs ultimately make neat compact bushes from 2 to 3 feet high – hinomayo, as I’ve already mentioned, grows taller.

The wild species from which the Kurumes were derived were R. obtusum, R. kinsuanum, and R. kaempferi (formerly called Azaleas). The last-named species was crossed with a plant named Azalea malvatica, a shrub imported to Holland from Japan and used by hybridists there to produce some very beautiful evergreen forms. These are described now as Malvatica Xkaempferi hybrids, and very suitable for small gardens. I single out the following as the most beautiful. They flourish in many gardens in the London district. Alice. This hybrid has striking salmon-red flowers, which last longer in partial shade. It blooms in May.

Betty. Another beauty. It blooms in May and has rich orange-pink flowers. A.M. In 1940. eva has rose-violet flowers; they are unusually large and come in clusters. Jeanette. Deep pink flowers in May.

John cairns is reputed to be the hardiest of these malvatica hybrids; it received an A.M. In 1940. It ultimately makes a tallish shrub and has brick-red flowers in May.

Another group of hardy evergreen Azaleas is the Vuykiana Group, so named after the Dutch Firm, Vuyk Van Nes, which first produced them.

Two of the best known (and they are the loveliest, I think) are a pure white and a deep red: palestrina. It is one of the hardiest of all the evergreen garden Azaleas, and with its ice-cold white flowers, truly one of the most beautiful of all small garden shrubs. The plant is best massed on its own against a dark green background. It blooms in May. Queen wilhelmina has deep vermilion-red flowers and does best in partial shade. The plant usually appears in catalogues under its German name, viz. Konigen wilhelmina.

There are many other kinds of evergreen Azaleas; but none is any more beautiful than those I’ve described above.

The varieties of R. indicum do not seem to be as hardy as those with kaempferi blood in them. And the R. simsii hybrids are decidedly tender and are mostly grown in hothouses. They are the best for forcing into bloom for a winter display. They cannot be grown outside anywhere in Britain; but in warm, hot climates, especially along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, they flourish luxuriantly and are a glorious sight. One of the finest collections is at the Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile, Alabama.

But we have a vast number of hardy kinds to choose from for our own gardens; those with deep glowing brilliant colours are specially recommended for people who have only a small garden.

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