By Trevor Cameron CPH, guest columnist for Sunnyside Nursery.
This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
Springtime has arrived and the multitudes of Rhododendrons are blooming….. Our state flower shines in every color imaginable – but what I am here to remind you of is one old adage – flowers come and flowers go - so discover the different foliages of Rhododendrons!
We all salivate for spring flowers, but after the blooms are done we need attractive leaves. Rhodies offer not only every shade of green, in all kinds of shapes/sizes, but also some variegated foliages, many with stunning color on new growth as well. There are thousands of nice bloomers, but remember to look for one with nice foliage as well.
Like most creatures on earth, Rhodies have found niches in most all environments in our gardens…. From full hot sun to deep shade, and every spot in between. Like with all landscape plants, it helps to put the right Rhododendron in the right spot. Remember this Rhododendron rule that has few exceptions – the larger the foliage, the less sun tolerance.
Stunning variegation on varieties like “President Roosevelt” and “Goldflimmer” offer leaves with yellow splashes on green, while a big growing specie like R. ponticum ‘Variegatum’ sports creamy white variegated leaves and makes an excellent hedge or background specimen.
You can also find some nice red to burgundy foliage, such as “Ostbo’s Red Elizabeth,” which has a nice red flower and also sports burgundy new foliage, extending its season of interest.
Three newer hybrids for partial shade that have interesting foliage are “Red Red,” “Wine and Roses,” and “Cherries and Merlot.”All have nice dark pink to red blooms and have the most interesting reddish purple cast foliage all season long.
In full shade, and equally as brilliant, are some species like R. yaksuhimanum and R. bureauvii – both with nice flowers and outstanding indumented foliage in silver, white or cinnamon brown. Indumentum is a soft velvety covering on the new growth of some Rhodies that begged to be touched and add year round foliage color and interest. We are finding these indumented foliages are naturally resistant to bugs and especially diseases.
In my 25 years of nursery experience, the flavors of Japanese “Yak” Rhododendrons are the most underutilized plants for shade/partial shade gardens.
Now let’s talk hybrids….. At last count there were over 5,000 named hybrids. All I can say is WOW and promise you if you visit a nursery or an online site you will salivate over all the pretty bloomers!
In this man’s opinion, there are some oldies but still goodies and numerous “modern” hybrids that will knock your socks off. There are far too many hybrids with lovely flowers to list, but here are a few that combine excellent growth habits with outstanding blooms.
For a larger yellow, the old fashioned ‘Hotei’ is still the best canary yellow I’ve seen, although many come close like “Holden’s Solar Flare” and “Horizon Monarch.” Dwarf yellow ones like “Chikor,” “Curlew,” and “Patti Bee” are all really easy to grow. Numerous newer hybrids in the orangey/peachy/yellow tones are becoming popular and two in my own garden have not disappointed – “Seaview Sunset” and “Honey Butter” have been compact little blooming machines. There are a plethora of good big ol’ fashioned pinks to plant including “Anna Rose Whitney” and “Cosmopolitan” as well as many newer, striking bloomers like “Cherry Cheesecake,” “Melrose Flash,” and “Pomegranate Splash.”
For red, large growers utilize the classics like “Jean Marie,” “Taurus,” and “Grace Seabrook.” I also recommend checking out some great dwarfs reds like “Carmen,” “Scarlet Wonder,” and “Baden Baden” for tidier compact plants.
I like “Chinoides” for a good classic white, but there are certainly other worthy flavors. For the purple and blue flower lovers there are many excellent choices including lots of great dwarfs like “Songbird,” “Purple Gem,” “Blue Baron,” and “Bob’s Blue.”
For a larger specimen try classics like “Lee’s Dark Purple,” “Edith Bosely,” or “Anah Krushke.”
If you want dark purple look at the newer “Polarnacht” which is a bit more compact and a heavy bloomer.
By choosing different hybrids you can potentially have every color blooming from early March through June!
“Go to the nurseries and visit me while I’m blooming. Go ahead and admire my foliage. Plant me and watch me grow in the garden.” I am here to speak on behalf of all Rhododendrons and asking you to rediscover me……you will not be disappointed.
Trevor Cameron is the General Manager of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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