We all know that Rhododendrons are fabulous for their dramatic flower colour but did you know that some have great foliage colour too. Moser's Maroon is a perfect example. The flowers are a memorable shade of rich, slightly translucent ruby in themselves but the new foliage is an attraction in its own right.
This foliage stays the same amazing red all summer and through autumn and into winter. The effect is more pronounced when it is grown in a sheltered spot in the garden and given a little shade. Light shade is great for all rhododendrons as the flowers last longer out of the harsh glare of the sun. Try using it to cover ugly features like drainpipes and utility boxes round the house.
Traditional large flowered rhododendron hybrids have all the glamour of a lost world, just like the one immortalised in Downton Abbey. They are dramatic, colourful and exciting – definitely “drama queens”. Surely with such qualities they are going to be challenging to grow. Not so, they are really very easy and satisfying in the garden.
Two of my favourites come from a group of hybrids produced since the second world war called the Walloper Hybrids. These stem from rhododendrons that were taken to a safe haven in the USA during the war to ensure they survived. The city of Southampton was being heavily bombed and one of the best collections of new hybrids was riskily housed in the garden of Townhill Park, the home of Lord Swathling.
Lord Swathling’s talented gardener, Fred Rose, had an uncanny knack of creating exciting new varieties. Lionel de Rothschild had tried to lure him away to his rhododendron collection at Exbury on many occasions but with no luck! The 1939 seedlings were taken to a cluster of rhododendron breeders in the USA. The unnamed hybrids were split out between them and they awaited the results.
Scottish rhododendron grower, hunter and breeder Peter Cox visited the garden of a neighbour and world reknowned plant hunter George Sheriff. He was so inspired by a yellow rhododendron he spotted that he was allowed to take pollen home to create hybrids. This started a long challenge to grow dwarf rhododendron suitable for today's smaller gardens and the tough Scottish climate.
The results were a series of new hybrids named after birds and among those, in my opinion, are 2 of the best dwarf rhododendrons ever.
The first, Razorbill, is a beautiful, unusual hybrid with lovely, tubular, bubblegum pink flowers on an open attractive plant showing its stems leaves buds and flowers. For small gardens it is just perfect with really attractive foliage.
I constantly keep my eye on the latest research and test it out myself in the garden back at the nursery to make sure you get the very best advice on how to plant successfully.
1. Decide where you want to plant and remove any weeds growing in the area.
2. Water your plant well in its pot before planting. Letting it sit in a bucket of water until it is well soaked is very effective.
3. Dig a hole twice as deep and three times as wide as the root ball (this is the compost around the roots of the plant) in the pot and then loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole to improve the drainage. Don't skimp on this stage as it is crucial to your plant's quick establishment in the garden and its ongoing success over the years.
The Perfect Present
Ask any experienced gardener and they will confirm that Camellias are some of the best plants to give as presents. They look luxurious and exotic and long established gardeners love them but they are easy to grow so new gardeners will find them very rewarding. They grow in pots or in the ground so they suit all sizes of gardens. They love some shade so they work in difficult spots. They keep their handsome foliage all year round, they live for years and years and years and they flower in the early spring - what more could you want?
Our Camellias are all lined up in the glasshouse ready to find their way to your garden. This picture shows you 15,000 Camellia "Dr King" all looking lovely and evenly grown and packed with flower buds.