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.
Get Winter Ready!
We know you love your Rhododendrons, Camellias and Azaleas but are they ready for the winter weather?
Pots and Containers
Plants in pots and containers are more vulnerable to problems than those planted in the ground. We all worry a lot about the cold temperatures and, although these can be an issue if they get too extreme, actually it is the wet weather that can do the most damage. This is because the plants rate of transpiration (breathing through the leaves) slows in colder weather and so the plant is unable to lose excess water gathering at the roots. The other danger to your plants is cold winds.
How to Plant in a Pot
The great news about Rhododendrons, Camellias and Azaleas is that they are so adaptable that they grow really well in pots and containers. Sometimes we grow them there because we have the wrong soil, sometimes just because we want colour in pots.
So how do you go about it?
First, look at the size of your plant and choose a pot where the measurement across the top is about 10-20cm smaller than the width of the plant branches. This stops the compost getting too wet in rainy weather.
Christmas Cheer is the first of the traditional Rhododendrons to flower in the year but under its own steam, it will miss Christmas by just over a month. Early February onwards, large coral pink buds will open slowly to long lasting white flowers throughout February and into March, marking the beginning of spring along with camellias, daffodils and crocuses.
One of the great values of this early flowering variety is as the weather is cooler, the flowers come out much more slowly and also slightly in succession. Again with the cooler temperatures the flowers once out will bloom for longer period of time to give you more enjoyment.
People worry about the frost but the only time the frost will affect the flowers is if you can see the open buds or flowers yourself. So when in bud there is no need to be concerned but as soon as you see the pink and white petals, if there is going to be a frost, just cover the plant with some fleece carefully draped over the top for the night and you will be fine. This is a very hardy, low maintenance plant.