There is something rather satisfying about having the first Rhododendron in flower in your neighbourhood.It is not completely down to chance though. Here are my selections for the first Pink, White and Red large flowered varieties for your garden. Make a real show in the garden by extending the season!
A superb, bright pink hybrid that emerges from the green stage into a striking candle of pink buds ready to burst into spectacular bloom. This is a rhododendron that revels in being planted in the garden rather than in a pot.
Sometimes Winter and Spring can be very wet. When this happens it is vital to keep an eye on your plants. Plants in free draining and nutritious soil will have loved this weather and be really happy but if they are in heavier soil then give them a check up as they hate getting wet feet in soggy ground.
Check that they are not planted too deep, the top of the rootball should be 3cm proud of the ground. If they are recently planted you can easily raise it yourself by putting a spade under and packing soil underneath.
Cover with the soil around the plant with plenty of pine bark chips, this will keep soil moist and add humus to your soil over time, which will loosen it up improving the drainage.
Small is Beautiful
Bring colour into your garden as early as possible with small growing rhododendrons. There is no need to worry about these plants growing too big they are lovely mannered plants, perfect for even the smallest gardens.
The ancestry of the mountain growing, Northern American and Himalayan, alpine dwarf rhododendrons of many of them means they are tough and resilient. They flower early, from April onwards, a trait from their alpine past to take advantage of the short mountain growing season. The smaller the leaves, the closer the variety is to this alpine heritage but some of the hardiest varieties can be larger leaved. They are a fascinating group.
They can grow happily at the front of borders or in rockeries in the ground or pot them into a nice pot and they will be very happy for many years
Work Never Stops
Even in the depths of winter the work doesn't stop on the nursery. Here is Keith wielding a blower to remove snow form the foliage of young rhododendrons. All the team were out in the snow either with blowers or soft brushes making sure no damage to our precious crop was done.
Hardy Hybrid rhododendrons are actually tough and winter hardy despite their rathe exotic large leaves. In the garden you will only ever need to remove snow in really heavy snowfall.
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.
Five Star Treatment
Sometimes you can be made to feel that gardening is really complicated and hard work. Knowing what conditions your plant likes will save you time, money and heartache.
Most people know that rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias belong to the group of plants called ericaceous plants along with heathers, pieris and magnolias but what does that really mean? A lot of people see it as “lime hating” but it's not really quite like that. It means that they are unable to use certain essential foods in the soil if the pH (a measure of how acid or alkaline a soil is) goes higher than 7. They will grow steadily more sickly and weak.
So how do you know what pH your soil is? You can buy a simple soil testing kit from your local garden centre. Follow the instructions carefully and always test the soil where you are intending to plant as it the soil can vary around the garden. If you can't find a soil test kit a simple test is to look for hydrangea plants in gardens near you and see what colour they are. Blue hydrangeas indicate an acid soil and pink or purple ones an alkaline soil. White hydrangeas don't change colour except in the very centre of each flower, if you look really carefully you will see the centre is either pink or blue. The best time to look for his is when the flowers first open as flowers later in the season can take on other tints due to the flower ageing.
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.