Rhododendron yakushimanum

This exquisite rhododendron has a romantic origin. It grows wild in only one place in the world, a small Japanese island called Yaku Shima, which is mountainous, windy and rain-sodden. The species varies according to the altitude of its home, but the plant we grow is a dwarf shrub, a compact shallow dome some 30 inches (75 cm) high and 3 feet (90 cm) wide, the ideal rhododendron (for it has adapted to pleasanter climates) for a small garden.

The evergreen leaves are long, narrow and glossy, but before they develop the young shoots are bright silver; the leaves emerge covered with buff-coloured felt, and when the upper sides turn green, the undersides remain brown and woolly. The flowers of the species also evolve through several interesting stages. The plant produces a multitude of trusses which are rose-pink in the bud, opening to shallow cups of apple-blossom pink, which change to white. The plant has not only compactness of shape and beauty of flower and leaf, but is also hardy and reliable, flowering in equal abundance every year.

In the past few decades, hybrids have been developed from R. yakushimanum, and there will be many more. One of the ly pulled off and replanted in late summer, preferably in wet weather.

London pride is equally appropriate for large or small areas. I have seen it in a tiny London garden spreading from a small rosebed on to a cobbled path. I have seen it in the country climbing over sarsen stones by a cottage door. On a panoramic scale, it is perfection at Cranborne Manor, in Dorset, where it forms a wide sash on either side of a long path of mellow brick. Cranborne Manor is a splendid Elizabethan house where John Tradescant, one of the early European plant-hunters in North America, is said to have been a gardener three hundred and fifty years ago.

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