Rhododendrons and cultivars

Rhododendrons form a very large genus, the richest source of species being the Himalayas and west China, though many come from other parts of the world. A few introductions to Britain were made some centuries ago, but the great flood of discovery belongs to this century, when such collectors as George Forrest and Frank Kingdon Ward explored ‘the eaves of the world’.

Over 500 species and thousands of cultivars are grown in our gardens today, and since all, both the evergreen and the deciduous shrubs, like the same conditions. I will give a brief account of their needs, before choosing a handful of beauties to recommend, selected after observation and discussion with experts, for, regrettably, my own experience is negligible.

Many rhododendrons grow in the wild in very high places in swirling mists and ram-cloud, nearly always in acid soil. It follows that in gardens they like to grow in cool, moist conditions, in light, fibrous acid soil – they do not prosper in clay and lime is poison to them. A woodland situation is ideal, but not dense woodland. Open glades with scattered oak or pine trees make a perfect setting, and give protection from frost. Luckily, many rhododendrons have proved highly adaptable and will grow in ordinary garden conditions, even in sun at a pinch, and do well in town gardens. The leaves are resistant to air pollution, and a building will protect against the biting blast of east winds.

Rhododendrons should be copiously mulched with peat, leafmould, decayed bracken and other nonalkaline organic material. The plants should not be dug or hoed, for they are shallow-rooting and dislike disturbance, and being dense down to the ground, they suppress weeds. They should be deadheaded, if the bushes are not too huge to make this practicable, by cutting close to the faded flower without damaging the bud be-neath. They need little pruning. The plants should be kept moist with mulching rather than watering, unless the gardener has a supply of lime-free water, now an increasingly rare asset.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.