Lurid Rhododendrons & WatermelonSunday, April 27, 2008
Yesterday I wrote about the epimedium and how I call it the Cinderalla of the garden. It's not there until you notice it. A plant, that is quite the opposite, owu with a flower that screams at you is the rhododendron. There are over 1000 species in this genus. There is an incredible variety ranging from whites and pale pinks and off whites to the most lurid oranges, reds, shocking pinks and purples. It is unfortunate that in Vancouver during the 50 and the 60s the most popular rhododendrons were plants that were bred for colour without any consideration of scent (there are some sweetly scented rhododendrons). These hybrids are pretty well indistructible, mostly disease free and faithfully bloom just about now. There are several in my garden and when we bought our house back in 1986 we could have gotten rid of them. I simply can never get rid of a plant unless it dies. And now when I have come to find them unsightly it is much too late. If I take them out it would take years for species rhododendrons to bulk up to size. Rosemary and I will have to ignore the "loud" screams from these plants.
Rebecca appreciates and loves rhododendrons. I have taught her to pass her fingers under the plants in the rhododendron walk in VanDusen. Many have an underside hairy substance under the leaves called indumentum. The colour can be white, pale white and many times a rich cinnamon brown. This indumentum can be very soft and it feels like the inside of a cat's ear. In our garden we do have Rhododendron luteum formerly Azalea luteum until botanists upgraded them to rhodos. Rebecca knows that when this rhododendrum blooms in about two weeks the yellow flowers will be extremely scented and when they beging to decay they paradoxically smell more strongly and more sweetly.
The mature hybrid rhododendrons in our garden are here to stay. Perhaps I respect the taste of Mrs Young who lived in our house for many years. Perhaps there were few species rhododendrons being sold and she only bought was was in the market.
Rebecca and I will simply have to visit that other garden of ours, VanDusen Botanical Garden and enjoy all those hairy leaves and sweet scents. They are our plants, too.
And when Rebecca and I want to smell Rhododendron decorum whose white flowers smell like ripe watermelon we can always visit our friend, gardener Pamela Frost who has a couple in her garden which she planted from seed. As the buds open they go through many colours before they finally become white.