by Norman Todd - January 1999
Recently CBC Radio
ran a contest where listeners were asked to match people to plants. I think
the text had to be less than twenty-five words but we will extend this
to a hundred words. Here is a start in what I hope will provoke some entries
from newsletter readers. For societal reasons, we will limit the choice
of plants to rhododendrons – species or hybrids.
Martha Stewart Rhododendron ‘Unique’
A perfectly manicured hybrid with too perfect pink and cream flowers
regurgitatively evocative of icing on a six-year-old’s birthday cake. Trusses
can be used to decorate wedding vehicles or floated in the dog’s water
dish. Foliage is thick and stiff and makes a good besom. Does not get mildew
in Martha’s garden.
Bill Clinton Rhododendron nudiflorum
It comes from Eastern US. It is very hardy and easily layered in cultivation.
One authority says it is stoloniferous; another says it is not, indicating
the presence or absence of this characteristic seems to depend on the affiliation
of the observer. It is not easy to propagate vegetatively although the
capsules ripen early and split open easily. The stigma are very long being
three times the length of the corolla. It does best in full exposure, in
fact languishes if not in full light. Some hybrids of nudiflorum and alabamense
(geographically close to Arkansas) have a yellow streak in the white flowers.
Margaret Thatcher Rhododendron ‘Point defiance’
This is a plant of ‘major’ stature and very strong habit, renowned for
making its point defiantly. It has tough leathery foliage not readily attacked
by pests. It is quite compatible with ‘Independence Day’ but not with ‘Party
Pink’. One observer says it is surviving in the Falkland Islands. Reports
of it being carnivorous are probably incorrect although I certainly have
noted many dead bees in its flowers.
Glen Clark Rhododendron ‘Solidarity’
A fairly recent plant of super hardy parents. It thrives in abusive
conditions but resents competition from other plants, especially magnolea
campelli but will accept grass root encroachment from red fescue. The flowers
are red at first but fade with age especially if stressed. It loves aged
Judy Tyabji Rhododendron ‘Airy Fairy’
This is an early bloomer. It looks delicate but is really quite resistant
to the vicissitudes of garden culture. It is showy when in flower but can
be overlooked when not. Half of its lineage – lutescens – was a Wilson
introduction. It tends to be leggy.
Bill Gates Rhododendron ponticum
Now a very widespread and domineering plant. It will support almost
any kind of elepidote to overcome its ‘parasite’. This species was the
basis of the recent huge expansion in the popularity of the genus rhododendron.
Now considered a threat to other plants, especially apples, in some gardens.
Some forms are protected by patent.
Kim Campbell Rhododendron ‘Canadian Sunset’
This is a B.C. hybrid which is reportedly doing well in California.
It was so named because the flowers have a different colour every day.
Greer describes it as being ‘quite different’. It was once thought to be
the best yak hybrid ever but has now been largely replaced by those with
more liberal flowering habits.
Lucien Bouchard Rhododendron ‘Schizopeplum’
A rare plant in gardens, preferring its native conditions. The name
means with a split covering’. It has recently been demoted and is now classified
as a variety. It has had a number of name changes. Hybrids are rare and
seed usually come true although it has bred with one form of californicum.
The genes of schizopeplum, however, are dominant. It prefers significant
separation from other plants but has been known to accept occasional hybrids
of foreign origin espceially those with soulei, delavayi, fargesii, or
davidii in their parentage.
Pavel Bure Rhododendron caucasicum
This species comes from a tough environment but is inclined to be difficult
in our climate. Reports are that it really likes a harsher winter and thrives
in soils low in organic matter. Keep it if you are a fussy grower but if
looking for flower power in the garden perhaps you should trade it for
a newer hybrid.
Monica Lewinsky Rhododendron ‘Sappho’
Monica is not related to ‘Mrs. T.H. Lowinsky’ which is a fine plant
but has suddenly fallen out of favour. The name ‘sappho’ evokes different
images with different people. For some it is poetic – for others it has
a more salacious connotation. It has a beautiful flower but a terrible
growth habit and if grown should be placed at the back of the border. I
now prefer the more compact ‘Peeping Tom’.
Conrad Black Rhododendron 'Black Magic'
A vigorous, aggressive grower, demanding full sun. Of all rhodos,
this one is known for a strong flowery statement but colour is rather dark
and gloomy, best seen back-lit near sundown. Noted for its tough
fibre, suitable for paper production. Flourishes in Canada, and the
UK, but languishes, rather, in Australia. Certainly a plant with
an opinion on its own worth.
David Black Rhododendron 'White Gold' aka Nisga'a Nemesis.
The polarity of the names of plant and person is not without significance.
The paper-white flowers are fully recurved to reveal a golden flair.
Though a genuine North American hybrid highly adaptable to most urban environments,
its constitution may be challenged unless grafted to aboriginal roots in
the interior. Widely accepted throughout BC but its relative lack
of cold-hardiness, cf Black Magic, will limit its spread to eastern gardens.