A Book Review by Carmen Varcoe – January, 2000


Rhododendrons in the Landscape

by Sonja Nelson


This is a rather timely book for anyone interested in rhododendrons.  The author has explored the topic quite thoroughly.  Beginning with the history of landscaping, Sonja writes clearly and is quick to differentiate North American and UK landscaping origins.  The chapter on ‘Designing by Principles’ is very worthwhile, covering site unity and plant harmony with good information on plant form and foliage texture.  I especially like her charts outlining rhodos with specific leaf shapes and foliage features – a good resource to copy and to keep handy when designing a new bed.


Sonja does mention flower colour and gives this element its due.  However, she is quick to mention that this is only one facet to consider with rhodos in the landscape.


Sonja’s broad use of geographic examples from Nova Scotia to California, as well as gardens in the UK, is commendable.  She also covers a very wide and complete range of garden types:  woodland to native, small to large.  In each of these chapters she provides a framework that is consistently used for all other types of gardens.  This is very organized and a straight-forward format to follow, allowing the reader to pick and choose what sections are relevant for their needs.  Sonja begins each of these chapters with taking inventory of the site – a worthy beginning for any garden.  Then she gives ways to improve the site, followed by suggestions for possible rhodos to use and ending with companion plants.  In this area of her book she is thorough with lists of shrubs as well as perennials.  Sonja also gives short descriptions of each plant.  At the end of each chapter there is a list of suggested reading.  I particularly enjoyed the chapter on ‘The Collectors Garden’ and the one on ‘Fragrant Rhodos’ with another good chart offered.  I quickly added more rhodos to my personal want list.


One drawback of the book, but only a minor one, is that the collection of coloured photos are all clustered together in the middle of the book.  I find this makes it rather unwieldy to refer to the pictures as one is reading.  Sonja has featured Canadian and American rhodo gardens in her photos which is a plus as we Canadians are so often overlooked when gardening is concerned.  She also outlines many of these gardens in her section on ‘Garden Tours’.  Even if you’re not going to start a new rhodo bed, the book is full of useful information – a good read.